15 September 2009
A good driver is aware of other road users and anticipates what they are going to do. They are hazard aware. This is the skill of scanning the road and linking what you see to what you need to do. Learn to do this early enough and you will find that you really are the king of the road.
Try this little test. Pick a route that you are familiar with and drive regularly. Next time you drive that route tell yourself what you see up-ahead. How much more did you see compared to the day before? Scary isn't it!
Some people ask me why should I bother looking any further than two cars ahead. There are three reasons. Good hazard awareness makes driving less stressful - 70% or road problems vanish if you spot the problems early enough and react straight away. Secondly it is cheaper - If you respond early you can respond gently and this could save you up to a months gas a year. Lastly it is safer - you will find that you are making the right choices for the road ahead.
What is a hazard?
A hazard is anything that could make you change the way that you are driving. Put more simply -its something that you have to deal with. They come in three forms. Fixed Hazards never move -Junctions are an example of a fixed hazard. Potential Hazards might change - Parked cars might pull out. Dynamic Hazards are also known as moving or actual hazards. A car emerging from a junction is a dynamic hazard. You must react to dynamic hazards
You may have more than one hazard. Prioritize them. Flesh over car. Near over far. Moving over potential over fixed.
Observation skills are the core of hazard awareness. It used to be called reading the road, though the term scanning is more popular amongst driving instructors these days. Personally I call it seeing.
New Scotland Yard have been teaching these skills to there police officers since 1956. Metropolitan Police traffic officers are reckoned to be amongst the best trained drivers in the world. The UK government's department of transport has asked its driving standards agency to make sure that all learner drivers are taught these skills. This means that every British driving instructor is teaching these skills in every driving lesson.
There are five habits to good hazard awareness. They are:
1.Look well ahead
2.Keep your eyes moving
3.Look from building to building
4.Spot the problems
Lets take the first two habits. Look as far down the road as you can see. Then mid-distance. Then close to the car. Then check whats happening in the mirrors. Practice doing this every time you drive.
The third habit is the hardest to develop. You must become aware of the entire road - even the sidewalks and alleys.
The easiest way to develop this skill is to position your car correctly.
Position your car so that you have the best view of the road ahead of you. You need to see what is happening as far ahead as possible. You can use cars and windows as mirrors. You can look through the gaps in buildings and fences as you approach junctions. You can look over, under and through parked cars and the cars ahead of you.
The fourth habit is the easiest to develop. Here are some exercises to try in the car:
1.Say what you can see. For example, 'Traffic lights in the distance. Pedestrian near a crossing, junction right, cyclist to my rear'
2.Shout it out. Every time the scene changes shout it out. For example, 'Car junction . Cyclist on crossing'
3.What is he trying to do? Try to predict what another road user is going to do. For example, - Pedestrian left looking across the road - likely to cross quickly. Boy leaving nursery alone - run out in front of you'
The easiest habit to develop is reacting now. You will find that as soon as you identify a hazard your foot will start to lift of that gas pedal.
Does it work? Yes. I am a Driving Instructor and former police driver. I can cross my home town (Hull) and only touch my brakes three to eight times. That is a distance of three miles through the center of the UKs fifteenth largest town.
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