How good are your observations and planning?
Now is a good time to think over how well you actively observe and plan your driving and begin to improve your skills. Next time you drive over an unfamiliar route ask yourself these questions both before and after your journey:
- Do you constantly see what is happening?
- in the far distance
- middle distance
- to the sides and
- to the rear
- Do you anticipate what is likely to happen and adjust your driving?
- Do you rank the hazards you have seen or anticipated in order of importance to you?
- Do you use what you see to plan your actions?
- Do you make plans for if one of the hazards you see suddenly turns dangerous?
Many drivers relax their concentration on familiar roads so assess yourself on those as well.
Use the advice in this fact sheet to help develop and improve your skills in driver observations.
Developing your observation skills helps build up a picture of what is happening all around your vehicle. The best way to do this is by using a scanning motion with your eyes.
By scanning you are much more likely to see different hazards in time to deal with them safely than those who just look in one area only. You will also reduce the risk of being in a collision.
Scanning is a continuous process. Look as far as it is possible to see in front of you and then sweep your eyes back to just in front of your vehicle picking anything that might cause you a problem. Check your rear view and wing mirrors and use you peripheral vision to sense anything that might need more attention – you can look over your shoulder to check the blind spot. Then sweep your eyes back out to the far distance and start again.
Keep up the scanning as you look for different hazards that could affect you. By spotting hazards early you should have time to adjust the speed and position of your car to deal with them safely and smoothly. You are less likely to be taken by surprise and will find you don’t need to brake or steer sharply to take avoiding action. Try not to start in particular risk areas as this stops you placing hazards in the broader context.
Use all your mirrors and consider an over the shoulder check when it is not safe to use mirrors alone, for example when reversing, moving off from the kerb, joining or overtaking on a motorway, or leaving a roundabout.
This is the area of eyesight surrounding the central area of sharply defined vision.
The receptors in this part of the eye are very good at sensing movement, which alerts you to something that needs more of your attention. In driving, this can prompt you to use your wing mirrors, look to the right or left or take a look over your shoulder at other road users that may be coming up at your side. Make sure you take notice of your peripheral vision and check out something that catches your attention.
Peripheral vision also gives you a sense of speed and lateral position.
Zones of visibility
When driving, the road around you is made up of different zones of visibility, some of which you can see easily and other that are more difficult.
Where your view is restricted, try to use other sources of information and take advantage of any glimpses of a wider view that you can get. Typical areas with poor visibility are junctions in built up areas and winding lanes in the countryside.
Use every chance you have to get more information:
- Open spaces and breaks in hedges, fences and walls and buildings could mean you are approaching a junction.
- On country roads the line of trees, hedges or lampposts can help show you the line of the road and where it bends.
- On congested urban road use the reflection in shop windows.
- The angle of approaching headlights can give you information on bends in the road at night.
- If there are breaks in hedges and fences (or they are low enough), you can spot hazards on the other side of a bend by looking at the road across the inside of the bend over the field or open land.
Practice picking up extra information as you drive along. The more you do it the better you will get at seeing hazards before you get to them.
Always think about what you can see, what you might not be able to see and what you could reasonably expect to happen.
How speed affects observations
Always adjust your vehicle’s speed to how well you can see road in front and the complexity of any situation ahead. You should always be in a position to stop within the distance you can see is clear.
At 70mph, the shortest distance you can stop in is 96m (315 feet), which is roughly the distance between motorway marker posts (100m). To anticipate things happening at this speed you need to be scanning everything between your vehicle and the horizon.
The faster you go the further you will need to look ahead. As your speed increases you need to consciously look beyond the point where your eyes would naturally rest to give you chance to see and react to hazards.
Being tired also affects your ability to see at speed – particularly a problem on long motorway journeys – and you should slow down before finding a safe place to take a break.
As speed increases the distance travelled during the time you are reacting increases, no matter how effective the breaking system on your car. This means you should build this into the safe stopping distance you need at any particular speed.
Ability to take in foreground detail decreases with speed. In built up areas where other road users and hazards are more likely, it is essential that you drive at an appropriate speed for the conditions, no matter what the speed limit is, so that you can take in all the information to drive safely.