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Keep Your Eyes (and Mind) Open While You Drive

Driving is one of those activities which really is whole-body. As you drive you will use your hands, feet, head, arms, eyes, and ears to make sure you and everyone else stays safe.

You also need to be using your mind. Your mind may be the most important tool while you drive, because your mind will help you make sense of everything that’s going on. You will get excellent driver training in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia — which will help you develop the skills you need.

But your mind still needs to be in the car with you so that you see everything you need to see. And that requires training also, because behind the wheel is no place to see only the things you expect to see.

Driver education should focus on perception, also.

Let’s begin with a little test. Don’t worry — there’s no penalty for failure.

Did you see it the first time?  Probably not. Few people do, unless they’ve seen something similar before.

Why does this happen?  Human psychology. We are wired to see what we want or expect to see. Expectations can lead us to misperceive situations, which can get us in trouble.

In the Awareness Test (which has a driver’s ed component — remember to watch for cyclists!) you were instructed to look for one thing:  the number of passes the team in white made. You were, so to speak, “acting under orders”.

Being good viewers, you counted. Because you were focused on the team in white, you didn’t see the bear, and you didn’t count the number of passes the team in black made.

I bet you can see the connection with driver’s education and driving.Driving requires you to avoid getting lulled into expectations, and to make sure your perceiving mind is active and alert.

Driving requires you to avoid getting lulled into expectations, and to make sure your perceiving mind is active and alert.

Perception and observation should be active to drive safely

Accidents happen most often because one (or more) drivers didn’t see a change in time to avoid the accident. Their eyes may have been on the road, but perhaps they focused on one part of the situation and therefore ignored the rest.

Think about the awareness test. The active portion of the test lasted for 14 seconds. In 14 seconds, a lot can happen behind the wheel.

A car traveling 88 km/hour travels 24.4 meters per second; during the time of the test, your car could go almost 342 meters — over 3 soccer fields long.

It takes about ¾ of a second to perceive and process a hazard — that’s about 18 meters right there. Your brain then has to tell your foot to hit the brakes. That message takes another ¾ of a second. Another 18 meters.

And at that speed it will take around 90 meters to come to a stop — a soccer field.

And that’s if you’re paying attention to the event requiring the brakes.

In addition to realizing that texting and driving is highly dangerous, it also suggests we need to be observing actively to make sure we don’t cause accidents.

Active observation will help keep you safe behind the wheel.

You can’t just stare directly ahead of you. You will miss the moonwalking bears in the side streets. The best way to observe actively and perceive accurately is to follow these rules:

  • Look well over the steering wheel, and look where you’re turning when you turn.
  • Your eyes should move around actively, not getting fixed on one spot for more than 2 seconds or so.
  • Check the far, middle, and near distances — remember that the child playing in the yard 3 blocks away could be running across the street in just a few seconds.
  • Check your mirrors every 10 seconds or so, and set them up so there’s just a very slight overlap in the view from one mirror to the next (that helps look for cyclists, too!).
  • Always be aware of potential exits from your situation. Be aware that other cars could swerve into you.
  • Look to see if you can see other driver’s eyes in their mirror. If you can, they can probably see you.

One thing to be aware of is that we react to faster objects more quickly than slower ones, especially if the faster objects are larger. We’ll see cars before bicycles and pedestrians.

Be aware of traffic in crossroads. Don’t count on their stopping even if there’s a stop sign or red light in their direction — on the other hand, don’t stop, either. Just be aware that some people are clueless that way.

How can I learn to perceive well as a new driver?

You can begin to develop good car perception habits even before you get your license. Parents can also begin this process early.

Take a commentary drive.

A commentary drive is one you narrate what’s going on and what you’re doing as you travel. Even before you have your license, you can narrate to your parent driver what’s going on, and they can both affirm your perceptions as well as point out things you might have missed which might be important.

Recording the commentary might also help develop your perception skills. Filming the ride adds to the impact.

A good commentary drive should have you talking about the following items

  • General — using mirrors and seeing cars 2-3-4 ahead of you, and what they could do. Someone going slowly may be looking for an address — that should be in your commentary.
  • Approaching vehicles — they may require you to change lanes or otherwise take action.
  • Road surface changes — is it bumpy or slippery? You may notice a change in the distance, like a utility company truck.
  • Other road users — Pedestrians, children in yards, loose dogs all pose risks.
  • Speed changes — note changes in speed and why the speed changed.
  • Road signs and markings — discuss what these signs and markings mean.

Commentary drives can help you develop your perception, and your parents will be able to help you develop those skills.

Perception will keep you safe

Once you practice your perception skills, you will be even more ready to drive than before. Perception is a skill which can be developed even before you take driving lessons around Moncton or Oromocto.

As you work through your driver training — both in classes and with your parents — you can do everyone a favor and perceive things accurately. By being aware of how your brain perceives what comes through your eyes, you will be a great driver.