Should Defensive Driving Courses Be Mandatory?

October 15, 2019


Road Safety


Ella Donald

Since the introduction of seatbelts and drink driving regulations, deaths on roads are thankfully falling. However, there’s always opportunity to make our roads safer, starting with our youngest and newest motorists.

Recently, we ran a survey about new drivers and their opinion of them; should there be new restrictions placed on recent license holders, or should driving in more diverse situations (eg. on highways, at night)?

While respondents agreed that more regulations, such as not eating when driving (53%), fitting GPS-controlled speed limiters (51.2%), motorway driving (68.5%) were all popular, there was a clear favourite for what should be added — defensive driving skills.

77.9% of respondents thought that a course on defensive driving should be made mandatory for all prospective motorists.

So, what would this entail? Are there any proven benefits? Here’s what we found. 

What is defensive driving?

According to Intelligent Training Solutions, a provider of industry lead training programs in multiple fields, “defensive driving is about anticipating road and traffic hazards and responding ahead of time so that you can protect yourself and others from dangerous and unexpected driving situations … when taught correctly, the goal of defensive driving is to be aware of potential threats and be prepared to deal with them before they become a problem.”

There are varying points as to what the necessary skills, but they can mostly be boiled down to five

  1. Look up ahead - paying attention to further up the road, not what’s right in front of you. 
  2. Be aware of blind spots - using your peripheral vision to decide when to change lanes. 
  3. Slow down at all intersections — running a red light is responsible for hundreds of deaths each year, particularly amongst children and the elderly. 
  4. Maintain a safe following distance - you never know when you need to stop, so prevent rear-ending the car in front of you. 
  5. Minimise all distractions - of course, it’s illegal to text and drive, but countless other things keep our eyes off the road, from eating to loud music. 

“Awareness is key to defensive driving, ensuring you are aware of potential hazards and other road users’ actions around you, enabling you to take pro-active action to avoid an incident,” oil and gas company Shell says.

“To enable you to anticipate hazards, look 15 seconds ahead, giving yourself time to react. Aim to always scan your mirrors and look beyond the vehicle in front as this will help you to be aware of possible hazards before it is too late.”

It's worth researching what courses may be available within your local area. Photo: iStock

How does a course work?

A variety of courses exist in Queensland to teach defensive driving, facilitated everywhere from the government-owned Mt Cotton Training Centre, to a range of private, recognised training providers all over the state.

What is covered depends on the course, but for the Defensive Driving course delivered at Mt Cotton and around Queensland by the organisation Safe Driving Training (around $250, one day long), the agenda includes contributing factors in crashes, tyre selection and care, reactive car control skills, driver attitude and behaviour, vehicle stopping distances, low risk/safe driving techniques, and more.

“At the end of the day, you will be surprised how little your driver's licence taught you and what years of experience have failed to show you,” the course says.

If completing such a course was mandatory, it would most likely be from a site like Mt Cotton, where companies use government facilities to teach, allowing for easy verification of completion. Until then, check with your insurance provider — you may be entitled to a temporary reduction on your premiums if you complete a course.

Are there any proven benefits?

Defensive driving courses originated from the United States government in the 1960s, a decade later surveying the outcomes. Of the graduates of the program who participated in the survey, there were 32.8% less accidents in the year following the course, as compared to the year before. This was particularly with young men, who reported a higher reduction in accidents following the course than women.

While this study was from the 1970s, the findings still hold true today, especially in an age where mobile devices continue to be a cause of road deaths, both already highly recommended by governments in both Australia and the US.

“In recent years, Australian and international research has shown that new drivers—particularly young males—who undertake a defensive driving or advanced driving course have a higher crash risk than those who do not,” the Queensland Government says.

“Courses that concentrate on car control (for example skid recovery, cornering, and braking) have been shown to increase new drivers’ confidence—making them overly confident in their skills—and encourage them to try risky manoeuvres and put themselves in dangerous situations on our roads.”

With some schools offering students courses free of charge, the focus on young people isn’t exhaustive — in fact, many believe that all motorists, no matter how experienced, could stand for a refresher.

“When the skills are not practised, they are to a large extent forgotten when required at some time in the future,” the Queensland Government also says. “Most drivers develop additional skills which are more important for day-to-driving, such as hazard perception and the ability to manage distractions, through experience and practice.”

Ella Donald

Ella is a Brisbane based writer for Smith's Lawyers who has written for many noteworthy publications including Vanity Fair, CNN, GQ Middle East, The Guardian, Fairfax, and The Saturday Paper. She covers topics such as entertainment and arts, sport, fashion, food, social and cultural issues, health and beauty, technology, law and travel. She also teaches at the University of Queensland in the School of Communication and Arts.