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Anticipation vs Reaction

Posted on 13 March 2021


One kilogram of anticipation is far more valuable than a tonne of reaction.

If we, as road users, are unable to perceive a potential threat, what degree of influence are we likely to have on the outcome? I suspect we could all agree that it's far less stressful whenever we predict a threat rather than suddenly react to one. After all, when watching a suspense thriller the popcorn always has a much better chance of staying in its container when we can clearly see the bad guy coming. When we experience the emotion of surprise as a driver, it is evidence of system failure at some level. Whenever we find ourselves surprised by another road user we should reflect on where our attention was in those few seconds prior. Surprises steal our thinking time and rush our decision making.

Threats to our crash avoidance space don't always develop independently. Sometimes multiple potential hazards occur all at once. Like a diligent triage nurse, a good driver will determine their order of attention. It's important to not only identify the obvious threats; we must also scan for indirect ones. For example; if driver "A" has their crash avoidance space compromised by driver "B" – driver "A" may pose a potential threat to you.

Drivers that have a reactive mind-set rather than an anticipatory one can be easily spotted by their rushed decisions and actions. They will often be braking more frequently and heavily. They may notice a cyclist up ahead but not necessarily the obstacle that is twenty metres ahead of that rider. A road user with a predicting approach to driving will anticipate the cyclist shifting their position around about the same time they will pass them and check their mirrors and adjust speed accordingly. Likewise, drivers who are regularly anticipating outcomes wouldn't simply see a stationary bus in the left lane fifty metres ahead, they would probably also notice the last passenger get on and begin to slow down in advance of the bus signalling to move to its right.

Most multi-vehicle crashes occur on straight roads. Many motorists continually drive directly in line with the vehicle in front, whereas a more inquisitive driver will slightly reposition their vehicle to see further ahead. They're aware that when a road has a slight bend it generally provides clearer visibility of what lies ahead. When anticipating that a vehicle near the kerb or at a side street may be about to move off, a conscientious road user recognises that a quick glance at the vehicle's tyres will enable them to detect the slightest of movement as well as the intended direction of travel.

It's important when driving to appear predictable to other road users whilst understanding that others are often unpredictable. By always scanning as far into the distance as we can comfortably see we are being proactive rather than reactive. Remember that we also have peripheral vision, which for most people is slightly in excess of 180 degrees – so we don't need to be looking directly at an object to be aware of its presence. Considering it takes more than one object to create a collision we all have a great opportunity as drivers to avoid ever being involved in one.


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