11 Essential Characteristics of a Safe Driver You Should Possess
Do you consider yourself a safe driver?
Sure, safe driving and a clean driving record can save you a lot of money - you keep your car insurance premiums down (read more here about the No Claim Discount and Safe Driver Discount), and you don’t have to fork out on fixing and repairing a damaged car.
But you know what else being a safe driver can save? Lives. Every year, countless lives are irreversibly altered due to traffic accidents. Yet, most accidents are preventable, and it all begins with being in the driver’s seat.
So fasten your seatbelt (not only because it’s mandatory), and let’s delve into 11 characteristics of a safe driver, in terms of mindset, skills and driving behaviours.
1. Stay Focused
Driving is an active task, as opposed to being a passive one. Unlike how you can easily scroll through Facebook while watching Netflix, driving is a task where you need to be completely focused on what you’re doing.
Staying focused on driving — and only driving — is critical to safe driving.
Of course we all know that talking or texting while driving is not allowed according to Singapore’s Road Traffic Act. But even though the rules only apply to a vehicle in motion, you should also refrain from picking up your phone while waiting for a red light, as that can break your focus.
Some drivers may find themselves trying to finish up typing a message as the light turns to green, but ease their foot onto their accelerator nonetheless even though their eyes are not yet on the road. But did you know that in just five seconds, you can travel the entire height of the Singapore Flyer? That can cause some serious damage if you’re not looking.
Distracted driving isn’t just caused by mobile devices. Eating, switching radio stations, getting your sunglasses out of your glove compartment, trying to adjust your GPS while in motion - all these things can distract you from safe driving. If you need to do anything else other than drive, it’s always safer to stop on the side of the road.
2. Be Aware of Your Surroundings
A vehicle in motion is never in isolation; you will always find yourself in traffic with other motor vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians.
Being aware of your surroundings means staying alert and paying attention to other motorists. Check your mirrors frequently, and try to scan conditions about 30 seconds ahead of you so nothing catches you off guard.
Never reverse your vehicle if possible, it’s easier to manoeuvre your vehicle forwards, even if you have to turn around. And if ever needed, never reverse more than you have to.
Though we all do it so often, remember that every lane change is a potential hazard. Before changing lanes, always do a quick blind spot check — turn your head to look over your shoulder to ensure no vehicle is lurking in the areas not seen in your mirrors.
Always turn around to check your blind spots instead of relying on your mirrors.
3. Adopt a Defensive Driving Mindset
A defensive driving mindset does not mean being ready to defend yourself when another motorist yells at you in traffic.ii8
Defensive driving refers to:
adopting a proactive and cautious approach
maintaining a buffer of safety
staying aware of the actions of other road users
anticipating potential hazards, and
taking preventive actions to avoid accidents or collisions.
Part of being a safe driver is considering every other motorist a potential risk. Do not assume that other drivers are going to move out of the way, allow you to merge, or that everyone follows the rules just as you do.
If a vehicle is showing signs of aggressive driving, it is better to slow down or even pull over to avoid it, rather than think you can (over)confidently handle another vehicle that may go out of control.
4. Follow All Traffic Rules
Obeying traffic laws and regulations seems like a no-brainer. We don’t run red lights, we try to keep within the speed limits, and we even have respect for the double yellow lines!
One other rule to note is yielding to cyclists or pedestrians where needed. Even if there isn’t a specific rule on that particular road, it’s good to have a general respect for vulnerable road users who are at greater risk on the roads since they’re not protected by the metal frame you have with a car.
Another question to ask yourself is this: Does your adherence to safety rules also extend to within your car? Do all your passengers have their seatbelts on at all times? Sure, there’s a potential $120 fine and three demerit points at stake here, but more importantly, buckling up can save lives.
A good practice to have is not to start the car or drive off until everyone has confirmed that their seatbelts are on.
Making sure the little ones are safely buckled in is also important — check that they are in the right booster or child seat for their age and weight, and try not to have them in the front passenger seat where possible.
Being a safe driver also includes making sure all your passengers — kids included — have their seatbelts on.
5. Communicate Clearly
Communication on the road can’t take place with words, so this is where your turn signals, horns, and lights play a pivotal role in keeping clear communication flowing.
Imagine driving without these cues; chaos would reign, and traffic accidents would be inevitable.
When you signal your intention to change lanes, for example, you’re not just indicating your next action, you’re also inviting all other motorists around you to make informed decisions based on what you’re about to do.
A timely honk or properly functioning brake lights can make a difference whether a collision takes place or not.
Remember, though, that just because a vehicle’s indicators are on… only proves that their lights work. This means that just because someone else’s turning signal light is on, doesn’t mean that they’ll ultimately turn. Always be prepared for miscommunication on the part of other parties — just don’t be guilty of it yourself!
6. Be In Control
While no one can guarantee that they’re never going to lose control of their vehicle, there are certain physical and emotional aspects of driving that are within a driver’s control.
Staying alert in order to react quickly to potential problems means that you should not be sleepy or under the influence of any substances. We all know the very serious consequences of drunk driving, but sometimes we tend to forget that fatigue can also similarly disable a driver. It’s important then never to drive when you’ve had some alcohol or even when you’re feeling exhausted.
If you’re driving long distances, make sure you stop for a break in between to avoid driver fatigue. A good gauge is to rest 15 minutes for every 1-hour drive, so you don't end up nodding off behind the wheel.
Not only should you be well-rested, you should also note that some prescription and over-the-counter drugs can also have a drowsy effect, which can affect a driver’s reaction time and judgement.
Emotional control comes into play by having more patience while driving on the roads. Staying calm in challenging driving situations can prevent road rage and aggressive driving. Being in control of your emotions means never letting them dictate your driving behaviour on the road.
Being in control behind the wheel means avoiding drunk driving and driver fatigue, and remaining calm at all times.
7. Be Adaptable to Weather Conditions
While we may not have to deal with snow or icy conditions in Singapore, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to deal with challenging weather conditions.
Driving in heavy rain, mist, haze, thunderstorms, and even strong winds can all take a toll on trying to stay focused, keep control of the vehicle, and ultimately remain safe on the roads.
The usual rules of safe following distance and speed limits are usually only applicable to normal traffic in ideal weather conditions.
In the event of bad weather, you should always:
increase your following distance to reduce the chance of a collision with the car in front, and
lower your speed even more, since higher speeds make controlling your vehicle that much more difficult if things go wrong.
If you ever feel unsure about driving in any bad weather conditions, it’s safer to leave the car at home and take public transport, or if you’re already on the road, pull over to the side and wait it out. Safety should always be your priority!
8. Keep Your Vehicle in Good Condition
Part of being a safe driver is also making sure that your vehicle is not a danger to yourself and others on the roads.
This means making sure that your car is well maintained through regular maintenance, and routine checks of brakes, tyres, lights and fluid levels.
A vehicle in good operational condition ensures that your vehicle will respond as expected in critical moments. Imagine needing to brake suddenly, only to find that your brake pads are worn or your brake fluid is low. Such scenarios can be prevented with proper maintenance.
Regular servicing can address what you may think of as “small issues” - but worn-out tyres can lead to loss of control, while faulty lights can pose hazards to other car drivers and motorists if they can’t tell what you’re about to do.
It’s also important to keep up with your car inspection at LTA-Authorised Car Inspection Centres whenever your vehicle is due.
Making sure your brake lights are working can help prevent a collision.
9. Get the Right Car Insurance
Securing the right car insurance is an integral part of the mosaic that forms a safe driver's profile. Of course, driving safely is the best way to reduce your risk of getting into an accident, but we all know that unforeseen events can still occur on the road.
Car insurance is a testament to a safe driver’s commitment to responsibility — not just for their own well-being, but also for the well-being of others potentially affected in an accident.
The right car insurance allows you to be prepared to handle repairs, medical expenses, and legal liabilities that may arise in the aftermath of an accident. It’s a proactive measure that aligns with the core characteristics of a safe driver: foresight, preparedness, and accountability.
When choosing a car insurance company, make sure to research the reliability of the company. Understanding your insurance policy coverage and assistance when making claims are very important aspects of car insurance. For example, in the event of an accident, DirectAsia Insurance will assign you a specialist to walk you through every step of the claims process.
With a customer satisfaction rating of more than 90%, and the 2023 Platinum Trusted Service Award from Feefo, the award-winning global reviews and insights platform, you can be assured that DirectAsia Insurance will be there for you when you need us most.
10. Stay Updated as a Driver
Road traffic rules may be updated, or new road scenarios may arise with new intersections or crossroads being built. It’s a good idea to stay updated on these as well as current driving practices in general.
One way to stay updated as a driver is to follow news outlets or certain road safety social media accounts, since they often report on changes in road regulations and safety practices, and may even share tips about road safety.
OneMotoring by LTA is a good website to follow, as it also reports on traffic updates, roadworks, and even vehicle breakdowns, so that you can be a more informed, and thus prepared, driver.
If you haven’t been driving for a while, it can be beneficial to take a refresher driving course. Some more experienced drivers may also be interested in learning more about defensive driving skills in difficult or challenging situations.
As we conclude this journey through the 11 essential characteristics of a safe driver, remember that the road is not just a pathway; it's a shared space where each of us contributes to the collective safety of our community.
The safe driving habits we've explored, from attentiveness and adaptability to communication and continuous learning, form the foundation of responsible driving.
It's about more than just reaching your destination—it's about creating a ripple effect of safety that extends far beyond your vehicle. By embodying these characteristics, you become a guardian of lives and a beacon of road safety.