Required amount of time to complete: 35 minutes


SUBJECT 1: Scanning, Including Distance Guidelines, Adaptation To Surroundings

As a natural part of the aging process, our perceptual abilities may start to slow down. Our memory fades a little over time and things are not as sharp as they were when you were twenty-five. Giving yourself more time to travel to your destination and giving yourself more room in traffic can compensate for this natural aging process. Increase your following distances and give yourself an out by having a safe space, either slow down or speed up a little bit so the car is not right next to you any longer or if the space is available, move into the other lane. Since we are not as flexible as we used to be and our eyes are not as sharp, we can compensate by physically moving our head when we scan the driving environment. As we move our head, also move our eyes, this allows you to see more with your central vision and rely less on your peripheral vision (your side vision). You may have noticed by now that your peripheral vision may not be as wide as it use to be. By practicing being more aware of what is going on around you, you can compensate for the impact of aging on your perceptions.

Please consider while driving, we are subject to many distractions, both inside and outside the motor vehicle, which can reduce the driver's concentration on the driving task. Inside your vehicle, devices such as cell phones, fax machines, and stereos can interfere with driving. Reaching for a ringing phone, searching for your tunes, eating, personal hygiene, and dealing with children instead of driving can increase the potential for a traffic collision. Distractions are just that, and the distractions have the tendency to take precedence over traffic safety matters1.

Drivers should be aware of road hazards and road conditions that may affect their vehicle, yet should not let outside distractions deter them from safe driving habits. Billboards, homes, pedestrians, etc., can be observed, yet should not consume one’s full attention. Drivers must realize that an awareness of the road is vital in safe driving, yet a wandering eye can be deadly. Emergency vehicles would not constitute outside distractions; rather they should be considered one of the primary concerns of the driving task. Drivers should not get caught up in sightseeing or scenery but should keep their mind focused on the road2.

Drivers should alter their visual habits if they are not conducive to the safe operation of a motor vehicle. Wandering eyes and a basic lack of attention to the road all heighten the collision potential. Drivers should train themselves to scan ahead two seconds looking for immediate hazards and from 10-12 seconds down the road for potential hazards. In rural areas, the 10-12 second distance is determined by the speed of the vehicle, by picking a fixed object on or near the road, and counting one thousand and one, one thousand and two, etc., until you reach ten or twelve. This will give a visual reference for what this distance would be. In urban areas, you do the same scanning techniques, but because of the lower speeds this distance is about ¼ of a mile. This allows you to recognize potential trouble signs ahead of you, such as a stalled trailer, construction, and other hazards. By seeing the hazard well in advance, you leave yourself adequate reaction time to deal with the hazard. Periodically glancing at the rear-view mirror and the speedometer to get an adequate determination of your vehicle speed, positioning in regard to other traffic and road conditions,3, would also be good ideas.

To be a defensive driver, you have to see what's going on. The best way to spot potential trouble is by scanning. Avoid a fixed, straight-ahead stare that may let you drift off into daydreams while on the road.

What are some techniques to aid the driver in aggressively scanning the roadways?

  1. Look Ahead: good drivers keep an eye on what's happening about 10-12 seconds ahead. That's about a block in city driving.
  2. Look To The Sides: as you approach any place where other cars, people or animals may cross your path, look to both sides.
  3. Look Behind: check the traffic behind you frequently (several times a minute) so you'll know if somebody is tailgating, coming up too fast, or trying to pass.
  4. Blind Spot: these are areas near the left and right rear corners of your vehicle that are not visible in your mirrors.

NEVER RELY ON YOUR MIRRORS ALONE. Before you make any move to the sides, quickly turn your head to see if your blind spot is clear. Also avoid driving in someone else's blind spot. It's as important for other drivers to see you as for you to see them. Drivers should adequately position their vehicles away from vehicles they are immediately following as to give ample stopping distance in case of an emergency4.

Ways to avoid collisions at intersections include awareness of traffic patterns, increasing visibility by scanning the road ahead, controlling the speed of the vehicle, and using the "look left, right, left" technique prior to proceeding when the light changes.

American Automobile Association, Responsible Driving, Chapters 10, number 1.
American Automobile Association, Responsible Driving, Chapters 1 and 2, number 2, 3, 4.


SUBJECT 2: Following Distance, Including Two Second Minimum

How we interact with other drivers on the roadway environment is very important. This interaction will get us home safely or make us another statistic that someone else will talk about in another driver improvement program. This section covers picking a path through traffic, following distance, and dealing with tailgaters.

How would you pick a path through traffic?

When selecting a proper path through traffic, the driver should be observant of the habits of the vehicles in and around their path of travel. The driver should be aware of obstructions in their path and select safe paths around the obstructions. At all times, attempt to leave adequate space (two seconds plus) between your vehicle and the surrounding traffic. Your scanning should look two seconds along your path of travel for immediate hazards and 10 to 12 seconds down the road for potential hazards1.

What following distance should you keep between your car and the car in front of you?

You should use what is called the "two second rule." The two second following rule is:

One: The car ahead is approaching a checkpoint (the sign).

Two: Begin counting seconds as the rear of the car ahead passes the checkpoint (one thousand and one, one thousand and two).

Three: It should take at least two seconds for the front of your car to reach the check point. If so, your following distance is adequate. If not, back off some more and do the three steps again.

The two second rule was designed for good weather and clear visibility. You should increase your following distance as your visibility decreases and as the weather gets worse. Additional time should be allowed for poor visibility and weather conditions such as fog and rain2. With each additional factor, you should increase your following distance by one second. For example, at night in rain and foggy conditions, you should add three seconds to your following distance. Also, increase following distance for traffic conditions. For example, if you are towing a boat, following a motorcycle, or you are being tailgated, you should add three seconds to your following distance.

How do you deal with a tailgater?

Drivers should avoid tailgating and should subscribe to rules of proper following distance to avoid rear-end collisions. Drivers being tailgated are advised to slow down to encourage the tailgating driver to pass. If possible, change lanes and allow the tailgater to pass. If the tailgater persists, go to a well-lighted public place or police station and pull off the road. If a collision is inevitable, letting off the brake in some instances (no car in front of you or not at an intersection) might also ease the force of the impact3. If you are in an unfamiliar area, you may have the tendency to slow down while you are trying to reorient yourself. This slowing down my increase the likelihood that someone will come up behind you and start to tailgate you because they are in a hurry. Try not to let other drivers intimidate you by closely tailgating you and possibly blowing their horn. Not everyone is patient or considerate of your travel plans. Deal with this person as you would any other tailgater. Follow the advice that we just gave you, move into another lane if available and the way is clear, signal and then change lanes. You can also pull into a business on the side of the road to let the tailgater get by and get directions on how to find the place you want to go to. By getting out of the traffic, you can give yourself a break and allow the inconsiderate driver to go by and be on their way.

American Automobile Association, Responsible Driving, Chapters 1 and 12, number 1, 2, 3.


SUBJECT 3: Stopping Distance In Relationship To Speed

Any regular passenger vehicle traveling at a speed of 20 mph should be able to stop within a distance of 25 feet. Heavier vehicles and vehicles traveling in combination with other vehicles (towing) have longer stopping distances. Yet, remember that having stopping distance between vehicles is the best braking device1.

Driving too fast, careless driving, and following too closely are major causes of motor vehicle crashes in Florida (approximately 22%)2. You must adjust your speed depending on driving conditions. The factors to consider when adjusting your speed are traction (weather, tire condition and inflation), visibility (weather, type of vehicles around you, i.e., tractor-trailer or sub compacts) in the traffic environment (type of road, density of traffic) and rate of travel (speed). These factors are being constantly considered and are factors in your vehicle's stopping distance.

What are the four parts to stopping distance?

Whenever you double your speed, it takes about four times as much distance to stop, and your vehicle will have four times the destructive power if it crashes. High speeds increase stopping distance greatly3.

Florida Statutes, section 316.262, number 1.
DHSMV, Traffic Crash Facts, 2000, Tallahassee, Florida, number 2.
American Automobile Association, Responsible Driving, Chapters 8 and 10, number 3.


SUBJECT 4: Environmental Hazards

The driver should be aware of the driving environment. The roads are built for safety, and speed limits are determined by the conditions of the road where they are posted. Speed limits on roads are set based on determining factors such as surfacing materials, banking of turns, width, distance between intersections, traffic density, and the surrounding community1.

As we move through the driving environment, we should be aware of the hazards that Mother Nature places on the roadway. A driver should learn how to drive and handle environmental hazards, rain, slick roads, standing water, fog, and wind.

How should a driver handle a skid?

A driver whose vehicle becomes involved in a skid should attempt to regain control of his or her vehicle without resorting to drastic control inputs. Letting off the accelerator and grasping a firm hold on the steering wheel is essential as is remaining calm and level headed. A driver should attempt to steer the vehicle in the direction of the skid or turn the wheel toward the direction the back end of the car is going. Braking hard will not help and will often increase the skid2.

How do the elements affect the driving environment?

As the sun goes down, dusk approaches and night time driving conditions take effect, drivers should adjust their driving actions accordingly. Multiple mile visibility will no longer exist, and drivers should understand that certain actions should be curtailed as a result. As is the case with driving in rainy or foggy conditions, the operator of a motor vehicle should analyze daytime versus nighttime driving conditions and take action accordingly by turning on their headlights, slowing down and increasing following distance. Visibility is the dominant element necessary for safe driving, and all drivers should be aware of sight limits3.

How do you adjust your driving to account for rainy weather?

The most dangerous time to drive on roads is immediately after it has started to rain. Dust particles and oil residue float on the water and drastically reduce the traction of the tires on the motor vehicle. Braking distance is dramatically affected and increased, as a vehicle could be more likely to skid in wet conditions. Braking hard is neither advisable nor feasible because of the potential for a skid. Consequently, braking distance is increased substantially.

Often times, the braking distance is increased two or three times, as the inability to brake hard leaves one traveling beyond the intended stopping point. In addition, one should alter speed dramatically in rainy weather or on wet roads as decreased speeds leave one in better control of the vehicle and less likely to skid or slide. Speed should be decreased according to the conditions of the road. A car under controlled speed is more likely to maneuver, handle turns, and remain in control under emergency situations. A vehicle traveling at an excessive speed on wet or slick roads can begin to hydroplane as water forms a barrier between the road and the tires and traction is lost as the wheel starts to ride on the water and not on the road surface.

This phenomenon is best avoided by controlling (reducing) speed during these conditions and reacting accordingly (gentle control inputs). When hydroplaning begins, let off the accelerator, grip the wheel firmly and brake gradually, increasing pressure as the vehicle slows down4. After a heavy rain, standing water becomes a problem. You should avoid standing water when possible. You do not know what is at the bottom of that standing water or how deep the standing water could be. You would be quite surprised if that standing water was the top of a sinkhole. If you happen to pass through a body of standing water, when you get out of the situation, gently pump your brakes. This will dry them off. As with any situation where your visibility is reduced, you should turn on your headlights. This makes it easier for you to see and to be seen in a reduced visibility situation.

How do you adjust your driving to account for foggy weather?

The driver should never overdrive their headlights and should travel at dramatically reduced speeds when fog exists. Allow for increased braking distance as the driver's lack of knowledge of upcoming road conditions and visibility of opposing and same direction traffic will be greatly reduced. The driver should give themselves a clear path to follow, including paths for other vehicles nearby. If the fog is so thick that you cannot see ahead, pull off the road and wait for the fog to lift. As with rain, as the fog increases, your vehicle speed should decrease5. As with any situation where your visibility is reduced, you should turn on your low beam headlights. This makes it easier for you to see and to be seen in a reduced visibility situation.

How do you adjust your driving to account for windy weather?

Wind will speed you up or slow you down only marginally. You want to avoid a crosswind situation. A strong cross wind could blow you into the path of oncoming traffic or into some other roadside hazard6. If you must drive in a crosswind situation, drive on the right side of your lane. For example, if the crosswind was from the left side of the road, the biggest danger to you is having oncoming traffic blown into your lane. Being on the right side of your lane will give you a few extra feet to avoid oncoming traffic. If the crosswind is from the right side of the road, driving on the right side of your lane will give the few extra feet to prevent or reduce your chance of being blown into the path of oncoming traffic.

American Automobile Association, Responsible Driving, Chapters 8, 10 and 12, number 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.


SUBJECT 5: Vehicle Emergencies

Everyday driving is hours and hours of the same thing, followed by a few moments of terror. When your vehicle has an emergency, the emergency always happens at the worst possible moment. We are now going to read about ways to deal with those emergencies.

When you are driving, things can happen very quickly. You may have only a fraction of a second to make the right move. Follow these guidelines for handling emergencies.

What should you do if your car breaks down?

  1. If possible, park where the disabled vehicle can be seen for 200 feet in each direction.
  2. Move the vehicle so all four wheels are off the pavement.
  3. Turn on your emergency flashers.
  4. Get all passengers out on the side away from traffic.
  5. Tie a white cloth on the left door handle or antenna.
  6. Raise the hood1.

What should you do if your brakes are wet?

  1. Test brakes lightly after driving through deep water.
  2. Brakes may pull to one side or may not hold at all.
  3. Dry brakes by driving slowly in low gear and applying brakes2.

What should you do if you have a tire blowout?

  1. Do not use your brakes and take your foot off the gas pedal or release your cruise control.
  2. Concentrate on steering, try to go straight ahead as the car will pull in the direction of the flat.
  3. Slow down gradually and begin moving toward the shoulder of the road.
  4. Brake softly when the car is under control.
  5. Pull completely off the pavement.
  6. When you start to change the tire, make sure you are far enough off the road so that you will not back up into or fall in front of moving traffic.
  7. If you can’t change the tire, call for help or follow the breakdown information covered earlier3.

What can you do to stop your car in the event of brake failure?

  1. Once you notice the brake failure, quickly pump your brakes to try and use any residual pressure in the brakes.
  2. Take your foot off the gas pedal to let gravity start slowing you down.
  3. Use your emergency brake if possible. Keep the button on the end of the brake pressed down so the wheels will not lock up. If you do not know how to use your emergency brake, consult your owner's manual.
  4. Look for something to rub against. A fence, a guard rail, or bushes would work. Try to pick something that will give way when you hit against it to reduce damage to the car and to you.
  5. Once the car is stopped do not drive it again until the brakes are fixed4.

What can you do when your power steering fails?

  1. You will still have directional control of the vehicle, but the steering wheel will be difficult to turn.
  2. Slow down and reduce the number of sharp turns you will try to make. The sharper the turn, the more effort it will require to turn the steering wheel.
  3. Get the steering system checked by an expert and have it repaired if necessary5.

American Automobile Association, Responsible Driving, Chapters 10, number 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Be sure to take the 10 minute break included in this module.