In my opinion anticipation is 95% of driving of road driving. How to be a better driver involves understanding the present situation better so we can predict the future better.
An accurate understanding of the present and accurate predictions of the future will tell us the appropriate speed we can carry and what road position is optimum. For speed and safety.
Understanding The Present
We need to understand all the things that can affect us in the next 3 seconds minimum.
And we need to ignore all the things that can not affect us.
Static & Dynamic
We need to understand what things are static, and what things could change in the future.
If something could change, eg vehicle position, animal position, we need to understand what they are doing now and why they are doing it.
Only when we know the “what” and the “why” can we anticipate what these (dynamic) things will do next.
And we cover every prediction with a fine film of worst-case scenario.
What if the pedestrian, who we think wants to cross the road, crosses without looking?
What if the car positioning right without indicating decides to turn left?
Can we react in a calm and controlled manner to deal with the scenario? If not we need to re-adjust our speed and/or positioning so we can react in a calm and controlled manner.
We need to be able to create an accurate story for everything that can affect us in the next three seconds.
How to be a better driver means having a better, more nuanced story of the present, because this allows us to better predict the future.
Adding worse-case scenarios into our future predictions adds an extra layer of safety to our speed and positioning.
How many and how bad these worse case scenarios are is completely dependent on you. The more experience you have and the more practice you do to predict the future, the more reasonable your worst-case scenarios will be.
Key Goals to Becoming a Better Driver
This article has two ultimate goals. If you remember nothing else from this article, remember the next two lines. The ultimate goals are:
- To constantly have an accurate and thorough understanding of your environment and
- To have an accurate and thorough understanding of everything that could happen in your environment, at a minimum, in the next three seconds.
Number 2 is more important than number 1, but you can’t get to number 2 without having number 1.
That was short version. Here is the long version of how to be a better driver.
How do we get an accurate picture of the environment?
We need to take into consideration everything that can affect us and understand what these things will do in the next 3 seconds with a 99.99%+ degree of accuracy. And ignore everything that cannot affect us.
To boil everything so far down into a nutshell – We need to create at least a three second bubble of the future around our vehicle.
An Accurate Picture – What do we need to consider?
Other Cars (and bicycles, motorbikes, lorries, vans etc)
Constantly read the behaviour of all the vehicles around us, in front and behind. If they are acting suspiciously try to identify why. If we understand the why, we can better understand their next three seconds. For example…
Are there vehicles being aggressively?
If so why? Is the driver in a rush? Is the driver drunk? Is the driver angry at another driver? Assume the worst motive and act accordingly.
Why is the vehicle travelling excessively slowly? Is the driver using a mobile phone? Are they having an argument with a passenger? Are they lost? Are they unable to drive faster ie they are using their maximum brain power. Make a best guess and if you’re not sure assume the worst case given your circumstance and act accordingly.
Not paying attention
Perhaps they failed to go on a green light. Perhaps they have just cut someone up without realising.
Why is the driver not paying attention? Are they drunk or otherwise intoxicated? Are they using a mobile phone or otherwise distracted? Understand as best as we can what the reason is and if we simply can’t explain it, assume the worst for the circumstance and act accordingly.
Is a car being driven well? Is the driver indicating and/or generally being courteous to other drivers? Do we find the actions of the driver easy to predict?
If so, on the one hand this car can go down the priority list of things we need to watch, on the other hand, sudden unusual behaviour from this car could indicate and issue further down the road which the driver is reacting to. We can use this car to help us predict the future.
New Cars – Old Cars
Generally new cars have better brakes than old cars. If we are driving a new car, understand what car is behind us. For example, if it’s an old car make allowances, reduce the chance that we will have to brake heavily. If we are driving an older car with a new car in front, understand that the braking capability of the car in front is superior to us and add space to cover for the worst-case scenario.
Car Make & Model – Power/Capabilities
What quality of driver do you associate with the models of car around you? I am always super extra cautious when there are Mercedes A and B-Classes. And cautious of Mercedes in general, especially older models. If I see a performance car like an EVO or an M3 or a GTI then my initial assumption is that they are an above average driver who is looking where they are going. Practice stereotyping constantly, and when possible, confirm if your preconceptions were correct (the side glance).
Read the road. The next bend or bends. The surface, grippy tarmac or slippy tarmac. Dry, damp or wet. Shaded by trees? Might still be damp/frosty while rest of road dried/thawed. What junctions are coming and how are the junctions setup? Are they concealed by parked cars or something else? Would you know if there was a car waiting? Would they know you were coming? Are there parked cars along the road. Adjust speed and position accordingly.
People, animals. Where are they standing? How are they standing? Where are they looking? What are they doing?
Do they want to cross the road? Are they looking at something in the road? If there is a group of people, are they paying attention to the road? How close are they to the road? Could they fall/stumble into the road? Is their view of the road obstructed? Adjust speed and position accordingly.
Constantly be aware of our braking limits, cornering limits & acceleration limits and how that integrates into the environment.
Can we pull out in front of that car? Does our car have the traction and/or power? If the car in front of us were to brake heavily, would we be able to keep our distance? If we are on an unknown road, is it wise to follow the car in front? Does the car in front not need to brake for corners we would need to brake for? Keeping up with a new M3 in our 10-year-old Focus on a road we don’t know can put us in a precarious situation. Readjust speed and position accordingly.
Speed & Positioning.
I’m not going to talk about speed limits. What I will say is that we need to be able to judge the speed that is appropriate, and I think all the things I have mentioned above, fundamentally, will let us do that.
And likewise with positioning. If we understand our environment now and in the future we will be able to make better decisions on road placement. I have watched dashcam accident compilation videos and honestly, it’s hard for me to say any of the accidents I have seen have been down to speed, if anything positioning is more of a factor.
Worst Case Scenario
We have an accurate picture of our environment, we have an accurate picture of what will happen in the next 3 seconds.
On top of this we have to layer the worse-case scenario.
If any of our assumptions are wrong in the worse possible way, will we be able to deal with it in a way that is calm & controlled?
If not, our positioning is wrong and/or our speed. Readjust.
Will The Appropriate Speed & Positioning Guarantee No Accidents?
Of course not.
Most, if not all accidents are down to one driver maneuvering without looking or without looking properly ie understanding what they are seeing. If the worst does happen, having an accurate understanding of our environment will help us limit damage.
What We Can’t See
We have an accurate present & future picture, covered with a healthy layer of worse-case scenario.
For the things that we can see.
We also need the same pictures for things we can’t see but can also affect us in the next three seconds.
A country road with junctions after a corner. If we don’t know the road this could be any corner and we need to drive with this in mind.
If we know the road we can’t be complacement. The junction location may be the same every time. What is emerging from the junction may not be.
if there was one aspect of driving that I could improve the most it’s this. I believe I’m good at painting pictures for things I can see but I need to make more effort to make pictures for things I can’t see.
Our three second bubble will include everything, things we can see and things we can’t see. I need to paint better pictures of the things I can’t see. I have the pictures, but I could flesh them out more.
The only way we can improve our anticipation is by practice. The more we practice, the more things we practice. The more comfortable we are building pictures of the future, the more detail we can put into the pictures. As we get more comfortable with the extra detail the more detail again, we can put into our pictures. It’s a virtuous circle.
There is always a higher level our driving can go to. There will always be something we can do better.
Everyone can be a better driver.
How to be a Better Driver – End of Part 1
I’m going to call time on this article here. The next installment is going to be some video analysis of driving in Greece and the thought process I go through when I am driving.
Putting the theory of this article into practice.
Get notified when that video and article go live in 7 days. Subscribe to the StrikeEngine newsletter below and subscribe to the DriveTune media YouTube channel (and hit the notification button, otherwise you won’t get the update).
That’s all for now, look after yourselves and I’ll see you next week for Part 2.