• January 9, 2024
  • CFI Communications

The Five Keys of Safe Driving

Professional driver Keith Zecman recently shared his take on the Smith System’s “five keys to safe driving.” Check out his take below and share your own safe driving tips with us.

1. Aim high in steering

“Aiming high in steering” means don’t make your steering adjustments based on what is directly in front of you. Instead, look way down the road and as far into the turn as possible. You’ll notice your turns are not only smoother, but you’re being safer, too.

Always look as far ahead as possible and observe what is happening. Recognizing danger or a potential hazard early enough will enable you to avoid the hazard in the first place. Scanning the road a half mile to a full mile ahead goes completely against our natural human response, yet it’s necessary for safe driving. Our bodies were designed for speeds of less than 10 mph. You need to learn to consciously break that natural instinct and focus farther ahead.

Scanning ahead will also cause you to drive more smoothly. You’ll find there are fewer sudden stops and hard braking during your drives because you aren’t taken by surprise as often. However, if you aren’t looking ahead, those hazards will take you by surprise, and could lead to a very dangerous situation

2. Get the big picture

One of the first things I noticed as a driver finisher was how people seem to become fixated on things — a potentially deadly habit.

When drivers fixate on something, they are not getting the big picture of the road ahead, which means, they can’t form an escape plan if necessary, and they lose track of vehicles around them.

The ultimate goal? Never be caught off guard. Know where each and every vehicle is around you, and spot all hazards early and often.

Curves up ahead, speed limits (trucks should slow 5 to 10 miles slower then posted sign on curves), exit numbers, car brakes ahead, low clearances, weather conditions, etc., together form the big picture while driving.

3. Keep your eyes moving

We have two types of vision: peripheral and central. Peripheral vision detects undefined objects of interest, while central vision investigates those objects with clarity.

Keep your eyes moving, every five to eight seconds. Observing things in quick glances maximizes your central and peripheral vision. Keeping your early warning system continuously engaged and your mind alert, assures your avoidance of a fixed or blank stare, and keeps your brain stimulated and alert.

Before entering an intersection, look left, right, and then left again. Look left twice because, normally, the first vehicle that could hit you would come from the left.

Don't forget about all of your mirrors! As part of your scanning, you should glance into your mirrors every few seconds. It only takes a fraction of a second and it will help you get a clear picture of your surroundings and available escape routes (such as having to make a quick lane change).

4. Leave yourself an out

One of the most important driving tips I can share is to always have an escape plan. Drivers should always assume the worst will happen and be prepared for it. Constantly ask yourself questions and make up possible scenarios in your head. Some examples:

  • What if the driver in front of you slams on his brakes for no apparent reason, or an animal runs into the roadway?
  • What if someone blows a tire, or swerves to avoid an object in the road near me?
  • What if the approaching vehicle drifts into my lane?

One of the simplest ways to always have an escape plan is to establish and maintain a buffer zone. Swerving should actually be a last resort. If you are forced to swerve, that means you were following too closely. Keep a safe following distance, and the side of your vehicle free from obstructions if possible.

5. Make sure they see you

What Is Eye Contact?

Eye contact is a major benefit of proper communication with others in the driving environment. Through eye contact we assure ourselves that our intentions have been communicated, frequently bringing the desired response from other drivers and pedestrians. Eye contact, however only indicates that people see you. It does not guarantee that they will do what you would like.

Techniques for Seeking Eye Contact

  • Use your horn. A light, friendly tap or two can usually bring eye contact.
    There is no need for a long blast that might imply your disapproval, or irritate others.
  • Use your headlights; the human eye is attracted to light.
  • Use your brake lights; Early braking alerts people behind you and gives them more time to respond.
  • Use hand signals. If you have time and if your window is open, hand signals can show your intentions especially to drivers behind you.
  • Be ready to quickly alter your plans. If your signals are not heeded, use your space cushion as your out.
  • Always, use your turn signal when changing lanes, and making right or left turns, even if you don’t see anyone behind you. Initiate your signal 3 to 4 seconds before change lanes.

Bonus Key: G.O.A.L.

Get Out And Look

When backing up, after your setup, walk to the back of your trailer into the spot you’re backing into. Assess the area and ask yourself the following: Am I too close to something? Does my angle look right? How much room do I have? (Front and back.) What are all the obstacles here — a pole, a pot hole, a curb, another trailer on either side, etc.?

Remember, it doesn’t matter how many pull up’s you have to do to get you trailer safely into a dock or spot. Take your time while backing; don’t be intimidated by others around you waiting to get into a spot. And ignore those on the CB radio. If you’re taking advice from your CB, remember, if you hit something, you’re the one with the accident, not the person helping you.


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