Something I’ve noticed with new drivers is the seemingly urgent need, when changing lanes or merging into traffic, to either get the job done in a hurry, or stop in a traffic flow if the sought after gap doesn’t magically materialise. The latter course of action is extremely dangerous.
Changing lanes in a traffic flow, and merging into a traffic flow – say from a freeway on-ramp – is an exercise in both patience and observation. When you’re out there on the road, you need to be scanning everything around you, taking in the environment you’re a part of from moment to moment, seeing as far ahead as you can, and using both your acute focal vision as well as your peripheral vision. For new drivers there is an understandable fear of collision with the fast approaching traffic, however, when the following simple steps are taken, the merge or lane change becomes a rote activity.
- indicate early – Your car’s indicators are the best ‘attention getter’ you have when you want to change direction. You’re telling the other drivers what it is you want to do, so be thoughtful, and give them plenty of notice;
- when merging into another traffic stream, match the speed of that stream. If the speed limit on a freeway, for example, is 100kph, then you need to be moving at or close to 100kph by the end of the on-ramp;
- check your mirrors for the movements of the traffic around you, be satisfied that you’re matching speed;
- pick your gap in the stream, which should – if you’ve indicated early – be opening as other drivers see your intentions and make appropriate adjustments to their own speed & position;
- BEFORE YOU MOVE……..do a final check of your vehicle’s blind spot in whichever direction you’re moving. This is often called a ‘shoulder check’ because you’re flicking a glance over your shoulder, left or right, depending on direction. A glance is all you’ll need because you’re using peripheral vision, which is very good at picking up movement. If there is something alongside you, not visible in your mirrors, a ‘shoulder check’ will pick it up.
- When you are certain the path is open, you’ve matched speeds and there is nothing impeding your merge or lane change, move decisively in your chosen direction.
All of the above actions take place in seconds, all the while, your indicator has been flashing, warning other drivers of your intention. Bear in mind that not all drivers are as observant or as courteous as you. Sometimes the gap you want may not materialise exactly where you expect it to, so be prepared to slow slightly, or speed up slightly in order to move into the appropriate gap in the traffic stream. Be decisive, assertive, but NEVER aggressive in this maneuver. The road is no place for aggression. On the subject of vision, and how we use our eyes when driving, the following is very pertinent:
Focal (fovea) vision and ambient (peripheral) vision
Components of Vision
There are two components of the visual system, focal (fovea) vision and ambient (peripheral) vision. Focal vision is primarily responsible for object recognition, and ambient vision is primarily responsible for spatial orientation.
Focal Vision. Focal vision is limited to the central two degrees of vision (i.e., the fovea) and is primarily a conscious function. Focal vision allows one to see clearly in order to recognize objects and read displays. However, since it requires conscious thought, it is a relatively slow process. Focal vision is not primarily involved with orienting oneself in the environment, but can be used to acquire visual information about orientation.
Ambient Vision. Ambient vision is often referred to as peripheral vision. It is a subconscious function independent of focal vision whose primary role is to orient an individual in the environment.
For example, one can fully occupy focal vision by reading (a conscious action), while simultaneously obtaining sufficient orientation cues with peripheral vision to walk (a subconscious function). The same can happen when driving a vehicle and performing a task such as checking for unseen objects around the vehicle which may be hidden by the restrictions of the mirror. Focal vision is used to consciously decipher task-oriented information while peripheral information is subconsciously used to maintain spatial orientation and see where things are, not necessarily what they are.