Safety talk: components of defensive driving

There are two components of defensive driving. They are:

  • You. You are the only driver you can control. Stay alert. Stay engaged.
  • Your Vehicle. Your vehicle is the only vehicle you can control. Prepare and maintain your vehicle for driving.

There are four components to active engaged driving. They are:

  • Cognizant: You must stay mentally engaged in driving. Performing any other activity while driving takes your mind away from the task at hand: driving. This includes but is not limited to talking on the phone, whether hands-free or not; eating; reading maps; and texting.
  • Visual: You must be able to see the road, road conditions, traffic and pedestrians. Anything that takes your eyes off the road, no matter how briefly, interferes with your ability to visually focus on the road.
  • Manual: You must have both hands on the steering wheel. Any activity that takes your hands off the steering wheel affects your ability to effectively control your vehicle. Adjusting the radio, eating, texting, shaving and applying makeup are all activities that take your hands off the steering wheel and keep you from effectively controlling your vehicle. 
  • Audial: Being able to hear the sounds of traffic and the sounds of emergency vehicles is crucial to driving defensively. Listening to music while wearing headphones not only is illegal in Colorado, it also diminishes your ability to hear approaching emergency vehicles. Sometimes, the sound of screeching tires can alert you to a potential hazard you may need to avoid.

Multitasking is much valued in today’s employment culture. Some people believe that the use of cellphones while operating a motor vehicle makes them more productive. However, multitasking is a myth. The human brain cannot effectively perform two tasks at the same time. Instead, the brain actually switches back and forth from one task to the other in many, quick, microsecond episodes. Because the switching happens multiple times, in microsecond episodes, it is almost undetectable. This leads us to believe we are actually performing more than one task at a time.

During these episodes the brain is forced to quickly select from the information it receives, process that information, store the information, and make decisions on how to respond and use the information. At this stage, the brain is juggling tasks and some of the responses made may not be fully thought out, thus impeding the ability to effectively operate the motor vehicle.