Looking Farther Down the Road

Changing Driver Behavior
Jun 13/2016 Published by:

I’ve been in fleet safety for almost 30 years. During that time I’ve ridden along with thousands of truck drivers, teaching them how to use advanced driving skills to stay safer behind the wheel.

As large trucks are heavy and take considerably more distance to stop, it is critical that professional drivers see problems very early so they can respond smoothly and safely.  When I mention this to truck drivers during training they usually roll their eyes and respond, “of course, that’s what I do.”  Some even point out that because they sit higher than other motorists and can see over most vehicles they will, therefore, be looking far ahead. Unfortunately, just because drivers have the ability to see farther ahead, it doesn’t insure it will happen. In fact, my ride along experience tells me that one of the most common shortcomings with truck drivers is that they aren’t  looking as far ahead as they think.  

It’s not intentional; it’s just that our eyes aren’t really designed to guide us at driving speeds. Few drivers really think about where they are looking as they drive. It’s just an unconscious behavior. Have you ever been taken by surprise by a problem happening up ahead yet weren’t distracted or following too close? This is usually an indicator you weren’t looking far enough ahead at that moment. Your eyes were doing what they naturally tend to do…focus just a few seconds ahead. Four wheelers may get away with it because the vehicle is lighter and more nimble,  but it can be disastrous if you are driving a truck. Think I’m exaggerating the problem? Just do an Internet search for “multi-car crash”. You’ll find scores of articles and videos about multiple vehicle crashes that started with road construction or a vehicle stopped ahead.  In many of these, one driver after another piles into the vehicle ahead despite clear visibility and dry roads. How could this be? Could all of these drivers have been engrossed in cell calls or texting? No. Most of the drivers were simply fixated a short distance ahead and discovered the problem far too late to avoid it.

Coming Clean

A lapse in looking far ahead can happen to anyone. In fact, I have to come clean on this one as it’s happened to me, as well. I’ve even included a link so you can view a video of my mistake. As you’ll see in the video, I was alert and looking forward, yet didn’t recognize traffic getting bottled up until very late. It was almost too late. Thankfully, I had an escape route to the right to avoid a collision.

The Facts

Not surprisingly, not looking far ahead is the most common risky behavior we see when reviewing DriveCam clips. In fact, in an analysis of approximately 65,000 events involving truckers from June 2009 to January 2010, we found that 80% of the time Not Looking Far Ahead was the identified concern when an awareness issue was involved. And this behavior is a strong predictor of future crash potential for truck drivers. In the study time period we found that truckers with one collision were 1.5 times more likely to have had at least one prior incident of not looking far enough ahead. And truckers with two or more crashes during that period were 2.4 times as likely to have had a prior incident of not looking far enough ahead.

The Solution

O.K. so what’s the solution? The answer is to look farther ahead. Most safe driving programs advocate that drivers of commercial vehicles look at least 15 seconds ahead. In other words, you should be glancing to where you’ll be in 15 seconds. That means looking about one block ahead at city speeds and about a quarter mile ahead at highway speeds.  This sounds simple. But for most, this is not the norm and breaking an old habit can be difficult. That’s why it’s so important for trainers to get out on the road with drivers so they can coach them to lift their eyes up and look farther down the road. Once the concept is understood, the next step is to practice it over and over until it becomes the new norm.

Projecting vision further ahead gives drivers more time and space to identify and cope with problems early enough to avoid a crash. It may even save a life. It also helps drivers to see changing conditions such as road construction or a red light sooner.  Armed with this advanced knowledge, truck drivers can often make early throttle adjustments to keep the vehicle rolling longer. This can add up to meaningful savings in fuel expense as well as a reduction in wear and tear on the truck.

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