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So today we want to talk about the subject of defensive driving. And the way I define defensive driving is, the ability to develop the proper driving habits, so that we can compensate for pretty much anything that goes on out on the roadways and that we can avoid a crash at any level.

Does the word compensate here mean take an action to make up and eliminate the bad effect of what you have done during driving ? Or it simply mean to prevent sth bad from happening? Which one fits here?

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I'd say it matches your first definition, although in this context the second one is an implied consequence. I would just make a small adjustment to your first definition - you are not trying to eliminate a bad effect of something you have done, but the bad effect of something that has happened beyond your control (that's what the rest of the sentence "pretty much anything that goes on on the roads" means).

The whole paragraph can be transformed into a sequence like this one:

you acquire defensive driving skills so that when

you are driving -> (and) something unexpected, potentially dangerous happens on the road (beyond your control) -> your habit kicks in -> you automatically perform a defensive maneuver -> the effect of this maneuver counters the effect of the unexpected event -> you emerge from the incident safely, without a crash (without bad consequences)

the bold part corresponds to the meaning of 'compensate for' in your context.

I would read it as the 2nd definition from ODO:

[no object] (compensate for) Reduce or counteract (something unwelcome or unpleasant) by exerting an opposite force or effect

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It means so that we can react proactively and promptly to a potentially dangerous condition or situation and in doing so avoid a mishap.

  • Well, you can't react proactively... – Steve Ives Jun 24 '15 at 15:43
  • I beg to differ: if I'm driving and I see someone ahead of me swerving and weaving, I can react proactively and pull over or call the highway patrol. In other words - I can take proactive steps to avoid an accident. – CocoPop Jun 24 '15 at 16:07
  • You can take action BEFORE the event (i.e. proactively), or AFTER the event (i.e. you can react). You could proactively cover the brake pedal, ready to react, but you can't proactively react, or react proactively. – Steve Ives Jun 24 '15 at 16:14
  • I don't agree. I feel I can either passively continue driving and invite an accident, or I can react to what I'm seeing in a proactive manner. In that way, I feel I'm taking steps BEFORE a would-be accident. – CocoPop Jun 24 '15 at 16:23
  • and here are 82,000 instances of "react proactively" on Google: google.com/webhp?hl=en#hl=en&q=%22react+proactively%22 – CocoPop Jun 24 '15 at 16:25
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I'm not sure that 'compensate' is the best work to use, but it means that if something bad happens on the road, we can 'compensate' (i.e. negate the effect of) for the bad thing, so that there is no adverse outcome, or any adverse outcome is reduced.

I would use 'react to' instead of 'compensate for'

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