L6 – Prior planning prevents poor performance

As you know, the effectiveness of our observations, anticipation and driving plans are key to steering clear of crashing. Do you believe the old adage that prior planning prevents p*ss poor performance?

A planned approach to the hazards that we encounter on the roads ensures that our way of dealing with those hazards is not haphazard.

Investing some time in conditioning an effective driving plan pays dividends. Once a plan has been conditioned through a brief but committed period of repetitive practise, it becomes an unconscious habit. Since the driving environment can sometimes be busy and challenging, the more things that we can do without thinking, the more we can think about what we are doing.

If you learned to drive in the UK – where How to Drive is headquartered – you will likely remember from your driving lessons the M-S-M routine. Need a reminder? The first step is to check mirrors.

The driving plan

Before any significant change of position or speed, we should check mirrors. Otherwise, how would we know for sure that our intended manoeuvre is safe?

To maintain all-round awareness whilst driving, it is not enough to check the mirrors. We need to be vigilant and continually scan all around. Prior to some manoeuvres – like joining a highway from an entry slip-road – effective scanning means we should glance over our shoulder into the mirrors’ blind spot before merging with the carriageway.

Looking across the initial series of curves, do you see the right-hand bend that precedes the white house?

Before entering hazards, our ability to plan ahead is aided by glancing beyond that hazard, scanning and planning for the subsequent hazard. Scanning regularly into the distance affords us plenty of time to plan our approach to hazards carefully. Are you in the habit of taking such ‘cross-views’ prior to every hazard?

Mirror – Signal – Manoeuvre is the routine taught to learner drivers in the UK. Since mirror observations alone are not enough, we suggest habituating the following routine.

S – S – M
Scan – Signal – Manoeuvre

Scanning is the first step in this driving plan. Observing our surroundings and seeing the hazards present triggers the consideration of the subsequent two steps.

Before any significant change of position or speed, we should check the mirrors to ensure any planned change is safe. Checking at least two mirrors on the approach to hazards is a good habit. In a car or SUV with both an interior mirror and two door mirrors, that means checking both the interior mirror and the appropriate door mirror (i.e. the right-hand door mirror before a right-hand turn). However, no matter how many times we check a mirror, we might never become aware of anyone lurking in its blind spot; until we crash into them! Therefore, we should consider a glance alongside, looking out for anyone lurking in that mirror’s blind spot.

Prior to manoeuvring, but after we start scanning, we should then consider whether another road user is likely to benefit from a signal. Although there any many ways in which we can communicate our intentions to other road users, let’s consider effective signalling using vehicles’ indicators.

The key to effective and considerate signalling is to focus on communicating intentions, not actions. As we begin manoeuvring, others will see what we are doing. To be of value, signals must, therefore, be given prior to manoeuvring, with time for others to see and react to our signals before we begin to carry out our intentions. A useful rule of thumb is to signal at least three seconds prior to changing position (or speed). Three seconds or more is likely to be enough opportunity for other road users to both see our indication and to react unhurriedly before we start manoeuvring.

Driving plans ensure our approach to hazards is not haphazard. We suggest using the Scan – Signal – Manoeuvre routine on the approach to every hazard.

In the next lesson, we will explore how to think like a defensive driver.