What is defensive driving and how it helps fleet managers

Defensive driving is the key mindset that will keep your fleet safe, vehicles in order and drivers in check. And it will save you and all fleet drivers the embarrassment of a typical dressing down by the interstate and highway police. 

Being a mindset, defensive driving incorporates a set of driving behaviors that enables drivers achieve a daily routine that is as uneventful as possible. And that is preponderantly important in the life of a fleet manager.

What is defensive driving?

Defensive driving is a mindset that enables a motorist to identify and anticipate driving hazards. That said, it requires certain driving skills that enable the motorist to control their speed, expect the unexpected and always remain alert. It also requires respecting all drivers, as well as weather and road conditions, leveraging adjustability.

According to Wikipedia, there is a standardized way to look at it. To that end, the “Safe Practices for Motor Vehicle Operations” standard, defines it as a set of defensive driving skills, where you —the driver — are aiming to “save lives, time, and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others”.

The basic principles of defensive driving

In 1937, Mark Everard Pepys introduced the roadcraft system of car or motorcycle control. Interestingly, it’s purpose was to educate motorists on how to operate their vehicles safely. A lot has changed since this first attempt at safe driving; all for the better. Especially since the number of vehicles increased from a few thousand in the 1900s to around 1.32 billion in 2016. Without a doubt, driving safely is all the more important in 2020. To that end, certain principles were developed, to describe and support the efforts in fostering defensive driving.

  • Always respecting the minimum and maximum speed limits
  • Being alert and distraction free at all times, so that if faced with a difficult situation you can anticipate an odd predicament and avoid the danger
  • Being respectful and pay attention to other drivers
  • Maintaining a safe distance from the preceding vehicle
  • Looking ahead, expecting the unexpected, as other motorists might not behave as you ordinarily would. This includes both motorists and pedestrians.
  • Always keeping weather and road conditions in mind, adjusting driving behavior accordingly
  • Adjusting speed before entering a bend, avoiding the need to hit the brakes in the middle of a bend.
  • Observing all driving regulations

Defensive driving: Pros and Cons

The obvious advantage of defensive driving is, of course, road safety. Today, modern fleets tend to incorporate defensive driving programs as one of the core aspects of their business. Not only is it beneficial on the road, but it brings a few business advantages, as well.


  • It’s easy to learn and adopt
  • It’s a very good way to prevent accidents
  • Leverages fuel economy and savings
  • Keeps maintenance costs as low as possible
  • Keeps insurance costs as low as possible

We have covered this subject more extensively, with 5 key defensive driving behaviors your fleet drivers need to adopt.

And, of course, there is always a flip side to the coin. Sure enough, there are a couple of cons in trying to adopt the defensive driving mindset. Undoubtedly, they’re hard to countermand, as they’re mostly related to some kind of involuntary behavior. But, it’s certainly worth the effort.


  • Not easy to adopt if the driver is a hurry
  • Extremely dangerous when the driver is fatigued

Ingesting more calories or greater quantities of coffee won’t help either. And, therein lies the difficulty of driving defensively. But it’s imperative that all fleet businesses implement some kind of defensive driving program. It will save you heaps of trouble in the long run.

The importance and value of defensive driving

The increased congestion on highways demands increased driver skill levels. And what with the driver shortage we suffer from, these days, it’s increasingly difficult for fleet managers to recruit the right people. Thus, more accidents are happening, causing safety issues and considerable downtime; giving fleet managers a chronic headache, hogging on their productivity and efficiency. So, we’ve established defensive driving is important. But, where lies it’s value? Let’s go through a few problems it will solve:

  • Improved driver skills
  • Less accidents, which means less accident claims filed; which means less dollars paid
  • Reduced insurance rates
  • Less malfunctions, which means considerably less maintenance and downtime
  • Considerable less or no driver downtime
  • Little or no need for vehicle replacement
  • Mitigation of delays, which means happier customers
  • No more visits to courts of law, if you’re State-certified

These issues are the bread and butter of a fleet manager. And, having them resolved is being able to strategically improve the efficiency and safety of a fleet. That’s how defensive driving will bring value to a business.

Defensive vs offensive driving

Defensive driving is the polar opposite of offensive driving. As such, while offensive driving is probably something to be carefully avoided, having the skills to do it carefully may not be all that bad, in an emergency.

Defensive driving keeps a driver one step ahead, avoiding hazards like road traps and inconveniences like tailgating. It provides some extra peace of mind against blatantly disregardful drivers. On the other hand, it can be slow, preventing good driving flow. Getting too defensive may also be unsafe.

Offensive driving can help avoid getting stuck in a lane. But, while it helps get ahead and, perhaps, enjoy the rest of the ride, it can easily be involved with rage driving. It’s a dangerous mix and is highly inadvisable. Besides, getting there faster is not a major benefit; just getting there, is.

Defensive driving tips for fleet managers

There is nothing like a good method to get drivers started on defensive driving. A fleet manager needs to be able to demonstrate its value to all sorts of different drivers. These are people with different personalities. While it’s not an easy feat, helping drivers be prepared for it is a great start.

Helping drivers be prepared for defensive driving can start as simple as running a few “pre-flight” checks for:

  1. Oil and coolant levels
  2. Tire pressure
  3. Gas levels
  4. Seats and seat-belts
  5. Front and tail lights and indicators
  6. Mirrors windows and windshields (for good visibility)
  7. Insurance and any other documentation needed

Actively pursuing it

The next step is really easy, as well. Being seen on the road is half the job done, already. Having drivers switching their headlights on, even during daylight hours can go a long way towards being seen on the road. And not only during inclement weather. Light-colored vehicles can also help. White or yellow vehicles will do the trick.

Once these bases are covered, it’s time for some tricks that need some more involvement on the driver’s part.

  • Don’t react to road rage. It will never solve anything; it will most likely escalate things into real problems.
  • Use the two-second rule. Stay at least two seconds of driving time behind the preceding vehicle. Double that distance in bad conditions.
  • Avoid staying at the blind spots of other vehicles. Avoiding driving next to other vehicles for a long period of time will also provide a safe exit from the road, in an emergency.
  • Avoid vehicles that are broken down or show signs of damage. Try to pull into a lane away from the vehicle, keeping a safe distance from it.

Defensive driving can also be offered in the form of lessons. Many organizations offer a certification, leveraging the sense of teamwork.

Courses for defensive driving

Several organizations offer a structured system of training courses for defensive driving. Most of them will address several defensive driving concepts, such as:

  • Distractions and how to deal with them
  • Driving intentions and how to signal them
  • Managing speed
  • Navigating road hazards
  • Dealing with fatigue
  • Route planning for maximal safety
  • Evaluating space while driving

While these are not representative of the entirety of concepts addressed in training for defensive driving, they provide a good idea of how they might look like. And, of course, knowing how to manage oneself on the road, is of paramount importance to professional drivers that may lend themselves to the intricacies of road hazards on a daily basis.

There is a host of organizations that offer certified training for defensive driving. More specifically, depending on one’s needs there are plenty of different options to choose from, to make it count.


Defensive driving is all about respect and anticipation. It’s the one thing that will keep a fleet safe, vehicles in order and drivers in check. Certainly, it may take effort and it will take time. But, at the end of the day, it offers a safer, more efficient business and happier customers. However, DIY defensive driving is not really an option. There are certified training centers for defensive driving that will also provide a valid certificate for taking the courses. That said, fleet that is State-certified for defensive driving has its benefits. No more visits to the court. Furthermore, in some cases, no more speeding tickets, either. It is, certainly, a great tool under a fleet manager’s belt.