Driving and Surviving

You can observe a lot by just watching.
Yogi Berra

My last post about stupid drivers has me thinking about safety of late, so it seemed fortuitous that Instapundit pointed out these tips for better driving from Motor Trend.  While most of them are great for controlling the vehicle smoothly, I think that perhaps the most important lesson is about simply looking ahead:

3. Look ahead. Nope, not at the car in front of you. No, not at the car in front of him, either. I want you looking as far down the road as you can. On a mountain road, you’re not looking at the corner you’re in, you’re looking for the next one. On the highway, your eyes are scanning the horizon, often a half-mile or more down the road. On the track, you’re always looking where you want to go.

This one thing, if practiced on a regular basis, can save you from a multitude of troubles.  And it’s taught, albeit in different forms, in just about all driver safety courses.  When I took the MSF couse, it was described as SIPDE (Scan, Identify, Predict, Decide, Execute) and they had you scanning 4 seconds ahead for immediate dangers, as well as 12 seconds ahead for potential dangers.  When I took CEVO II, it was encapsulated in the concept of the “cushion of safety.”  Another good approach, as taken in Drive to Survive, is to equate it to Jeff Cooper’s states of situational awareness, with Condition Yellow being the optimal normal driving condition. 

If you’re not going to be operating a motorcycle (MSF) or an emergency vehicle (CEVO), then I recommend Drive to Survive, with the warning that you should probably ignore the sections on bootlegger turns and the like (unless you’re driving a limo for a diplomat or executive in a high-risk situation).  But his advice on steering wheel grip/hand placement (I grimace when I see some of you out there with your hands turned upside down and across the wheel while making a turn), awareness, and mirror adjustment have made me a much safer driver than I was before I was “reformed.”  I can say that simple situational awareness (driving in Condition Yellow) has saved me from several incidents that I would have just blundered into if I had been unaware.  And I’m fairly certain that if I’d been practicing them much earlier I would have avoided the two collisions that I have been involved with.  In both instances it involved another driver who failed to obey a traffic control device (one ran a stop sign, another a red light).  While I was not technically at fault in either instance, I now know that they could have been avoided if I’d been paying better attention.  And I’d certainly rather have avoided them, rather than to just be able to say after the fact that I wasn’t at fault.  Anyhow, the last one was in 1995, so perhaps the techniques have been helpful in the interim.

I’m not perfect, and it requires constant attention to follow these techniques, but I certainly try.  And even if you follow these techniques to the letter, there’s no guarantee that you won’t be involved in a collision.  Hell, no amount of observation is going to help you if a cow falls out of the sky onto your vehicle.  Still, though, I think we’d be a lot better off if people would just simply look where they’re going, and not just at the taillights of the car in front of them.  I suspect, though, that the people who really need these lessons aren’t interested in hearing them yet.  Unfortunately, it usually takes a serious incident to get their attention.


  1. Kevin White says:

    Great post. SIPDE (as taught in the MSF course and the excellent Proficient Motorcycling) becomes second nature soon enough, and translates into four-wheeled travel easily. I’m usually using SIPDE as a passenger as well, particularly when Ann is driving. cool grin

  2. Yeah, but do you catch hell about using SIPDE as a passenger?

  3. Kevin White says:

    Little bit, yes. Mostly the verbal D and E portions.