Stage 3: Expanding their Search Distance – Part 2


Location: City streets with low-to-medium traffic
Length of Lesson: 20-30 minutes

Widen your teen’s search focus

Right now, the width of your teen’s search area is probably that of the lane they’re currently driving in. Your task is to help widen that search area. Many potential dangers lurk outside of your current driving lane. In fact, many dangers aren’t even on your road…yet. Pedestrians and cars entering your road or lane can be potentially hazardous.

You may not be surprised to hear that intersections are the location of many car crashes. You can minimize the danger at intersections by maintaining a wide visual search area so that you can see potential problems before it’s too late. Remind your teen that in many car crashes, drivers state that they didn’t even see the other car.

Here’s how you can encourage your teen to widen their visual search area:

  • Ask them to point out businesses, landmarks, or homes on the side of the road that catch their eye.
  • Occasionally, when you think it is safe, ask them to name certain businesses or buildings as you pass them. For instance, as you near a Burger King, as them the name of the fast food restaurant up ahead on the left.

Common mistakes

Most new drivers tend to stare straight ahead. Or, when working on widening their visual scan, tend to spend too much time looking to one side or the other. You need to help them understand the concept of scanning which is that you must constantly be moving your eyes from close to far and from side to side. Mirrors also require continual glances.

Create a systematic scanning approach

It’s important for your teen to eventually develop a systematic approach to scanning their driving environment. Obviously, the areas closest to the car require more constant attention than the areas further away. The reason is quite simple: things change a heck of a lot faster the closer they are to your car. So, you cannot give equal scanning time to the area 15-20 seconds away from the car as you do to the area 2-5 seconds away.

Instinctual range

I call the area immediately around the car and within 2-5 seconds of you the “instinctual range” because dangers that arise in this area require an immediate, instinctual reaction. You don’t have time to plan or think at this point. You must react quickly.

Your teen should be scanning this area approximately 50% of the time.

Scan and evaluate range

This is the area about 5-15 seconds ahead of your car. In this range, you have the time to make changes to your speed and lane position in order to minimize potentially dangerous situations. Essentially, you have the time to think, plan, and execute.

Your teen should be scanning this area approximately 35% of the time.

Long term range

Long term range is the area beyond 15 seconds ahead of your car. This long term range allows your teen ample time to evaluate different driving options as situations unfold. If your teen sees a car stopped in the middle of the road with its hazards on, they have time to check all of their space management zones to determine what course of action they should take.

Your teen should be scanning this area approximately 15% of the time. This may not seem like a long amount of time, but remember that your teen’s eyes should be moving constantly. Also, the long term range shouldn’t be changing as rapidly as the area around your car, so you shouldn’t have to re-scan this area quite as often.

Never lose sight of the fact that all of this happening at a very fast rate. No area should be left un-scanned for more than 5 seconds.

Your Scanning Procedure Should Change Based Upon the Environment

While developing a systematic scanning approach is critical to safe driving, it cannot be a completely rigid system. Different driving conditions and situations require that you constantly change how you’re scanning. For instance, you may need to scan at a faster rate when driving on a congested city road with a speed limit of 35 mph than you would on a rural road with very low traffic. Also, if you’re driving in the far right lane of a divided highway, you probably don’t need to scan your right zone as often as your other zones.

Eventually, scanning will become automatic

With practice, your teen will develop a scanning system that becomes automatic and unconscious. At this point, they will be constantly monitoring their surroundings and preparing to take action when danger approaches.

Continue on to Practicing the 3-Second Rule


Got something to say?

All information and advice contained within this website is to be taken at your own risk. Nothing contained within this website should be misconstrued as professional driving instruction.