Defensive Driving Crash Course
Taking Evasive Action

Executing a Response: SEE Driving Space Management - Stage 3

Updated Dec. 15, 2020

The final step of the SEE system is to execute a response, based on your evaluation of roadway conditions. Your response may involve making a drastic, evasive maneuver – or at the other end of the scale – a minor lane position adjustment. There will also be plenty of occasions where your response will simply be to do nothing, by holding your current course and speed.

Responding to roadway hazards appropriately depends on being able to search and evaluate your environment effectively. Though, neither of these things matter if you do not have the necessary time and vehicle control knowledge to execute your chosen maneuver safely. In order to obtain a driver’s license, you must be able to demonstrate attentiveness, sound judgment, fast reflexes and the physical skills required to avoid danger on the roads.

Knowing how to plan and execute an evasive maneuver in the face of immediate danger is an important driving skill. However, you should always endeavor to avoid situations in which making an evasive maneuver is necessary, by predicting and preventing emergency situations. Act against hazards earlier and the action you take will be easier and more successful in preventing a collision or accident. This is the goal of defensive driving.

If you follow proper visual search procedures and plan ahead, most dangerous situations can be avoided with small, simple adjustments to your driving behavior. Only in extreme situations should you be forced to escape into another lane of traffic.

Planning before executing

Whatever your chosen response to a roadway hazard may be, keep in mind that it is practically impossible to execute a maneuver safely at the last minute. To drive defensively, you must prepare for the maneuver you intend to make ahead of time and wait for the most appropriate moment to follow through with it. Making last-minute maneuvers usually turns a driver into a hazard for other road users, forcing them to take evasive action.

In addition to scanning the roadway ahead, pre-planning your journey can help you to avoid making last-minute maneuvers. If you know precisely where you will need to turn, change lanes or enter a roadway, you can plan for maneuvers in plenty of time, without becoming preoccupied with road signs.

Respond is a predictable way

Other road users must be able to anticipate your action before you execute it. Taking nearby drivers by surprise is one of the surest ways to increase danger on a roadway. Make yourself predictable to the motorists around you by avoiding any unnecessary adjustments in your driving behavior, which may lead them to think you are planning a maneuver. Unless you are preparing for an imminent maneuver that demands it, you must:

  • Stay in the center of your lane
  • Maintain a consistent speed

When you do need to change speed, alter lane position or execute some other maneuver, always begin by signaling your intention to other drivers well ahead of time. You can do this by activating your turn signals or brake lights, as appropriate. You can also use gestures, hand signals and eye contact to make sure other drivers have seen and acknowledged your intention.

Choose the safest maneuver

Your chosen response to any roadway situation must be the safest possible action you have identified. In every driving environment, avoiding danger and minimizing risk are your top priorities. Never begin a maneuver if doing so will make the situation MORE dangerous for you or another road user. This will often mean waiting for a few seconds, for an appropriately sized gap in traffic. If there are other motorists nearby following a path that may conflict with your maneuver, wait for them to pass or yield the right-of-way.

Do not rely on other drivers

The safety and success of any action you take behind the wheel must not rely on the choices of other motorists. Sometimes, other drivers will behave in a dangerous or unpredictable way for what seems like no reason whatsoever.

If you notice a potential hazard that poses a risk to other road users as well as yourself, you should take whatever action reduces risk the most for everybody involved. It may be that you can protect yourself and other drivers simultaneously. If not, avoid responding anyway which would increase the danger for other road users.

Responding by yielding the right-of-way

As you must always choose the safest response to any situation, you will often need to give up the right-of-way to another road user. Remember the right-of-way belongs to nobody unless it is freely given by another driver. Forcing the right-of-way to complete a maneuver is illegal and will create more problems than it solves. Be prepared to yield, even if the situation dictates that the right-of-way should be yours.

Motorists should yield the right-of-way when:

  1. Traffic control devices or road rules make it a legal obligation
  2. Another driver fails to yield the right-of-way, regardless of the circumstances
  3. They are not certain whether they should yield the right-of-way

Remember the golden rule: if in doubt, yield.

Taking evasive action

Remaining attentive to changes in the roadway, scanning ahead of your vehicle and using the SEE system will help you to avoid emergency situations, by allowing you to make gradual adjustments to your driving behavior in advance of any potential issues. Unfortunately, emergencies still occur on occasion, even with diligent use of these hazard avoidance techniques.

Every driver must know how to respond quickly and effectively when faced with an immediate, unanticipated threat. Slamming down on the brake pedal is the gut reaction most motorists experience in the face of an emergency. You must train yourself to think methodically and avoid this response, as it often makes matters worse. This is particularly true if your vehicle is not equipped with anti-lock brakes, as applying the brakes too aggressively will lock your wheels and cause the car to skid.

Evaluating the threat before executing a response is just as important in an emergency as it is in ordinary driving conditions – perhaps even more so, as lives could hang in the balance. Most of the time, steering away from a collision is far more effective than braking, as coming to a complete stop takes longer than simply setting a new path around the hazard you are faced with. On occasion, it may even be wiser to increase your speed instead of slowing down. The success of this response may rest on you leaving enough space ahead of your vehicle. With an insufficient following distance, you will have nowhere to go to avoid a side-on collision or to execute an escape into an adjacent lane.

Threshold braking

If stopping or slowing down is the only safe action you can take in response to a hazard, a technique known as threshold braking should help you to stop in a controlled manner, as quickly as possible. This only applies to vehicles that do not use an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS). In ABS-equipped vehicles, drivers need only press their foot down on the brake pedal in a single, firm action.

In non-ABS vehicles, threshold braking helps to prevent skids by improving your vehicle’s grip on the road’s surface. To use this technique in an emergency, apply as much force to the brake pedal as you can without the wheels locking. Ease off the pedal if you can feel wheel-lock starting to occur, reapplying pressure to the threshold again, until you have slowed to your desired speed. As all vehicles respond differently, it is wise to get to know your car’s brakes before you need to use them in an emergency.

Dealing with hazards at intersections

Intersections can be dangerous places, as several opposing streams of traffic meet and would seek to occupy the same portion of the roadway. Mistakes are easily made if all drivers waiting at an intersection are not paying proper attention to the road. You must know how to respond appropriately if cross-traffic enters an intersection that you are already occupying and creates a hazardous situation. How you deal with this threat will depend on whether you are already on a path of travel that would conflict with the other vehicle’s path of travel:

  • If you are on a path that directly conflicts with the other vehicle’s path, increase your speed slightly to reach the other side of the intersection.
  • If the other vehicle has entered the intersection but you are not yet on conflicting paths of travel, apply the brakes to yield the right-of-way.
  • If you have not yet crossed the center of the intersection and the threat of a collision is immediate, apply the brakes and steer in the same direction that the other car is moving. This will help them to steer around you and will lessen the severity of the collision if it cannot be avoided.

Responding to unexpected lane changes

You may sometimes encounter distracted or aggressive drivers who merge into your lane suddenly or without properly signaling their intentions. If such motorist muscles in ahead of you, respond immediately by taking your foot off the accelerator to slow down. Try to avoid sudden braking, as this may take the driver behind you by surprise and lead to a rear-end collision. If you cannot avoid a collision without applying the brakes, do so gradually.

Usually, when another motorist merges unexpectedly ahead of you, there will be enough of a gap in traffic to accommodate their vehicle. Irresponsible drivers sometimes merge this way, when the vehicle they cut off has left an appropriate, safe following distance between themselves and the vehicle ahead. When this happens, remember that you must slow down by easing off the accelerator, to restore your previous following distance.

Responding to unexpected stops

When the car you are following suddenly stops, you can evade a collision in one of two ways:

  1. Brake using threshold braking (non-ABS vehicles) or by applying firm, steady pressure to the brake pedal (ABS vehicles)
  2. Steer into your escape route to avoid the stopped vehicle

Which option you choose will depend on how much space is in front AND behind your vehicle. If you have left a safe following distance, you should have enough time to avoid a collision by braking and coming to a stop. However, you must also consider what is going on behind your car. If the driver behind you is following too closely, braking may cause them to rear-end you. In this instance, steering into your escape route would be a safer response.

Dealing with roadside hazards

Pedestrians seeking to cross the street or exiting parked cars are common roadside hazards. Always search the side of the roadway for people and parked cars, so that you can avoid a collision if somebody steps out or opens their car door into traffic. You may also have to contend with parked cars seeking to re-enter traffic. You should respond to this hazard by slowing down to let the vehicle in.

Where pedestrians in the roadway are concerned, you should respond by slowing down and/or steering away from them. Never attempt to avoid a pedestrian by speeding up, as this would dramatically worsen the severity of the incident if you have misjudged the situation and a collision does occur.

Dealing with poor weather hazards

Unfavorable weather conditions usually lead to decreased visibility and poorer traction. This would be true in icy, snowy or rainy conditions, but also applies to extremely hot weather and bright sunshine. You must remember that poorer visibility will make it harder to spot potential hazards on the road and that decreased traction will make responding to hazards more of a challenge. Always adjust your driving behavior to make allowances for this.

When driving in poor weather, reduce your speed and increase the bubble of safe space around the vehicle. This will give you more time to search and evaluate the roadway. In executing maneuvers, remember that your car will not respond in the same way as it does during favorable weather. Always brake gently and avoid steering sharply when the surface of the road is slick, or you may lose control of your vehicle.

Being fit to SEE

Defensive driving demands an awareness of your own physical and mental condition behind the wheel. Your ability to search, evaluate and execute will be hindered if you drive while fatigued, ill, injured, emotionally stressed or intoxicated. Physical and mental impairments can disrupt the SEE system in several ways:

  • While searching, your vision or ability to process visual information may be less effective.
  • While evaluating what you have seen, your judgment and ability to recall important information may be adversely affected.
  • While executing your chosen response, your reflexes and motor skills may be slowed.

A disruption to even one stage of the SEE process could lead to dangerous mistakes on the road. If all three steps are impaired because you are not physically or mentally fit to drive, your chances of making a fatal error are high. Always consider whether you are in an appropriate condition to drive, before getting into the driver’s seat.

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