Saturday, February 6, 2010

Seeing is believing when it comes to road safety

Re-post from, saturday february, 6th.



It's not how you look while driving, it's how you look.

I'm not talking fashion here. This is not about making Bruno proud of your attire. This is all about vision and how you use this most important sense while driving.

Knowing where to look while driving is absolutely critical for safe motoring. It is a skill that is not emphasized nearly enough in most driving schools.

It requires a great deal of guidance and training to develop good vision skills.

Unfortunately, we must overcome hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary hardwiring to use our vision efficiently for driving. Over all those millennia, our brains developed in such a way that we instinctively look toward the ground as we walk or run. Our ancestors had to watch for rocks, logs and dips in their pathway while on the move at speeds around, say, 10 km/h. As a result, it's not natural to keep our eyes up and vision high for today's high-speed transportation.

Here are some good vision-training techniques to work on whenever you're behind the wheel:

Keep your vision high: It's crucial to look as far up the road as possible. Allowing our eyes to drop to focus on the vehicle in front of us is natural and very easy to do. This is a common mistake among motorists. There are three main dangers with this bad habit:

It's not enough to simply react to what the vehicle in front does. We need to know much earlier what is making the traffic in front of us brake, swerve or slide off the road.

If we're looking at the vehicle in front of us and its driver makes a mistake, we will likely make the same mistake.

It can lead to "vision lock," where our dazed eyes focus on an object.

Keeping our vision high also has another benefit. Our brain is always making thousands of calculations per second without our being aware of it, affecting our balance and direction, for example. With our vision high, our brain can orient itself to the horizon. This allows us to pick up subtle changes in our vehicles' attitude so we can make early successful corrections instead of the late big corrections, which rarely work as a result of our vision being too low.

Look to where you want to go: We have all heard the coaching mantra "keep your eye on the ball.'' Whether it is golf or baseball, many athletes have been trained to look at something if they want to hit it. The same applies to driving. If you want to collide with something, look at it. Since all of us would prefer not to hit something when driving, it's best not to look at any object you wish to avoid. Always look to where you want to go. If a vehicle pulls out into your path or a child runs in front of your vehicle, do not look at them, look at your escape route to avoid them.

You will always go to where you are looking. It's not easy to develop the skill of taking your eyes off the threat in front of you and look to where you need to be going.

Even simple turns are accomplished with better precision and ease when looking to where you want to be and not where you are. More complicated curves are handled with less drama and stress.

Check your mirrors every five to eight seconds: What is behind you will likely try to pass you at some point in your trip. By glancing in your mirrors more often, you won't be surprised by other vehicles approaching from behind. Pilots call this "situational awareness."

It's vital to safe driving that you know where all other vehicles are or where they are likely to be.

Do the A-pillar shuffle: With modern vehicles being designed with improved aerodynamics and styling in mind, windshields are becoming more reclined. As a result, engineers must strengthen the posts around the windshield to help prevent the roof from collapsing on the occupants in a rollover.

To do this they must make the pillar holding up the front windshield thicker. The result is a large blind spot around the side-view mirrors and up to the roof line big enough to hide a pedestrian, cyclist or even a complete vehicle.

To see around this, simply move your head side to side or what I call the A-pillar shuffle when trying to see in that direction.

Good vision habits are critical to safe driving.

Advanced driving schools and racing schools dedicate hours of training to proper vision techniques as this yields the biggest gains in driving skill.

~~Editor's Note~~

I can't say enough about Ian's "A-pillar Shuffle". A large number of pedestrian struck collisions at intersections can be attributed to drivers not looking around the A-pillar, (or looking before they turn period). As a driver you absolutely have to look in the direction you are going to travel before you move the wheels there.


  1. Excellent tips -- I thought the A-pillars seemed harder to see around in newer vehicles, but couldn't put my finger on why. Good to know especially for those of us who have been driving for a long time!

    I am wondering about one thing: "If a vehicle pulls out into your path or a child runs in front of your vehicle, do not look at them, look at your escape route to avoid them."

    Don't you run the risk of the individual or vehicle doing something completely unpredictable and ending up in your escape path anyway? What's the safest way to choose an escape route to look at?

  2. Great question Christa.

    The fact that you have to transition from cooperative driving to collision avoidance indicates that the individual or driver has already done something completely unpredictable.

    The key is to always be ready for those things to happen...being prepared for the mistakes of others.

    Continue to look for your escape route...not at it. The escape route may continue to change as the event progresses and you need to keep moving in the direction where you can go safely.

    Depending on the situation, braking hard may be the escape route if there is no where for you to manoeuvre. There have been many studies that show striking an object (or a person) at even mildly reduce velocities decreases the risk of injury dramatically.

    Hopefully that helps.

    Thanks for the question.