Distraction Pt2

Unlike so many things in life, when it comes to driving, it’s ALL about how you look…

In the first post about distraction, I talked about how it’s very easy to suffer what the experts call ‘cognitive distraction’ when driving. Your mind wonders, and before you know it, you’re 10 miles down the road without even recalling it.

So how do you begin to address this, perfectly normal, feature of the human brain? This is how DCS trainees do it…


Cognitive, physical, visual and auditory

Scan Anticipate Plan – SAP. For an in depth look at SAP, this Bristol IAM page has great info.

Basically, SAP is exactly what it says, and the crucial word, as far as this post is concerned, is SCAN. When we scan – rather than ‘look’, for example – we tend to take in more information.

Take a look at this classic Hazard Perception image. It’s just the sort of thing you’ll find on the theory test.

A busy street, plenty going on

You’ve easily spotted the car pulling out – and that’s where you might hold your focus

But scanning a bit further, you see the pedestrians – is the driver about to get back into his van?

There’s already a bit to think about. But then you move your eyes to the rest of the road and spot the motorbike

And on closer scanning, is there someone in that car, about to move off..?

In pretty short time, a matter of seconds, you’ve assessed the bulk of the scenario unfolding ahead of you. (What you go on to do with that information will be talked about in a later post)

But of course, this isn’t just a static environment; by the time you’ve processed the above you’ll be a further 50 metres along the road – a big distance in urban traffic terms. And so the skill of the accomplished Defensive Driver is to be constantly scanning and planning ahead – as one situation is negotiated, the other is looming on the horizon and must soon be dealt with. Then the next. Etc. (I sometimes hear my trainees describe the road as an obstacle course!)

By focusing their concentration so much on SAP, a good defensive driver will – sometimes literally – take complete control over their immediate road environment.

For example, have you, or anyone you know, come up to a busy crossroads looking to turn right off the main road, but spotted a lot of traffic waiting at each end? (I automatically think of Llynclys or Llanymynech here!) It’s the sort of situation that can get rapidly out of hand, so you need to be on the ball. By scanning ahead though, you’ve already assessed the road, and you’re therefore in a much better position to be able to make a sound decision well before reaching the ‘point of no return’, or committing to go.

It’s a lot of effort to be scanning constantly – and consistently. I’m pretty sure that driver doesn’t exist (although there are a few who come close – this one, Reg Local, is a particular favourite of mine)

But it always, always pays to try. Always. Just for emphasis.

And if you are always trying? You’re picking up so much information from the road there’s simply no room for distraction.

It’s as straightforward as that.

In later posts I’ll talk about how trainees use the ‘Anticipate’ and ‘Plan’ parts of SAP to build not only their driver skills, but all round road knowledge. But for now, if you’ve never heard of The Monkey Business Illusion, this short video of a famous experiment in awareness is well worth a look. See what you can spot. No cheating 🙂

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