With the openness of the internet in recent years, we have become more and more aware of a significant number of extraordinary driving incidents. Many of which would have previously remained unseen to the masses if it were just a decade ago. One thing that can be inferred from all this however is that there appears to be a significant lack of driver education beyond the basics learnt while attaining your license. Why I say this is because from these incidents that have been virally shared across the internet, it is fairly obvious that the majority of them were completely due to human error and quite avoidable.
So in the spirit of motoring education, I would like to share some of the key lessons that I have picked up over the years both on and off the track. A fair amount of it through personal negative experience, much more than I would like to admit. The advice I am about to share is predominantly for the newer and less experienced driver, however I do hold the opinion that a fair number of the more experienced drivers do also need to take heed of some of what I have to say.
1. Trust no one and drive defensively
First and foremost is to not trust anybody on the road and to drive defensively. To drive defensively means to drive in a way that assumes other road users are unpredictable and to take preventative measures in order to avoid or greatly minimise the risk of an accident.
At the risk of sounding dystopian, it cannot be emphasised more how important it is to not assume that just because you may be one of the most inexperienced drivers on the road right now, that everyone else around you is a safer and more competent driver. There are countless examples on the internet of careless and downright reckless driving to prove this point. This piece of advice equally applies to the more competent drivers out there. Sometimes it really doesn’t matter how quick your reflexes are or how capable you are at handling a vehicle, you still need to always be alert and ready to take evasive action in the event that another car does something unpredictable(though not unthinkable) like cutting into your lane without checking their blind spot or suddenly braking excessively hard without regard for the cars behind them.
On the road, you can really only trust yourself to keep you out of trouble and out of danger because humans are simply too unpredictable.
2. Always check your blindspots, don’t assume the coast is clear.
My second tip may sound like a repeat of driving school, but it’s actually a practice that is often forgotten by drivers shortly after they receive their license. This is to always check your blindspots and don’t assume that there is no one there. So your blindspot is the area beside the rear half of your car, just in front of the area that’s visible by your wing mirrors. The only way for you to actually view this area is to literally turn your head towards your shoulder and glance over it. Sure there are those little blindspot mirrors that you can install and can definitely be pretty helpful, but the free(and minimalist) alternative of turning your head to glance over your shoulder really takes hardly any effort at all.
Like our earlier point about being alert of other drivers who don’t check their blindspots before cutting into you, similarly, do not be that driver. I have lost count of the number of times that I have been so confident there is nobody else in my way when I’m about to change lanes only to check my blindspot and see a car or bike sitting right there. The danger is very real and to say I learnt it the hard way would be quite an understatement. So I strongly urge every driver to always check their blindspots before changing lanes or making a turn as it will save a lot of pain and inconvenience just by making that split second act of turning your head around.
3. Be considerate, give way to faster vehicles on the right lane
Tip number three is to always give way to faster vehicles on the right lane. Now this is a commonly misunderstood rule in Singapore. Basically the rule is to keep to the left lane unless overtaking and to give way to faster traffic on the right. This rule applies regardless of the speed you’re travelling at so if there is a car behind you that’s travelling faster and being held up by you, you are actually obliged to give way. Not doing so actually constitutes road hogging and is in fact a chargeable offence.
This practice is actually pretty universal and practiced surprisingly well in many countries including our neighbour, Malaysia. Now you may be thinking, but people aren’t supposed to be speeding so I actually have every right to stay in-front of them if I’m already at or very close to the speed limit. Well there are 2 issues with that argument. Firstly, our speedometers aren’t calibrated like those on traffic police vehicles so we really don’t have any valid grounds to claim that anyone going faster than us is in fact speeding. Secondly, it is simply downright inconsiderate and even unsafe to be driving slower than other cars on the rightmost lane that is specifically meant for overtaking. Especially considering that in practice, sometimes in order to overtake a car in the 2nd lane you may have to temporarily within reason exceed the speed limit in order to overtake them safely. This is what the right lane is meant to be used for and insisting on being a slower moving car in that lane is a very unsafe practice.
4. Plan ahead, be decisive and predictable
Continuing with the theme of not being the driver that you never wish to encounter, my fourth tip is to plan ahead, be decisive and predictable. This is similar to my first tip about driving defensively and that includes assuming other drivers aren’t driving defensively. You have to assume that the drivers around you cannot react quickly to a sudden change of direction and give those around you ample time to anticipate a change in your speed or direction.
Now the way to do this is basically to try your best to plan your route ahead of time so you know almost exactly where and when you will need to make a turn. Understandably, you may sometimes have to take less than clear directions from an app or another person. Now in such cases, it is important to keep a level head and not panic especially if you are given last minute instructions. It is far better to miss a turn or an exit and find a u-turn or detour up ahead than to rush into a sudden and unpredictable manoeuvre which could potentially cause an accident or even harm to another human being. If you need any proof of this, the internet is well stocked with plenty of examples. So really, that 2-3mins of lost time is practically nothing compared to the 20-30 minutes you’ll waste settling an accident along with whatever admin that needs to be settled in the following days. The emotions that you may also have to deal with should there be a human injury or even death is simply not worth it.
Blaming it on your guide also doesn’t usually work out well because the vehicle is ultimately in your control hence it is your responsibility to ensure the safety of yourself and of other road users. So as a driver, always be decisive and firm on your decisions because you are the only one holding the steering wheel and therefore responsible.
5. Have Patience, Safety First Always
My final tip is to always stay cool and have patience. Whether on the road or in other areas of your life, there will always be annoyances and things outside of your control such as less than competent drivers and people who just simply enjoy pissing other people off. Do not let it get to your head because all you really want is to reach your destination safely. You really have nothing to prove so do not let that one driver ruin your day and waste your time getting all upset. In this day and age, we already have so many things to worry about so there really isn’t any point in letting some random stranger whom you probably will never see again provoke you into a dangerous situation.
Ego on the road is a dangerous thing and should always be kept away from the wheel. Always remember that safety is number one above everything else on the road because nothing is really worth being involved in an accident.
So as you can see the running theme of this entire article is all about encouraging safe and responsible driving. Our only goal on the road is really to get home safely to our families, as is the same for pretty much all other road users around us. While I do understand and enjoy the joys of spirited driving and motoring in general, nothing is more important on the road than safety.