Friday, June 15, 2012

Teach Your Teen: Visual Search Pattern

I started playing basketball in 3rd grade. I wasn't very good. I was afraid of getting hit so I didn't like to rebound or receive passes for that matter. In practice, I frequently lost control if I took my eyes off the ball so I always looked at the ball while dribbling. I was more of a hindrance to the team than a help.

Contrast me then as a new player to me as a more experienced player two years later. I became known as a solid defensive player and ball stealer. Our team made it to the playoffs and won the championship game. What changed? First, I got over my fear of getting hit by the ball (and breaking my glasses). Second, I kept practicing. And third, I learned some crucial skills along the way...like looking down court instead of at the ball.

What does my basketball learning curve tell me about driving? Current rates of collisions by both inexperienced and long time drivers indicate that we've got a problem with traffic safety. Most of us think that just because we can operate a car (like I could dribble a ball) that we should be able to drive without crashing. Too bad it's not true. Performing basic maneuvers without incorporating proper vision techniques leave both basketball players and drivers vulnerable to fouls.

What is a visual search pattern? 
Alternating your eye movement between set places in the traffic scene. You are targeting, looking for potential hazards, and making decisions in advance. Make your pattern a part of your muscle memory so that you'll build a routine you can do without thinking. Consciously drilling positive habits helps mentally prepare you to handle any interruptions in the pattern.


Area One - Expand Your Horizons
Target your eyes on the horizon or as far ahead of you as you see the road go. This will keep you centered in your lane and give you a heads up on when/where the road turns or if there is a slow down in the traffic flow. Keep your eyes continuously moving between each area of the search pattern every handful of seconds.

Area Two - Anticipate Slow Downs
Look for slow downs (turning vehicles, road construction, bus stops, lane closures, etc) and anticipate how you will need to alter your driving to interact smoothly with them. Perhaps, you will need to make a lane change or take your foot off the gas.

Teaching Help: Get your teen driver to verbally tell you when they see stop signs and signal lights as well as brake lights, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc. If you find that they are seeing a hazard in advance and not re-acting appropriately to it, then you can insert directions with a smile (as opposed to cursing when they scare the crap out of you).

Area Three - Scan Each Intersection
Scan intersections at a 45° angle a couple seconds before reaching them. You may want to cover the brake (hover your foot above it) if you are unsure how another vehicle or pedestrian in the intersection are going to act. Be prepared for surprises hidden behind parked cars, buildings and bushes that block your view.

Area Four - Watch Your Back
Keep tabs on who's about to rear-end you. If you are slowing or stopping and the vehicle behind you is approaching too quickly, tap the brakes so that the brake lights flash. This interrupts the rear driver's day dream and let him know he should also be slowing down.

Pop Quiz
What is the most common excuse given at the scene of a collision?

Answer
Number one, "I didn't see him," followed by a close second, "He came out of nowhere!"

People and cars don't come out of nowhere when you've got your search pattern a part of your subconscious. When your brain starts to wander while driving, you want that visual search pattern and your actions to it so automatic that there is nothing to stress about, just smooth interaction with others...kinda like a well practiced basketball team.

9 comments:

  1. Thanks for this article, Bridget! I finished the defensive driving course in August 2011 and have had my license for nearly 6 months. Your articles keep reinforcing what I have learned! Thank you! :)

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  2. You're welcome! I'm happy you find it helpful. The first months driving by yourself are the most challenging. Keep practicing! You've got this. ;o)

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  3. Your driving lesson is really helpful Bridget. The things you have mentioned for visual search pattern helped a lot.

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  4. Good one. Your post regarding visual search pattern is very interesting. I recommend all parents to read your post.

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    1. Thank you! I hope they do and make it a driving habit for their teen's sake.

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  5. So many teen drivers fixate on the car in front of them, but you need to also know what is going on further down the road. This will help you anticipate what might happen next. It's a lot of information to keep track of, but all of it is important.

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    1. So true. Not only with teens but also with some experienced drivers. Sometimes, it's hard to conceptually imagine what aiming at the horizon or as far as you can see really means. A tip I heard once from one of our instructors, was that it's easier to count 5 or more cars ahead of you. Targeting that far will help get your eyes looking further ahead than the usual.

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