Eyes wide shut – becoming more observant

Mark Kendrick Technique - fundamentals Leave a Comment

In flying training, aspiring pilots are taught to look out of their aircraft’s cockpit – and to observe the flight instruments – in a certain way. They are encouraged to ‘scan’, which involves moving the eyes around an effective pattern.

I liken this process to completing a jigsaw. In scanning the driving environment our goal should be to maintain 360-degree awareness by actively searching for all of the pieces. It’s only by bringing all of the pieces together that we’ll develop a full picture of our surroundings, and thus be hazard-aware.

At least initially, almost all clients of mine suffer some degree of myopia! To help them establish the habit of scanning, I encourage them first to scan out into the distance as far as they can see. If the local topography affords them a view of the road a mile ahead, I encourage them to regularly stretch their observations out that far. Having taken in the distant road scene, I then encourage them to bring their observations back into the mid ground. Then it’s a case of bringing their focus of attention to the near distance, before checking the rear (using their mirrors). It’s important to note that our eyes can take a few of seconds to fully focus, particularly if they’re tired.

It’s necessary to be scanning across the horizon too, looking for cross-views across the apex of every bend, and into side-roads. Before entering bends it’s useful to know what’s mid-corner or lurking beyond the curve. Also, it’s useful in judging the severity of the curve to have ‘sighted’ the bend on the approach. If you’ve seen the exit (where the road straightens), then you can extrapolate the likely severity of curve by assessing the line that joins the entry and exit points. Look into side-roads for approaching vehicles, establishing eye contact with approaching drivers. It’s surprising how you can often judge a driver’s intentions by observing his facial expression and the position (and movement) of his hands on the steering wheel.

Prior to some manoeuvres, it’s a good idea to look over your shoulder in the direction you intend to move. Relying on the mirrors may mean you’re unaware of a driver who has slipped into your blind spot. A shoulder check could prove a lifesaver, particularly since we all make mistakes from time to time, and consequently may miss the odd mirror check. So prior to leaving roundabouts, mentally link a nearside shoulder check to giving your breakaway signal. Prior to joining motorways or dual-carriageways from an entry slip-road, and before changing lanes, glance over your right shoulder. Don’t forget to check your blind spots left and right before moving off from the side of a road, too.

In establishing the scanning habit it’s necessary to imprint upon the brain the motor- or ‘muscle-’ memory that’s required. That requires repetition through practise, which is the key to learning new skills and thus improving your driving performance.

Enjoy your driving,

Mark Kendrick

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