Of all your senses, your eyesight is the most important for driving. Your eyes pick up most of the information you need to drive.
Steer where you look
It is important to understand that your eyes determine the path your vehicle follows - you steer where you look.
To illustrate this, pick a straight stretch of paved highway with light traffic. While driving, look at the centre line about 12 seconds ahead. Keep looking at the centre line 12 seconds ahead. Observe how the car moves toward the centre line.
Now, look at the edge of the road 12 seconds ahead.
You will steer where you look.
To steer straight ahead, look about 12 seconds directly ahead of where you are sitting.
To steer around a curve, look at the inside of the curve to where the centre lines vanish. Do not look in the mirrors, do not look down at your instrument panel. If you take your eyes off the road, you will not maintain precise control over your steering.
Remember, if you look at the side of the road, you will steer to the side of the road. Look where you want to go, particularly in an emergency or a skid, and steer there.
Check your mirrors and speed when you are driving in a straight line, and when steering is less critical.
Search patterns on highways and rural roads
When you drive on a highway, you hope the road is clear and unobstructed. To verify that, you will need to perform a search pattern - searching the road for any obstructions or hazards.
"Looking up" on highways
As part of your search pattern, look up as far as you can see. To look up means to look as far ahead as you can see the highway - to the horizon. (On a straight road, you may be able to see up to 90 seconds ahead.)
On a curve, look up across and around as far ahead as you can see. At first, you will likely have to concentrate to look this far ahead in curves.
When curving right, look at the shoulder line to the point where it disappears. Keep looking at that point and maintain a steady speed. When curving left, look at the centre line as far as you can see it. When coming out of the curve, look at your lane all the way to the horizon.
As you develop that "far ahead" view, you will automatically drive the curve smoothly and accurately. You will also benefit from seeing your path far enough ahead to deal with any obstacles in your path.
"Referencing down" on highways
Reference down by moving your eyes down from the look up position so that you see the road 12 seconds ahead at 100 km/h.
Look on the road in front of you to where the spaces on the broken lines on the road disappear. This will be about 12 seconds away. This will help you obtain information you require to steer accurately and safely.
Until now, you have been looking up (to the horizon), referencing down (12 seconds ahead), looking up, referencing down, etc.
When most people try this exercise, they usually find that they have not been looking up as far as they can see. Also, they have usually been referencing down much closer than 12 seconds.
To establish search patterns of up to 90 seconds ahead and to stretch your referencing down to 12 seconds requires two things. First, most drivers must admit that they have not been looking far enough ahead. Second, you have to practise to make looking up and referencing down a habit.
As you establish the habit of looking up and referencing down, you will see the benefits to your driving, and this method will become easier every day. Also, steering where you look will help you overcome steering problems such as wandering within a lane or wandering from lane to lane.
Sweeping highways with your eyes
The next part of your search pattern is to look for things that will interfere with your path - vehicles entering from the side, animals or people on the side of the road, or approach roads. This involves sweeping your eyes across and to the side of the road. Try to sweep about 12 seconds ahead.
Filling in the gap on highways
Now fill in the gap between you and where you reference down 12 seconds ahead. Check the vehicles in front, the road surface for ice or pot holes, and the width and firmness of the shoulders.
Checking your gates on highways
Next, you need to check which gates are still open; that is, the space around your vehicle on all four sides. Pay close attention if you have detected a real or potential hazard. Check your mirrors often to see whether the rear and two side gates are open.
Checking your instruments on highways
You should check your instruments when it is safe to take your eyes off the road. Even checking your speed takes one and a half seconds. Therefore, check your instruments when you are on a straight stretch of road with your gates open and with no real or potential hazards ahead.
Check your speed and, less often, glance at your gas gauge and other instruments or warning lights.
Now your pattern should be: look up, reference down, look up, reference down, sweep left, sweep right, look up, reference down, fill in the gap, look up, reference down, check your gates, look up, reference down, check instruments, etc.
The exact sequence that you use will vary with the features and the traffic on the highway. The most important part of the sequence is to look up and reference down. Include the others as needed. The more often the situation changes around you, the more often you have to search.
Search patterns in urban areas
The pattern for city driving is similar to that of highway driving. It is not easy to achieve, but is worth practising.
Looking up in urban areas
To look up in an urban area, look ahead as far as you can see - usually several traffic lights or a number of blocks ahead. This will give you information about the flow of traffic, the sequence of the lights and whether there is construction or major obstructions ahead.
Referencing down in urban areas
Next in the sequence, you should reference down. To reference down in an urban area, move your eyes down from the look up position so that you view the road 12 seconds ahead at city speeds. Even if you cannot see clearly for that distance, you should look around or through the windows of the vehicles ahead. Try to see cars well ahead that are slowing down, changing lanes, turning or stopping. Watch for brake and signal lights.
Sweeping with your eyes in urban areas
In the city you need to sweep further to each side and to sweep more frequently than you do on the highway.
The sequence now should be: look up, reference down, look up, reference down, sweep left, sweep right, look up, reference down, etc.
Filling in the gap in urban areas
You need to fill in the gap between you and where you reference down, 12 seconds ahead. In the city, you need to do this more often than on the highway because you do not have as clear a view ahead.
Checking your gates in urban areas
You need to be more aware of the status of your gates when driving in the city because vehicles are more likely to be in your blind spot.
Never permit yourself to drive in a situation where there are fewer than two gates open. If you cannot control the rear and side gates, at least you can drop back and double the distance between you and the vehicle ahead - to five or six seconds.
Checking your instruments in urban areas
You will have little time to check your instruments when driving in the city. From time to time, check your speed. But remember to do this in light traffic or on straight, unobstructed roads. You can check your gauges at traffic lights and stop signs.
Search patterns at night
At night, your search pattern is much the same as it is during the day. You should look up and reference down to about 12 seconds ahead. This means that most of the time you will be looking beyond the part of the road illuminated by your lights.
You still need to sweep with your eyes, fill in the gap and check your gates and instruments.
Do not look at the side of the road because you will steer there. Obviously, do not look at incoming headlights because the glare will blind you. Look 12 seconds ahead, directly in line with where you are sitting.
Search patterns in emergencies
The rule for where to look in emergencies is simple: look where you want to go and steer there.
If you are sliding or skidding sideways, do not look down, do not look at the instrument panel and do not look at what you might hit. Look where you want to go.
Preventing potential collisions
Most collisions occur at intersections and cross roads. To help you spot and prevent a potential collision, use the following method.
Scenario: You're driving on a road towards an intersection and spot another vehicle approaching the same intersection. You don't know how fast the other vehicle is travelling or how far away it is from the intersection. To help you determine if a collision is imminent, maintain your speed and course, and turn your head to take note of the other vehicle's position in relation to you. Continue to maintain your speed and course for a few seconds and check the other vehicle's position again by turning your head. If the other vehicle is still at the same position, you're on a collision course. Start slowing down, and be prepared to yield or stop to avoid a collision.
It's important to turn your head while looking for approaching vehicles and not rely on your peripheral vision only. Peripheral vision is very good at picking out objects that are moving; however, in the above scenario the other vehicle would appear to be not moving as it’s in a fixed position in your peripheral view.
Driving in dense traffic
If you are not accustomed to driving in dense traffic, the experience can be highly stressful. You can make it easier if you plan where you wish to go in advance. It is nerve wracking to drive in a new environment and to try to navigate at the same time.
The most important thing to remember is do not give up your following distance. Do not stop your search pattern. If the drivers around you are driving one second apart, let them, but do not be tempted to follow their example.