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The art of ‘anticipation’ to avoid road accidents  

8 Jun 2024 The art of ‘anticipation’ to avoid road accidents

By Jeremy Fox

The dictionary defines ‘anticipation’ as ‘the action of anticipating something; expectation or prediction; a prior action that takes into account or forestalls a later action’.

In my experience, drivers often get involved in unnecessary crashes because they don’t apply sufficient mental engagement with the driving task. Without this level of engagement, they are unable to anticipate looming danger before it’s actually too late for them to avoid it. 

As the dictionary says, ‘prior action’ can ‘forestall a later action’.

It’s much more likely that we can avoid crashes by being proactive rather than reactive. This is because reactivity usually involves us taking late, necessarily hurried, action rather than dealing with hazards on our own terms. As with many things in life, there are distinct benefits in being ahead of the game. 

A ‘hazard’ is anything which may cause a driver to consider changing course and/or speed. This could be a response to ‘actual danger’, such as a vehicle which pulls out of a junction and necessitates firm braking to avoid crashing into it, or ‘potential danger’ – for example, a posted warning sign for danger ahead (eg a bend).

The safe driver will slow down in the face of hazards rather than merely assume that everything will be fine by the time he reaches the danger area. I’ve heard many drivers at the scenes of crashes begin their explanation with the word ‘suddenly’. In fact, things rarely happen ‘suddenly’; it’s the lack of driver ‘awareness’ and its close ally ‘anticipation’ which just makes it seem that way.

So how can we improve our anticipation?

To begin with, total engagement with the driving task is crucial. As drivers, we should also lift our forward vision to the middle and far distance, as well as the near, in order to pick up danger earlier. Think of switching your eyes to ‘high-beam’ rather than keeping them permanently on ‘low-beam’! 

A good way of remembering our zones of vision is to think of ‘far, medium, near, rear’. The rear, of course, involves the effective use of mirrors to ensure 360-degree awareness.

It can’t be over-emphasised that good anticipation relies heavily on concentration and a high level of all-round awareness. Here are a couple of examples for you to think about.

You’re driving on the highway in the centre lane and see up ahead a vehicle in the lane to your right closing the gap on a slower-moving vehicle in front of it. What could happen?

Correct. It’s likely that the following driver will want to pull out to overtake. This would threaten your space, and therefore your safety. 

However, we can plan for this danger and take steps to regulate our speed so we don’t commit to entering the danger area at the same time as the other driver wants to overtake (as soon as we compete for the same space the risk increases significantly). 

An even better option, if safely available, might be a move into the third lane to our left to pre-empt the predicted manoeuvre. This will increase our safety zone.

Another example could be if a child on one side of the road is shouting to his friend on the other, what are the chances of one of them running across in front of you?

The idea is that not only do we anticipate the danger but actually do something about it in good time, such as the sensible adjustment of speed and/or position. The alternative is allowing ourselves to be forced into late avoidance due to the absence of anticipation, and this is not a good situation to be in. 

So, finally, think of driving on the COAST! 

Concentration – Observation – ANTICIPATION provides Space and Time.

Don’t let anything ‘sudden’ happen to you.

Safe driving! 

Jeremy Fox

Jeremy Fox is a British driving and road safety expert. Since 2009, he has managed the driver-training operations of Technical & Administrative Training Institute in Oman. He considers it his privilege to have contributed to Oman’s improved road safety.

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