If you stand far enough away, all things, regardless of actual size, become quite small. You’ve known this to be true since your youth. Do you understand why?
Understanding the science behind vision is a key component to proper vehicle operations. All behind-the-wheel techniques begin with the processing of visual cues. This processing begins in the brain.
Regardless of training, when it comes down to a moment, action will always be faster than reaction. In action, your brain has taken a visual cue and completed all mental and physical processes to come to a decision. In reaction, your brain must receive a visual cue, go through all necessary processes, and then based on feed back, make a decision. In reaction, decisions typically need to be made quickly. When time and space are limited, visual overload of the brain may occur.
Without proper visual perspective, a reactive decision will become a high stress situation. In these circumstances, fight-or-flight kicks in and will bring a slew of unwanted side effects, including tunnel vision and loss of motor skills. To prevent visual overload while operating a vehicle, you must learn to increase time and space. While driving, increases in speed will shorten your visual depth of field and subconsciously increase anxiety. To counteract this response, you will need to increase distance between your vehicle and the next closest vehicle or hard object. This increased distance will allow for extra time to receive a visual cue and make a decision.
Let’s put the visual process into a scenario. In busy traffic, many drivers simply stare at the vehicle immediately ahead of them; when brake lights go on, these drivers brake. Using your understanding of vision, you will be in the habit of looking approximately ten-seconds in front of the leading vehicle. This lead vehicle should be in your peripheral vision as your focus will remain squarely on accepting visual cues and analyzing the road ahead; looking for potential dangers that may occur. You will anticipate braking or prepare an evasive maneuver based on a potential danger and not on brake lights. If done properly, you will either brake or perform the prepared evasive maneuver prior-to the lead vehicle even displaying brake lights.
This vision/reaction scenario is best case with limited disruptive factors. Part of understanding vision is to be aware of the disruptive factors that affect vision. All drivers should have optimum vision before operating a vehicle and have any nearsightedness or farsightedness corrected. Other factors, including vehicle speed, light glare, age, window tinting, weather-conditions and roadway abnormalities will also hinder the reception of visual cues. Hindered visual cues from the listed factors will require the same driving approach as visual overload: slowing down and increasing space will allow you to observe and respond appropriately.
With vision supplying approximately 95 percent of incoming data to a driver, the understanding of vision and the processes involved will positively affect your ability to operate and control a motor vehicle. Now that we’ve explained how to Get Situated in a vehicle, and given an overview on the Science of Vision, next week we’ll cruise through Physical laws and handling characteristics.