Recently, I was training for a marathon with one of my son’s friends. We were running along a trail and as we approached a roadway, a car driver figured we would be crossing the street and came to a stop. Although we both took advantage of his consideration and waved as we trotted across the road, my running buddy remarked that he didn’t like what had just happened.
He explained that a few weeks earlier he was almost involved in a rear-end collision when a driver in front of him had performed a similar maneuver. According to him, the driver in front was not “following the rules,” and my friend had to hit the brakes to avoid a collision.
Earlier this year, the same friend shared a video on social media about driving in a snowstorm. And as he drove, he recorded the road conditions on video. (No, he shouldn’t have been filming, but bear with me). Visibility was poor, with the occasional whiteout. Just as conditions started to clear, a significantly slower car traveling in the same direction came into view ahead of him. The man had to swerve abruptly in order to avoid hitting him. Fortunately, there was nobody in the next lane.
Don’t get me wrong, I like this guy. He is a husband to his high school sweetheart, father to identical twins and very successful with a passion for life and a drive to do better.
However, when he gets behind the wheel, he makes a critical error that I see a lot of drivers make. He assumes other drivers are going to behave the way he expects them to.
Couple that with a belief that you intimately know the rules of the road, and you have a dangerous combination that significantly increases the likelihood of a crash.
This got me thinking: How often do we make assumptions about other drivers’ actions, regardless of what the rules of the road are? I call it “assumed driving.” Your expectations of what you think other drivers should do actually increases your risk of an accident.
Another example: A driver waiting behind traffic at a red light might assume that the vehicle in front will start moving as soon as the light turns green. Most often, the “assuming” driver will realize the car has not moved yet and will stop in time. But sometimes, the driver is unable to stop in time and a rear-end collision occurs.
This is where the tried-and-true defensive driving technique of waiting three seconds prior to moving comes into play. Count off a quick three seconds and then start moving.
This may not only prevent rear-end collisions, but also re-establishes visibility and a safe following distance.
Another, even more dangerous example: traveling on a multiple-lane roadway, you notice traffic is stopped in the right lane while you’re traveling in the passing lane; then, you see there’s no crosswalk or that the crosswalk lights have not been activated so you continue to move forward, only to have somebody on a bike suddenly appear in front of you.
You might have been following the rules of the road, and the accident might not have been your fault but if you were to strike the cyclist, the fact you were following the rules won’t make you feel better. Defensive driving requires that you make allowances for others’ mistakes. “But I was doing everything right,” doesn’t justify an accident, never mind who is at fault. A pending collision is the worst time to enforce your legal rights.
The nature of assumptions is that we tend to make them when we’re not entirely sure of the whole situation. Often, our assumptions may prove to be accurate, but we must treat them as suspect. There can always be variables we don’t know about, such as that rogue cyclist or the driver ahead of us who is changing the radio station and not aware that the light has turned green.
Be careful not to make assumptions, such as: that another vehicle is not going to abruptly stop in front of us; that the car in front will move as soon as the light turns green; and that traffic stopped in the right lane, while we’re passing on the left, means we can proceed without caution.
Finally, never rely on your understanding of the rules of the road to guide your assumptions.
If there’s one thing I have learned in the years I have driven, it is that people have different interpretations of what is expected on the roadways. Take care out there. Drive defensively, protect yourself and others, even when they make a mistake, and finally, never assume.
This month’s expert is Kevin Dutchak, risk services specialist with Northbridge Insurance. Kevin has served the trucking industry for more than 25 years as a driver, in operations, safety, training and risk management services. Northbridge Insurance is a leading Canadian commercial insurer. Working with its broker partners, its focus is on understanding the needs of its customers and on creating solutions that make a difference to their success. You can visit us them at
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