Where Should You Look When Driving a Car?

March 12, 2021

The skill of safe driving is mostly in your mind. To think clearly and react fast enough, you need information, most of which comes to you through your eyes. It all has to do with visual perception, which is your ability to notice many things at once.

To get the correct information into the brain, your eyes have to move constantly, picking up the appropriate parts of the driving scene at the right time. This is especially critical when you are driving in bad weather.

How Can You Ensure That You Are Using Your Eyes Right When You Are Driving?

To answer that, let’s take a look at how the driver’s eyes work. There are two types of visions:

1. Central vision

Your visual field is about 200 degrees horizontal and 150 degrees horizontal. This allows you to detect changes everywhere within your visual field. Central vision is concentrated in the spot that covers about 3 degrees of your visual field.

This is a minimal area indeed, but this vision allows you to make some critical driving judgments, such as estimating distance and reading details in the traffic scene.

2. Peripheral/Side Vision

It covers the rest of what the central vision leaves out. It is not as sharp as the central vision, but is more sensitive to light and motion, helping us detect events to the side that are important to us, even if we are not looking directly at them.

So, to answer the question above: the best way to ensure you are using your eyes right when driving is to make good use of your central and peripheral visions to have a broad view of the essential details going on at any time as you drive. Both visions make up your entire visual field.

How Can Your Visual Perception Work For You When You Are Driving?

Most driver mistakes are caused by bad habits in the way they use their eyes. How you use your eyes will determine how safely you drive. New drivers who have just got their licenses tend to concentrate directly in front of their cars, whether making a turn or going straight. It is because moving the vehicle is a new experience for them.

You remember that when you were learning to ride a bike, you wanted to concentrate your eyes on the pedals. It is the same mindset here, except the pedals become the front of the car.

So how should you use your eyes? Follow the following three basics rules:

1. Look Ahead, Not Down

Your attention should be focused on the road ahead, following your intended path of travel. It would be best if you allowed a visual lead-time of at least 20-30 seconds. You will still see what is happening in front of the car if you look ahead. That is because as your peripheral vision helps you to look ahead, your side vision will take care of the rest.

But if you concentrate your peripheral vision down in the immediate front of the car, you would not see what is happening far ahead, so you cannot prepare to react to whatever danger is ahead of you.

It could be a deer crossing the road, or the car ahead suddenly pulling the brakes, requiring you to react accordingly. If you didn’t see it happening, it would take you by surprise, which would delay your reaction.

2. Keep Your Eyes Moving

With your eyes moving, you can select details on the traffic scene, mentally calculate the distance between your car and the vehicle in front, and check other objects ahead. Roadway and the scenes keep changing as you drive, so search for clues to these changes. Stay alert for changes that could require you to readjust your speed

3. Get The Big Picture

You should be searching the whole scene, not just part of it. Keep on checking the rear-view mirrors to see ahead and behind you. As you approach an intersection, watch for vehicles and pedestrians moving in all directions, for traffic control devices, and anything else that may block your vision or increase risk.

What Is The Effect Of Alcohol On Visual Perception?

A few drinks of alcohol can cause your concentration to start failing. Your eyes will mostly stare straight ahead, with the central vision stuck squarely on the surface of the road so that you notice nothing on either side of the lane. This is a perilous situation for you and other road users.

New drivers should take the time to train themselves to have good eye habits to effectively search the driving scene for information that will allow them to drive more safely.

How Can Taller Vehicles Ahead Of You Be Of Help?

As you concentrate ahead while driving, you should pay close attention to the taller vehicles such as buses and trucks because their drivers usually see road situations much more clearly.

Therefore, if the taller vehicle far ahead of you suddenly changes lanes for no apparent vision from your viewpoint, it could be that there is an accident or roadblock o the horizon, so you should follow suit.

However, you will only note the behavior of the tall buses ahead of you if you practice what we teach you, namely, looking ahead, not down the immediate front of your car.

Wrap Up

Of course, your takeaway should not be that you should always be looking ahead when you are driving your car. Driving involves various visual communications that coordinate to keep you safe.

On the contrary, the same eyes should be viewing the side-mirrors to check what is happening behind you. The point is that most of your attention should be far ahead of your car because that is where you are heading to.

Your immediate front is not so crucial because you pass it in seconds and then contend with what is on the horizon.

At Pierre Paul Driving School, we instruct learners on how to drive safely. We also give them some driving tips they won’t find anywhere else. If you are planning to learn to drive or refresh your skills, feel free to contact us today. Should you also know of anyone interested in driving, we would appreciate it if you refer him/her to us. We are based in Brooklyn, New York City.