Diligent driving observation increases
alert driving and driver attention

Here are the first four definitions of the word "observation" from dictionary.com:

1. an act or instance of noticing or perceiving.
2. an act or instance of regarding attentively or watching.
3. the faculty or habit of observing or noticing.
4. notice: to escape a person's observation.

Driving observation is not just "seeing" things ahead while driving, but taking notice and reacting appropriately.

Notice whats happening around you.

Those who use the safest driving techniques will be concentrating on what is happening around them using effective driving observation.

Move eyes constantly

A drivers eyes should be moving nearly every two seconds.

Studies show that where your eyes move is where your brain focuses attention.

Studies also show having a fixed stare reduces brain activity.

These two facts show the importance of constant eye movement while driving. It makes for more alert driving, especially when drowsy, and makes for better driver attention to hazards on the road.

It can't be emphasized enough that good driving observation is seeing AND NOTICING everything going on around you while driving.It is one of the most important ways to avoid collisions.

While moving your eyes, use as little head movement as possible. When your head moves, you tend to drift that direction, and you take your eyes and attention off what is happening immediately in front of you.

Some other areas besides ahead of you to focus on
while moving your eyes include:

The rear view mirror
About every eight seconds glance in your rear view mirror.
Watch for cars coming too fast behind you, especially when braking.
Also keep alert for emergency vehicles coming up behind you.

The side mirrors
Especially on the freeway or where you have lanes of traffic going your direction on either side.
Check side mirrors Not just when changing lanes, but every 10 seconds or so to know if a vehicle is passing you or coming into your blind spot.

In these pictures you can see the vehicles coming close beside you.

It can be very easy to miss a vehicle starting to come through your blind spot on the side. That could cause a collision when attempting to make a lane change. Know what is approaching on either side of your vehicle. Correct mirror adjustment is important for the best view of objects coming up behind you.
The dash board

Good driving observation includes watching your speedometer, gas gauge, and your temperature gauge.
(An overheated engine can be destroyed very quickly.)

Look left, straight ahead, and to the right
before entering any intersection

How many people run red lights and stop signs?

A quick glance every direction will let you see any vehicle (or pedestrian) coming in your path while you still have time to brake and avoid a collision.

Look left first
because that is the closest lane to you.

Look center second
because someone turning left in front of you is your next immediate danger.

Look right last
because the right lane is a little further away giving you a little more time to react.

Good driving observation is especially important at intersections because that is where most collisions happen.

This quick glance should be at all intersections, even if you don't have a light or stop sign.

Intersections without signs or signals, as in the bottom picture, are the hardest to see.
This is especially true on highways where the speed limit is 35 MPH or more.

You can see the white crosswalk lines to the right and left ahead in the picture where the cross street is.

Pedestrians have the right of way even at these unmarked intersections unless local laws say otherwise.

Look well ahead

You should be looking from a few feet in front of your vehicle to about 1 1/2 to 2 blocks ahead (with quick glances).

If you draw a small horizontal line with a permanent marker at your eye level on your windshield, your eyes shouldn't be looking much below that line. This will give you the best vision of what's ahead.

*be sure not to look so far ahead that you don't see an obstacle right in front of you.

Looking far up the road gives you time to slow and react to road hazards without having to slam on the brakes, or doing a quick lane change.

In this picture 2 blocks (about 12 seconds) ahead would be past the last clump of trees on the right,and beyond the signs in the distance.

This is an important part of good driving observation.

Watch for peds and cyclists

Also remember to concentrate on watching for smaller obstacles as well as large obstacles.

A study of eye movement shows eye movement is more sensitive to fast moving objects (cars), than slower moving objects (pedestrians and most bicyclists),

Thus not only the smaller size, but slower movement makes it more difficult for a driver to see and notice bicyclists and pedestrians.

Collision-free driving techniques will include remembering objects harder to see in your driving observation.

It takes almost no thought to be looking for the average and large size vehicles while driving because they are going faster, are so easy to see, and are usually all around you.

Smaller obstacles like bikes, pedestrians and motorcycles not only are harder to see, but there are usually fewer of them on the road.

For these reasons it takes more mental effort, as well as physical effort to see them. This makes alert driving and driver attention even more important.

While you are driving, especially near intersections and multi-lane roads, keep thinking to yourself "If a car isn't here, a bike, motorcycle or pedestrian could be here". If a car can't fit there, one of these others still could.

There are at least eight pedestrians crossing on this crosswalk!

Remember the frame of your vehicle on the windows can hide your view of a car, much more easily can they hide those pedestrians and cyclists from your driver vision.

At intersections, move your head enough to check the blind spot around that frame.

The pedestrians and cyclists stepping off the curb to your right are the hardest to see. Check your blind spot to the right on those right turns.
Cyclists and pedestrians aren't always where they should be.

Notice the people walking in the middle of the block in picture to the right.

And here there is a pedestrian in the crosswalk with the red hand signal up!

Drivers aren't the only ones who talk on cell phones while operating a vehicle!

This bicyclist is talking on his phone while riding!

Glance inside parked vehicles

If someone was sitting in the drivers seat of this truck, they might open the door to come out as well as move the vehicle into your lane.

One time a student of mine made a sharp left turn onto a narrow side street where a car was parked within ten feet of the intersection on the right.
No sooner did he complete the turn when
the back door opened and two young kids jumped out.

Watch the tires of any vehicle that could come into your path

Watching the tires of parked cars will let you see if they are moving into your lane, it will also let you see the feet of people walking in front of the vehicle.

Watching the tires of cars coming on side streets lets you see how fast they are coming and if they will stop or not.

Watching the tires of the car ahead of you
will let you know if it is slowing
(not always do people use their brakes to slow,
down and their brake lights might not be working).

Watching the tires of the car in the lane next to you
as you pass or are being passed, lets you know
if they are making a lane change without seeing you.
If a person was sitting in the drivers seat of this parked truck, you would watch for him pulling out since the tires are turned out.

Remember good driving observation habits is the most important key to avoiding collisions

top of page

Good vision makes better drivers

Return to Driving Techniques from Driving Observation

more to come on Driving Observation