It’s logical to think that you see whenever your eyes are open. Yet, research shows that we can miss even the most conspicuous things unless we direct our attention to them. When this occurs while behind the wheel, drivers fail to process everything in the roadway environment that they must to effectively monitor their surroundings, seek and identify potential hazards, and respond to unexpected situations.
Drivers can experience this phenomenon for several reasons:
Poor Hazard Detection – The ability to detect driving hazards depends on perceptual and information-gathering skills and involves properly identifying hazards as potential threats. As such, the inexperience of teen drivers and age-related conditions of elderly drivers may impede their ability to “see” potentially dangerous situations.
Distractions – We all love to belt out our favorite tunes while driving. When we do, however, things that need to be seen are often not registering because our brains are focused elsewhere. Truth be told, people are not as good at multi-tasking as they think.
Whether it’s using a cell phone; daydreaming; being preoccupied with personal issues; or conversing with a passenger, distractions increase the likelihood that a driver will miss “seeing” something important.
Fatigue – Fatigue is a normal physiologic reaction caused by insufficient sleep or by re- current disruption of sleep. In addition to slowing reaction time and affecting a driver’s ability to make good decisions, fatigue makes drivers less able to pay attention to the road.
Fortunately, there are things you can do so you’re less likely to be caught off guard by the inattentiveness of others:
Keep your eyes moving, check your mirrors frequently and scan conditions at least 20 to 30 seconds ahead of you.
Make actual eye contact with every other driver possible. If you don’t, assume the other driver hasn’t seen you…and drive accordingly.
Add extra space around your vehicle and drive at slower speeds to allow more time to avoid the mistakes of others.
Be mindful of teen and elderly drivers. Allow yourself extra room and be prepared to respond with defensive actions and maneuvers to counteract or avoid problems they may cause.
Keep your guard up when near obviously distracted drivers. Give them a wide berth to help avoid their driving errors.
Be on the lookout those who are driving too fast or slow; brake suddenly; stop or sit at a green light; or forget to turn off their turn signals as those may be indicators that the driver’s attention is elsewhere. Keep a safe distance.
Importantly, prevent your own driving from becoming inattentive by focusing on driving – and only driving. While 100% attention is hard to maintain, as a professional driver, it’s your responsibility to make the effort.