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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Car Guru: Collision free driving – is it possible? Part II – Situational Awareness

Of course not. There are situations when you can’t possibly avoid a collision. But you can limit the chances of a collision by your behaviour behind the wheel. As the all-knowing Car Guru, I’m going to be kind enough to share some tips with you, dear reader, on how to best avoid accidents. Just kidding, of course. What I’m going to do is offer my observations and comments about the errors we all make while driving. After 33 years of driving in a variety of conditions all over the world I have a few.

In this second part of my new advice series, I’d like to touch on a subject very close to my (driver’s) heart – situational awareness.

Our overly simplistic rules of the road, police enforcement methods and a general attitude have made most drivers on our roads very inattentive and unfocused. There is no general feel of watching out for each other and no sense of urgency or perception of danger. Most people believe that if they only drive slowly enough and stop at red lights, they are safe and free to do all kinds of other tasks behind the wheel.

Have you ever noticed that most pedestrians, when crossing a street, only check for a green light and not for traffic crossing their path? Their faith in other drivers is unbelievable. And they pay in many, many deaths every year.

Situational awareness is crucial for safe driving (and walking). You have to look far enough ahead and watch out not only for your own obstacles and signals from other cars, but also for obstacles and situations that may affect those drivers around you. For example, if you see a driver merging on a freeway and his merging lane is ending right in front of his car, don’t change your lane to block his path. He’s got nowhere to go, and while he likely checked the lane he’s merging into, he may have not seen you changing lanes from the next lane over. So scanning all traffic in front of you is crucial and it’s not enough just to stay in your lane and drive the speed limit.

And you should be aware of what’s going on in front of you as well as what’s behind you. A key technique for situational awareness is training yourself to automatically check the rearview mirror every few seconds. It may sound like a bother at first, but it’s easy to learn and most pros have it in their blood. If you’re not employing this technique now, it will drastically change your driving forever. Your stress level behind the wheel will go down and confidence dramatically improve.

When I was getting my driver’s licence in the late seventies’ communist Poland, driving schools weren’t mandatory, but you were guaranteed to fail your exam three or four times if you didn’t take a driver training course. These courses were run not by regular schools, but by the National Defense League – that’s how seriously they took driving. Our instructor drilled into us to check the rear view mirror every three seconds and I do it to this day. Actually back then, if you didn’t check the mirror regularly during your test, the examiner would fail you, even if it was the only mistake you made.

So check that mirror regularly and stay safe and collision free!

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