Having an understanding of driver psychology and how you think as a driver is a great way to develop your own understanding of road safety and becoming a better driver. Knowing what you are thinking, why you are thinking that, what you are seeing why you are seeing it, and behaving the way you do is empowering. Applying this to other drivers on the road around you is even better.
Understanding basic elements of driver psychology and your thoughts as a driver is one of the most important things you should master. This section outlines a number of short, easy to remember, bite-sized points you can learn, digest share and refer back to.
Spending the next few moments reading the points below will help you become a better driver. These points are in no specific order.
When negotiating a roundabout, always look and, if possible, make eye contact with traffic coming on from the left. Also, look where they are steering, don’t rely on signals. Forward planning is forward-thinking.
The brain constantly makes observational errors by taking shortcuts when processing the information it receives from the eyes – essentially infilling what it expects to be there or what it expects to happen in a given situation. Being aware of your driving environment and not driving tired will lower the chances of these shortcuts being taken.
Don’t follow the queue; lead the pack. (On open roads, be a space maker and not a space invader (town driving) – When it’s wet on the floor, count to four. (2-second rule).
Never place the vehicle somewhere that the eyes and brain haven’t been first – In relation to entry speed into bends/brows of hills etc. Stopping within the distance that can be seen to be clear.
When driving on a motorway, drive in a check-board fashion to provide a 4- way escape route. Only pass a vehicle when you can clear the front of that vehicle, and not end up at the side of it (and in the case of large vehicles – their blind spot).
An easy way to manage and be aware of your margin of safety is to look at how severe the consequences would be if something went wrong in any given driving situation. This changes and varies all the time.
As you cross the white line in front of you, you should be looking in the direction you are travelling. A good driver knows as much about what is happening behind him as they know about what’s happening in front.
Wondering whether your mental driving state at any particular time is appropriate? Take a moment to think if everyone around you was to be driving in the exact same style and manner as yourself, at the same speeds, with the same separation gaps, what would it be like? If you’re thinking along the lines of tense or frenzied, then it’s definitely time to make adjustments!
Your eyes have a blind spot at around 20 degrees in each as there are no photoreceptor cells on the optic nerve at the back of the eye covering this area. This downfall is compensated by two things; the other eyes’ peripheral vision and your brain making up what it believes should be there. This is why people sometimes fail to see an oncoming vehicle (often a small object like a bike) at a junction. It was probably in their blind spot. Always make sure you’re aware of this and fully move your head, right left right before considering moving out. Is it clear?
Your chances of a collision have three elements – the speed at which you are travelling, the space you have around you and the potential for surprise. Make sure you manage and are aware of all three!
Driving too fast for the conditions, exceeding the speed limit, driving too close in fog. These are just a few things drivers copy other drivers doing- probably without really realising. This sort of behaviour is known as a herd instinct, where people drive (or do things) in a way that everyone else is (everyone else is doing it, so it must be the right thing to do). Sometimes the pressure to forget our own perceptions and do “what everyone else is” can be huge. It’s not just limited to driving either! Be aware of when you may be experiencing drivers heard instinct.
Fast reactions are good, but reacting to the right things is more important. You can’t react to events anywhere near as well as if you had anticipated them beforehand. Not all events can be anticipated, but many can.
Making sure other road users can see you is essential. They may not be expecting to see you. Help them by intelligent positioning of your vehicle. For example, keep out of their blind spots (especially with HGVs), and if needed adjust the position of your vehicle, such as at a junction or on a corner.
Always create space around you. It’s one of the safest things you can do. To this day, no one ever, in the history of the world has run into the back of fresh air! Look for an escape route if you’re entering a risky or threatened (limited) space.
Place your foot above the brake pedal in anticipation when you think you may need to use it, it can save vital milliseconds when your suspicions about a driving situation comes true.
Keep a good hold of your steering wheel with both hands. A sloppy grip or driving one-handed can add a couple of seconds to you taking effective evasive action in an emergency situation.