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The most important part of your body in terms of driving is your eyes and observation is the most important skill. Everything starts with observation.


Proper observation techniques are extremely important in being a safe driver and being able to pass your road test.


The proper mindset is very important.


The wrong mindset

Most new drivers are under the impression that one look is good enough. Or that solely relying on their mirrors is enough. Or that just because a street seems clear that it will stay that way. Or they have very limited understanding of where a vehicle could come from and how quickly it can reach them. This kind of limited thinking can lead to accidents or near accidents. Or they may not understand when their view of a street is partially blocked.


More often than not one look is not good enough.


Ask yourself, is it possible that as soon as you turn your head, a car could be coming from where you just looked? Yes. Is it possible that as soon as you turned your head that a car could have come from around the corner or from a parking spot or from a driveway? Yes. If you only look once in this scenario would you be aware that vehicle? Probably not.


Would have been able to see that vehicle in your mirrors? Maybe.... Maybe not.


If you could see everything in your mirrors there would be no such thing as a blind spot.


Blind spots

A blind spot is any area of the street or intersection of which you do not have a clear unobstructed view or any area of the street where you have a limited line of sight. A blind spot can be anywhere. Your mirrors offer you a limited line of sight. Your mirrors are in a fixed position, therefore they can not give you a 360 degree panoramic view of what's behind you or on the side of you.  Instead your mirrors are most effective in seeing things that are far away. The further away it is, the more likely it will be in your mirror's line of sight. The closer it is to you, the less likely it is to be in your mirrors line of sight. Thus creating blind spots on either side of your vehicle. Anything that is to the extreme left or extreme right of your vehicle, you will not be able to see in your mirrors. There can be another vehicle right next to you and even with your mirrors fixed properly you would not be aware of it's presence.


Your rear view mirror shows you what is directly behind you but your view may be partially obstructed by the window partitions of the back window.


Your side mirrors show you what's on the left and right side of your vehicle, respectively. But if something is outside the line of sight of your side mirrors, you will not see it unless you physically turn your head. This is a blind spot.


The only way to see things in your blind spot is to physically turn your head and look in that direction.


Used properly your mirrors can be very effective but even then they are not 100% reliable. Good observation employs equal use of your mirrors and looking over your shoulder. Compare the two.


Next time you are in your vehicle look in your mirrors then look over your shoulder. Take a survey of everything that you see in your mirrors as opposed to when you look over your shoulder. Are they the same exact things?


Whatever you can see when you look over your shoulder that you cant see when you look in your mirror is a blind spot.


Also your mirrors may not give you an accurate perspective of how far away a vehicle actually is. Thus the phrase "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear".


Blind spots can be created by anything. The headrest in your car can cause a blind spot. The size of a window partition can cause a blind spot. A pedestrian, a parked vehicle, a tree, a bush, even passengers in your own vehicle can all make it difficult to see.


Good observation requires that you have a 100% unobstructed view of the road. Most people rely on something less than that. Anything less than 100% is a gamble. 


Most people have very poor observation skills.

Mostly because they are not taught the proper techniques and also because they have the wrong mindset as it pertains to observation.


A proper mindset assumes that anything can come from anywhere at anytime.


It only takes a split second for a car to appear.

We’ve all heard of that expression… “That vehicle came out of nowhere…!!” But is that true? Can a vehicle come out of nowhere? Is it a magical vehicle? Is the car being driven by David Blaine? Or did it actually come from somewhere? If it came from somewhere, you have to ask yourself… why didn’t I see it? Maybe you were not looking good enough. Maybe you did not look at the right moment. Maybe you failed to anticipate that particular situation. Maybe you failed to anticipate a speeding car or a vehicle swinging from around the corner or a vehicle pulling out of a driveway or a parking spot. Maybe that’s why you didn’t see it. And not because it just appeared out of thin air.


Anything can come from anywhere at anytime.


Those type of situations make a car “seem” as if it came from nowhere. How long does it take for a vehicle to “seemingly” appear out of thin air? A minute? A second? A split second?  It only takes a split second. As soon as you turned your head from left to right while looking for traffic, a car could have turned the corner at that exact same moment or the light could have changed allowing traffic to approach you or a car could have pulled out of a driveway and in any of these situations, you would never be aware of it’s presence. Unless you looked again. Anticipation is a key element in being aware of all these possible scenarios. Experience is another.


Anticipation is a key element in good observation.


There are five different questions that must be answered and understood to master the skill of observation. They are:


What, When, Where, Why, How…


What to look for – cars, pedestrians, bicycles, traffic lights, signs, pavement markings.


When to look -  you should look before, during and after every move or maneuver. The most important time to look is right as you start to move. That is the “critical moment”. As soon as you step on the gas or take your foot off the brake, look over your shoulder. As soon as the car starts to roll, look over your shoulder. That is the most important time to look for traffic. That is when you are at the most risk of somebody hitting you or you hitting somebody. Look over your shoulder. Look over your shoulder. Look over your shoulder.


Where to look – not one, not two or three blocks down but look as far down as you can see. Look for driveways, parking spots, double parked vehicles, cars at stop signs, cars at traffic lights, cars coming from around the corner, the sidewalk for pedestrians. (Anywhere...)


Why look – to avoid accidents.


How to look – use your mirrors and look over shoulder, look several times (one look is seldom good enough), look before, during and after your move. As soon as you take your eyes off of one part of the road that is the opportunity from something to come from that direction. It only takes taking your eyes off a particular part of the road for a split second not to see a vehicle. Remember that. Operate with the mindset that anything can from anywhere at anytime...


Blind spot recognition

Your blind spots are generally considered to be on either side of your vehicle. To the far left and to the far right.


Develop a habit of practicing to look over your shoulder. Anytime you are pulling out into traffic or merging with traffic, coming out of your lane or switching lanes you should look over your shoulder. Anytime you are moving from one side to the other and there is enough space for a car to pass you on that side, you should look over your shoulder. Anytime you are double parked and you are about to move you should look over your shoulder. Failure to look over your shoulder in these situations could lead to an accident.


You must be able to recognize places where blind spots can occur. Some typical places are:


Pulling out of a parking spot. (the other vehicles parked behind you make it difficult to see traffic approaching from your rear)


Stop signs. (when pulling into an intersection from a stop sign, trees, bushes and/or parked vehicles can make it difficult to see approaching vehicles. One or more of these types of obstructions can block more than 50% of your view of the road)


Switching lanes.


Trucks parked close to the intersection could obstruct your view of a stop sign or a vehicle coming out from a side street.



One way/Two way street recognition


Common mistakes


Pulling out - when your car is on an angle your mirrors are on an angle. Therefore for a brief moment, when you look in your mirrors they will be showing you the curb and not the street.


Stop signs - when you stop sign often your view of the road is partially obstructed by parked vehicles. People usually take it for granted that nothing is coming not fully understanding that they actually can't see enough of the street from their current position to accurately make that determination. Move out enough into the intersection to see at least two blocks down in either direction unobstructed.


Intersections - sometimes people spend too much time focusing on one thing and not the other. There are several places you should be looking when about to make a turn. (approaching vehicles, pedestrians in or approaching the crosswalk, vehicles behind you, the traffic light.) Failure to equally pay attention to these things can lead to an accident or a poor decision. Check everything, then double check then triple check.


Looking only once


Traffic light - not noticing when the traffic light is changing.


Not looking at the right time - the most important time to look is right as you release your foot off the brake and your car starts to move.


Not looking enough - depending on what your are doing several looks over you shoulder may be needed. Most people make the mistake of only looking one time.


One way/Two way street recognition - at first glance it is hard to tell the difference between some one way streets and  two way streets. The mistake lies in relying on the width of the street as an indication as to what the street is. A lot of people mistakenly assume that if a street is extremely narrow that it is a one way road. Another mistake is the assumption that all two way streets have a yellow line going down the center of the road. Look for more reliable indicators such as the direction of parked cars, one way signs, which way the stop sign is facing, traffic lights and the flow of traffic.


Peripheral vision - this is the ability to see things out of the corner of your eye. This ability can help you see objects that may be in your blind spot or that may be approaching you unexpectedly.


Short sighted - not looking far enough down the road. Look as far down as you can see. In every situation you should be able to see at least two blocks down in either direction.


Anticipate - learn to anticipate all the different places a vehicle or pedestrian can come from. Learn to expect the unexpected. Don't drive in a little box as if you are the only car on the road. Every driveway, every intersection, every pedestrian, every moving, parked or stationary vehicle can be a potential problem.


Switching lanes - most people rely on their mirrors only. Although proper use of the mirrors is very effective, they can not show you everything. The proper way to switch lanes is to combine looking over your shoulder with using your mirrors.


Signs & pavement markings - most people do not pay enough attention to them. They are designed to give you direction.


Parallel parking - Most people are focus only on looking in one direction or at one thing. You should be looking over your shoulder, checking the passenger side mirror, rear view mirror, looking in front for traffic, looking in back for traffic, making sure you have enough clearance between the front of your car and the back of the vehicle you are parking behind.


Reversing - most people do not look over their shoulder. Anytime you are reversing you should be looking over your shoulder out the back window.


3pt turn - most people do not look enough. Constant head movement left and right is necessary along with looking out the back window when reversing.

Turns - not paying attention to the traffic lights, not looking for pedestrians.






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