Driver Knowledge Tests

What is a defensive driving course and how can it help your driving?

A defensive driving course takes your driving one step further to improve your anticipation of the dangers on the road, hone your reactions to them and improve your vehicle control skills, whether that’s a car, motorbike or heavy vehicle. Defensive driving courses are not advanced driving courses which take place at higher speeds on a racetrack, and they are not the kind of training that organisations such as the Institute of Advanced Motorists teach (although, they will cover many of the same concepts).

Most defensive driving packages follow a set formula as regards the structure of the day and the topics covered, and they last around 7 hours for car courses and around 4 hours for heavy vehicle courses.

Theory component

This is held in a classroom situation and will cover the following types of topics:

  • Understanding human factors
  • Hazard perception
  • Defensive driving techniques
  • Fatigue management
  • Managing and reducing risks associated with driving
  • Braking distances
  • Vehicle performance and systems
  • Scanning techniques

Practical component

This will usually be done on a racetrack or a large open area like a car park. Cars are sometimes shared between students if provided by the instructor.

  • Vehicle maintenance
  • Accident avoidance
  • Seating position
  • Steering technique
  • Simulated emergency braking exercises
  • Low-speed manoeuvring exercises

How much does a defensive driving course cost?

Expect to spend between $200 and $400 depending on whether you are already taking lessons with the driving instructor that is holding the course, the location of the course and its facilities, and any extras provided. You can sometimes find discounted deals under $200 on coupon sites, and some companies do student discounts. You will usually use your own vehicle; if a vehicle is provided then the course will often be more expensive and you will share it with other course participants.

The facilities available can affect the cost. Using a skid pan or a specialist facility with different road surface types will generally be more expensive.

Do you have to do a defensive driving course?

A defensive driving course isn’t mandatory for regular drivers. Some companies require that their drivers complete one before they get access to a company vehicle in order to reduce their insurance costs. If you lose your licence you may be required to do a defensive driving course.

What should you expect to learn on a defensive driving course?

  • How to apply defensive driving techniques
  • A system of vehicle control (e.g. Information, position, speed, gear acceleration; or course, mirror, signal, brake, gear, acceleration; or right place, right speed, right gear)
  • Rapid identification of hazards – looking far enough ahead and understanding what’s going on
  • Improved vision and visibility while driving – scanning, road positioning
  • Minimising distractions – dealing with your phone and any technology in the vehicle
  • Understanding the physics of how a vehicle reacts under braking, acceleration and cornering, and the limitations of the tyres
  • Risks associated with alcohol, drugs and fatigue
  • How all the vehicle’s safety devices work together (seat belts, air bags and any technology in the vehicle)
  • Setting the vehicle up properly for the driver, and ensuring tyre pressures are correct
  • How a trailer affects handling.

What won’t you learn on a defensive driving course?

  • Drifting and controlling skids
  • Deliberately provoking loss-of-control situations
  • Pursuit and performance driving
  • How to multitask when driving
  • Off-road driving
  • Backing a trailer

Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

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