Anticipating vs. Assuming
A good driver is constantly scanning his surroundings, processing the information, and anticipating the actions of drivers around him.
For instance, when you’re driving on a busy two-lane city street with lots of shops, you’re processing an unbelievable amount of information. Not only are you scanning the road ahead and behind, you’re watching all of the side streets for cars about to enter or exit the roadway. There may also be pedestrians on side streets and at crosswalks.
This type of situation underscores why anticipation skills are so important. It’s also underscores the important distinction between anticipation and making assumptions.
Let’s analyze a common scenario that may unfold in this environment: The driver of the car ahead of you keeps looking to the right and making erratic speed changes. You think that he might be about to make a right turn into a shop’s parking lot. Therefore, you anticipate this action and increase your following distance in anticipation of their turn.
After a minute or so of this behavior, you become frustrated and impatient with their constant speed changes and decide to pass them on the left. All of a sudden, they quickly move into the left lane and you have to slam on your brakes to avoid a collision.
You scream, “What a moron!” (or something worse). You wonder where this guy learned how to drive. Why would someone suddenly move into the left lane when it was so obvious they were looking for the entrance to a shop.
That’s where you got into trouble. You assumed that they were going to turn right and then made driving decisions based upon this incorrect assumption. While we understand that the driver’s actions strongly indicated that they were looking for the entrance of a shop, it turns out that they were looking for something else.
The driver was simply trying to figure out which side of the street contains odd street numbers. As soon as they found out that they were looking on the wrong side of the street, they abruptly moved into the left lane at the precise moment when you were moving through their driver-side blind spot in an attempt to pass them. And since they were so preoccupied with looking at the buildings on the side of the road, they did not realize you were behind them.
This is the difference between anticipating and assuming other driver’s behavior. Keep this distinction in mind when discussing defensive driving with your new driver.