Crashes occur for a variety of reasons, but mostly because there was a lack of concentration by the driver, resulting in insufficient space and time to prevent an accident.
People tend to be overwhelmed by distractions and now, with the increasing (and illegal) use of mobile phones by drivers, the problem is getting worse. Add the huge numbers of poorly trained drivers, fraudulently obtained licences, alcohol abuse, fatigue, errant pedestrians, stray animals, potholes and inadequate law enforcement, and you have a frightening recipe for disaster, resulting in the average fatality rate in SA of 40 a day.
Let me introduce you to an effective system that will bring a huge improvement in your observation skills, thereby ensuring your safety. It’s called the Commentary Driving System and is successfully used by police forces around the world, as well as by rally competitors.
As the name implies, you give yourself a running commentary about everything you see in front of your car, behind you (from your mirrors) and on the sides. The idea is that you talk out loud to yourself. Sorry passengers, you are just going to have to bear with the driver, or even help by becoming the proverbial back seat driver.
Since it is called a system, you need to be systematic about the way you observe and prioritise the hazards that you encounter. So begin by doing a quick exterior and interior pre-trip inspection. Then take a look at yourself: describe your mental and physical condition. Are you tired, angry, depressed or worried? Give yourself a pep talk if this seems appropriate.
Being aware of your car’s condition will help you adjust your speed accordingly, and be more cautious if, for instance, the tyres are a bit worn or the brakes need attention.
The same applies to your own condition. You need to drive more carefully if you are not in the best frame of mind.
As you set off, quietly describe the weather and the road surface. Pay careful attention to both moving and stationary hazards. Check in your rear view mirror every eight to ten seconds, and use your exterior mirrors when making lane changes, all the while giving yourself a commentary on potential hazards such as vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians and animals, whether they are in front of you, behind you or at the side of the road.
When describing stationary hazards, start with the road signs, especially warning signs. If you have passed a warning sign without noticing it, you’ve failed!
Remember to search far ahead. That will give you time to identify potential hazards, predict what a vehicle or cyclist may do and how they will affect your safety. If necessary, decide on your course of action (change speed, change direction or simply hoot) and once you have decided, execute the manoeuvre swiftly.
From “searching” to “execution” should not take longer than a few seconds.
Don’t worry if you see more than you can talk about. The brain has the power to register every observation, even if your mouth hasn’t been able to keep up with your eyes! The important thing is that the brain will process the information and allow you to make the necessary adjustments as you are bombarded with images, especially in an urban environment.
In practice then, it would go something like this: While you drive down the street in your suburb, your eyes are constantly searching the road for hazards. You might spot a ball bouncing into your path. Instinct tells you there could be a child running after the ball. You decide on the correct action to take – slowing down or changing direction – and promptly execute the manoeuvre.
This folks, in Advanced Defensive Driving Skills parlance, is the “SIPDE System” (search, identify, predict, decide and execute). Coupled with the commentary driving system, it is a highly effective way of improving your alertness, safety and even your driving pleasure.