This stems from an answer on the Bicycles StackExchange site: https://bicycles.stackexchange.com/a/28633/1464

I think many people have heard of driving (or riding) "defensively." I understand this to mean driving (or riding) in a way which mitigates risks that other road users (or hazards) may pose.

But until today I had not heard of riding "defensibly." I proposed a correction to "defensively," but was rebuffed and accused of being an American.

The question: is the adjective "defensible" applicable to driving or riding in the sense I have outlined above, or is only "defensive" defensible?

  • What do numbers of Google hits for "defensive driving" and "defensible driving" seem to indicate? Jan 22, 2015 at 1:51
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    @EdwinAshworth: "Defensible driving" has very few hits (270 vs. 872,000 for "defensive driving"). I'm not sure how acceptable that is as a normative source, but there it is. Jan 22, 2015 at 3:07
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    On the other hand, "being an American" is a pretty serious accusation...
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 22, 2015 at 6:45
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    Her answer shows that medica has done some fine detective work to show that ' "defensible driving" does exist as a term'. I suspect that your accusers have not. I'd guess that they've made a mistake that turns out to be possibly justifiable. You could ask them to define "defensible driving" to see if they're mistakenly using it where they should be using "defensive driving". Jan 22, 2015 at 11:30
  • Saying "accused of being an American" is exaggerating (and inflaming) what was actually said. The post I see starts with "Are you from the US?" In context, this seems to be a totally sincere question, not a veiled barb.
    – rschwieb
    Jan 22, 2015 at 11:53

1 Answer 1


Actually, "defensible driving" does exist as a term, but it means exactly what you think it should: driving that can be defended in a court of law or public opinion.

  • Ability to operate a motor vehicle and observe legal and defensible driving practices... (from a bus driving training site)
  • Among the Australian women, safe and morally defensible driving was more closely linked to the blood alcohol limit enforced in Australia... (paper on drunk driving in Australia)
  • Operate a vehicle, observing legal and defensible driving practices... (job requirement)
  • Representation in court by an attorney for defensible driving tickets...

There are ~ 275 hits on Google. Most of the others were either mistakes, repetition of a joke, or separated by a comma.

Your argument is quite defensible.

DEFENSIBLE DRIVING: A young man had just parked his car in his office building's garage when he noticed a friend pulling in. As the young man approached his friend's car, he noticed that her windshield was busted and that the car's bumper was covered with blood, leaves and twigs. Concerned, he asked, "What happened?" "I was in an accident ... I ran over an attorney," she said. "Well, that explains the broken windshield and blood on the grill, but what's with the twigs and leaves?" "I had to chase him all through the park!"

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    "I was driving along slowly and carefully when this tree came out and hit me." Jan 22, 2015 at 11:25

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