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Foresight, Hindsight and Sideways Glances

November 9, 2009
Side View

A careful adjustment of side view mirrors gives you more of a visual field.

When driving on the highways and byways it is very easy to get caught up in a conversation, distracted dealing with children, lost in a song on the radio or drift off to a daydream or thought.  Unfortunately most often you are not the only person on the road.  Even if you are the only person on a long stretch, there are other things with which to be concerned – animals, road hazards and changes in the direction of the road.

Through life experience and instruction on the track I learned defensive driving techniques which are best summed up as “foresight, hindsight and sideways glances.” All too often drivers focus on the road directly in front of them.  One of mytrack instructors pointed out that the majority of drivers can identify the cars directly in front of them, but can’t tell you about the traffic in the distance to the front, or what is coming up from the rear.


The most immediate need of a driver is to know their proximity to the vehicles immediately ahead of them, as well as front left and front right. Are the vehicles traveling at the same speed, faster, slower, weaving, drifting or obviously distracted?

It is also important to be aware of the traffic in the visible distance.  By watching the road in front of you, far in front of you, you can be prepared for changes in traffic conditions. You can see drivers who seem to be drifting, driving slower than the rest of the traffic and vehicles with questionable loads (i.e. pick-ups with loads which may not be secure).  Observing the traffic in the distance also allows you to see changes in the road, obstructions or congestion.  Foresight allows you to see whether there are drivers ahead of you changing lanes in great numbers – possibly to avoid obstructions, slowing for police or emergency vehicles, or a caravan of vehicles traveling together.


By keeping a close eye on the traffic coming up from behind, you can be better prepared for speeding cars, sudden surges of traffic or approaching emergency vehicles before you can hear the sirens.  Awareness of the traffic behind you allows the opportunity to prepare for lane changes in advance, either planned or for avoidance.  Hindsight doesn’t mean staring at the rearview mirror for seconds at a time, just a quick glance is sufficient.  With practice you learn to quickly sum up traffic situations in a split second.

When traveling with a lot of luggage or items in the car which block the rearview mirror it is essential that you be comfortable with the use of side view mirrors.  You must also be more diligent about the use of the side view mirrors when the view from the rearview is blocked.

Sideways Glances:

Using the side view mirrors on a regular basis is just as important as looking forward and looking backward.  Quite often there are vehicles which travel for great distances in your blind spots to the rear side of your vehicle.  Properly adjusting your side view mirrors gives you the ability to avoid blind spots.  NPR’s ‘Car Talk’ gives some great advice for adjusting mirrors … Adjusting Side View Mirrors to Avoid Blind Spots from ‘Car Talk’

A Special Note About Motorcycles:

Make a point of watching for motorcycles to the front or in your rearview mirror so you can be aware of where they are.  Motorcycles are often hard to spot in your side view mirrors when you need to make a lane change, so try to keep a mental note as to their proximity in the event of a quick need to change lanes.  By having spotted them when it is only for information sake you can be better prepared.

Stay Alert:

Try to scan in all directions every 10 to 15 seconds, at the least a couple of times each mile.  This will keep you aware of the traffic conditions as well as help keep you alert when driving.  It is very easy to be hypnotized by the sound of the wheels on the road and just watching the rear of the car directly in front of you.  By constantly scanning in all directions your eyes get to focus at differing distances, helping to avoid eye fatigue caused by looking at the same distance for a long period of time.  Checking foresight, hindsight and sideways on a regular basis also keeps your brain engaged in driving, helping to avoid ‘mind drifts’.

The use of  foresight, hindsight and sideways glances gives you the information you need to have a safer road trip.  These techniques work on the highway as well as country roads or city traffic.  By being aware of road and traffic conditions in all directions you can be better prepared quick lane changes rather than depending on quick glances where you may not see quickly approaching vehicles, people riding in traditional blind spots or motorcycles.  At the same time using these techniques does not eliminate the need to check before making lane changes or taking avoidance measures, it just makes the quick assessment easier.

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