When one is driving a car (or any other vehicle for that matter) there is a German term that describes the practice trying to predict situations that might occur. When attempting to translate it I can only come up with descriptions, not with a succinct term. The descriptions revolve around the following:

  • situational awareness
  • anticipating dangers
  • safe driving practice

But none of them feel like the right term to me.

I've also found anticipatory driving being used. But here the context seems to usually be fuel efficiency. I also have the sneaky suspicion that it originated as a translation of the German term I am looking to translate (vorrausschauendes Fahren).

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    Note, that vorrausschauendes Fahren carries a fuel-aware meaning in German as well. Passive or Defensive Fahrweise however, do not. – npst Jan 30 '14 at 13:21
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    In my drivers ed. class, we called it "defensive driving." – Bruce James Jan 30 '14 at 14:49
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    "Defensive Driving" is also the term I learned. – Doc Jan 30 '14 at 15:36
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    This being the English Language & Usage forum, I should probably point out that the term is "revolve around", not "evolve around". – 200_success Jan 30 '14 at 18:01
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    In "Traffic" by Tom Vanderbilt he describes a device which video-records instances where teenage drivers accelerate, brake or corner too hard and sends the videos to their instructors. One young student claimed to have found a way to beat the system: look far ahead, anticipate situations where an action was likely to be required, and slow down early and gradually. :-) If you're interested in driver psychology, it's an entertaining read. – Eric Lippert Jan 30 '14 at 20:12

18 Answers 18


You might consider foresight (vorausschauend is translated by Google as "foresighted").

foresight [mass noun]
the ability to predict what will happen or be needed in the future:
he had the foresight to check that his escape route was clear

but anticipating any hazards by close observation (such as being ready for the child playing near the road to chase his football) can indeed be called anticipatory driving. Different terms may be used in different countries.

To anticipate, is to take action when you expect something will or might happen. The way you anticipate what might happen is to make early use of all the information available to you. To do this effectively you need to be constantly aware of what is happening around you. You should constantly be scanning the road ahead and checking your mirrors. Take in as much information as you can. Be aware of what is happening:

to the side

Keep your eyes moving. Pay attention to the middle and far distance, not just what is happening immediately ahead of you. Try and see the bigger picture, don't allow your eyes to be drawn to just one area. Looking further ahead will enable you to see things earlier and give you more time to deal with them.


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    The problem with foresight is that foresighted driving (like anticipatory driving) doesn't seem to be a canonical term (e.g. it doesn't show up in google ngram) – John Jan 30 '14 at 12:50
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    I'm in the UK. I've definitely heard of anticipatory driving but defensive driving is less used here. – Andrew Leach Jan 30 '14 at 12:52
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    Agreed, as a UK speaker, on hearing "defensive driving" I'd imagine something like the opposite of its actual meaning: someone who thinks the road belongs to them, convinced every other driver is a fool they need to defend themselves against, hogging the middle lane, aggressively blasting the horn and/or swearing, not letting people overtake... I think serious motorists here would know the term but others would take it the wrong way. – user56reinstatemonica8 Jan 30 '14 at 18:05
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    OTOH as another Br Eng speaker I've always known it as 'defensive driving'. – peterG Jan 30 '14 at 18:07
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    @user568458 That seems like an odd interpretation of the word "defensive" to me. "Aggressive" and "defensive" are usually treated almost like antonyms. – Kyle Strand Jan 30 '14 at 18:40

In the US, the most common term is defensive driving

The standard Safe Practices for Motor Vehicle Operations, ANSI/ASSE Z15.1, defines defensive driving as "driving to save lives, time, and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others."

It is a form of training for motor vehicle drivers that goes beyond mastery of the rules of the road and the basic mechanics of driving. Its aim is to reduce the risk of collision by anticipating dangerous situations, despite adverse conditions or the mistakes of others.

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    @John I've added addition information from the cite that reflects anticipation. The real focus of such programs is a heightened awareness of all of the conditions and possible challenges in a given situation. – bib Jan 30 '14 at 12:57
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    @John: despite the definition, the term defensive driving, as used in the US, includes anticipating your fellow drivers' actions. – Peter Shor Jan 30 '14 at 14:08
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    I thought 'defensive driving' meant keeping a firearm in the glove compartment. – WS2 Jan 30 '14 at 14:20
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    @John, the crux of defensive driving is that is anticipatory instead of reactionary. By anticipating the actions of other drivers and pedestrians, a driver can make the best choice of evasive moves. – Kristina Lopez Jan 30 '14 at 17:26
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    Yes this is also the term used in Australia. – hippietrail Jan 30 '14 at 19:26

There is a term, "defensive driving" which encompasses what you mention.

Defensive driving is a form of training for motor vehicle drivers that goes beyond mastery of the rules of the road and the basic mechanics of driving. Its aim is to reduce the risk of collision by anticipating dangerous situations, despite adverse conditions or the mistakes of others. This can be achieved through adherence to a variety of general rules, as well as the practice of specific driving techniques. — Wikipedia


(Would just have left this as a comment, but don't have the reputation.)

In the UK, as well as practical and theory tests, to get a driving licence you have to pass a "hazard perception" test involving watching a video of someone driving, and clicking a mouse when you see a developing hazard. ("A developing hazard is something that may result in you having to take some action, such as changing speed or direction.”) This sounds similar-ish to what you're after.

  • Good Info, thanks. Have you heard of a way that hazard perception could be used in conjunction with driving? – John Jan 30 '14 at 12:52
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    +1 for "hazard perception" and "developing hazards". I was going to suggest the same myself. It's a standard terminology in the UK due to it being a component of the driving theory test. – starsplusplus Jan 30 '14 at 16:17

The older term is defensive driving, but I believe these days that term has lost favor with, e.g., driving teachers, and the new term, IIRC, is cooperative driving. I think the philosophical reason for the change is that to many people, "defensive driving" implied that the other drivers were idiots or homicidal maniacs, and you needed to protect yourself against them. Googling on "cooperative driving" turns up, e.g., some California DMV videos with that title.

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    I'm from California and the other drivers fit the original description very well. – Oldcat Jan 30 '14 at 18:31
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    I've done quite a bit of driving around the US, and I'd say that everywhere I've been, the "idiots or homicidal maniacs" description applies to at least 2% of drivers on the road--and it's that 2% against whom you do in fact need to defend yourself against. That said, I've never heard the term "cooperative driving," but it's not bad. – Kyle Strand Jan 30 '14 at 18:43
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    The problem with this view is that your cartoonish example of the "old philosophy" is in fact quite correct. In fact, I've taught multiple new drivers, and I specifically divide all drivers up into two categories, for which "idiots" and "homicidal maniacs" would be good labels. You have to learn to identify them quickly, because driver behavior is actually quite predictable once you know which you are dealing with. ("idiots" are likely to blunder about randomly causing problems, whilst HM's will be looking for the "best" moments to hose you purposely.) – T.E.D. Jan 30 '14 at 20:15
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    I disagree with the concept of cooperative driving. You can't cooperate with someone that you can't contact to do his part. It is one thing to urge drivers to be polite, let people pass or change lanes. But you can't know that the other driver even sees you many times. The defensive driver keeps this in mind. – Oldcat Jan 30 '14 at 21:58
  • I've never heard this term; meanwhile, I know that "defensive driving" has tonnes of linguistic currency. – SevenSidedDie Feb 1 '14 at 4:02

I believe the term you are reaching for is "defensive driving." There really isn't a single word that comes to mind. In aviation the concept is sometimes describe as "being ahead of the airplane." I'd be interested in learning the German word to which you alluded.

  • vorausschauendes Fahren Literally: foresighted driving – John Jan 30 '14 at 12:46

The official terminology in terms of most international Government's driving tests now seems to be Hazard Perception over Defensive Driving, although I've heard both used interchangeably.

In terms of a German Translation: Gefahrenerkennung, literally "Identifying Hazards"


I've commonly heard it as "heads up" driving.

"Because of his heads up driving, he was able to avoid the collision"


In the UK what you describe is exactly what the organisations (IAM, RoSPA) that train in it, call advanced driving. On the other hand, that's unlikely to be fully or immediately understood outside of those who have experienced it. It depends on the context in which you want to use the word.

Advanced driving is subtly different to defensive driving, in that it takes a more proactive attitude to planning for risks and hazards than defensive driving usually requires.

  • "Advanced driving" sounds like something that only experts need concern themselves with, while "amateur" drivers don't need to bother. All motorists should be taught to drive defensively (or cooperatively), though. – Kyle Strand Jan 30 '14 at 18:44
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    That's a fair point. In many ways the lack of a suitable word is one of the difficulties of selling what we do (I'm a trained volunteer tutor). The evidence of an average 5 deaths every day (2012 UK figures) is exactly why 'amateur' drivers should concern themselves with this; if only we could convey the essence of the method succinctly. It's not expert, merely the A-level equivalent to basic-level driving. – Cheeseminer Jan 31 '14 at 15:11
  • @Cheeseminer My driving instructor pointed out that the UK driving test was not a test of competence to drive it was a test of being in a state to start to learn to drive on your own without an instructor - he pointed it out in the context of many of my habits after years of motorcycling being good, (and required on the advanced driving test), being fails on the driving test. – Steve Barnes Feb 5 '14 at 19:34

For a different approach, I once heard someone use the term "Driving for other people", which, as it sounds, means driving while keeping in mind the other people on the road may do something unpredictable or downright stupid, and you have to be prepared to react to - or drive through - those circumstances. It stuck in my head.

Also, whenever I heard the term 'defensive driving', it made me think of making sure people let me on the freeway and keeping from being cut off. Might not be true, but when I hear 'defense', I think 'protection'.


I would use anticipative driving. This may not be standard, but it would be readily understood. I hope that it will catch on.


As others have said, the term I have always associated with this (in the US) is "Defensive driving" (I have not heard of "Cooperative driving").

As an alternative, how about "Adaptive driving"?


If defensive driving is insufficient, the term you might be after is "roadcraft": The skills to be able to read traffic, anticipate hazards and respond accordingly. Make it a word - in good english tradition.

  • What is this thing “english”? Something to do will billiards, right? – tchrist Feb 2 '14 at 19:20

Tactical awareness is a term used in sports and games. The idea is to learn to read clues from the environment, such as position, direction of movement, speed, posture etc to intuit that which will happen next.


In terms of a German Translation it seems reasonable to try the term Proaktive fahren, cannot allot an ounce of certitude though as of its usage in context, it’s just wild guessing.


I like to think of it as predictive (driving).

  • Can you give a little support to your answer beside "I like to think..."? Have you heard it used? Have you seen it in writing? – TecBrat May 25 '14 at 1:20

In French (Canada, France, Switzerland), they say "conduite (automobile) preventive". Wouldn't a "preventive driving" be a choice, I wonder ?


You're going to run in to that problem a lot (German to English, or any language to English). Many languages are more expressive than English.

It's not specific to driving, but you might consider "Vigilance", or "Vigilant".

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