A hazard is anything that can interfere with your driving ability and that can cause harm or lead to an accident.  Hazard Perception Skills are a key necessity in helping to stay safe on our roads.  Being able to recognise and respond to hazards, is a skill within itself.  Developing enhanced hazard recognition and anticipating potentially hazardous situations, makes for a safer driver.  This can include pedestrians crossing the road, broken-down vehicles, roadworks, people entering and exiting cars and other cars stopping ahead of you or entering from side roads.  Understanding appropriate responses to hazards, such as speed and positioning, is crucial.

Safe drivers know how to identify and respond to hazards. They know how to spot them sooner rather than later in order to take the required actions that will avoid potential crashes.  There three (3) main areas that safer drivers should aim to ensure;

  1. Maintaining a (3) three second gap and keeping a safe distance from other vehicles,
  2. Selecting safe gaps and,
  3. Identifying hazards.

By maintaining a safe distance from other vehicles, you have more time to identify and respond to hazards.  By selecting safe gaps when crossing traffic, turning or changing lanes this will enable you to do all of those things without being involved in a crash.  When selecting a safe gap, you must do so without impacting on the crash avoidance space of other road users.  Identifying hazards sooner rather later, behind and to the sides, is a skill that all drivers must use to avoid crashes.  Developing these key hazard perception skills and other useful safe driving skills will assist in staying safer on our roads.

New and complacent drivers sometimes do things that can increase their risk of being involved in a crash or other incident.  These can include;

• Travelling too closely behind other vehicles.
• Driving too fast for the conditions.
• Not looking far enough ahead when driving.
• Choosing unsafe gaps that are too small when making turns, crossing intersections or
overtaking.

Research shows that one of the most important skills to have when driving or riding, is good hazard perception.  Research also shows that rear-end crashes are the most common crash types.  This is why it is so important to keep a safe following distance.  The distance that it will take you to stop your car depends on the speed at which you are travelling. The faster you go, the longer the stopping distance.  Remember, use the three (3) second gap rule to keep a safe distance – you will need at least four (4) seconds when driving in adverse conditions.

Did you know that the average reaction time to a hazard is about 1.5 seconds? This is the time it takes from when the driver identifies a hazard to the point of taking action (Setting up, buffering etc.). Depending on the speed of the vehicle, will depend on the distance it travels during those 1.5 seconds.  Responding when hazards can enter your Crash Avoidance Space (CAS) is important.  Any time that a hazard can enter your CAS, you must always ensure that you ‘set up’ so that your reaction time is reduced.

“Setting Up” simply means that your right foot is off the accelerator and light pressure is applied to the brake pedal. This simple action enables you to protect your CAS and minimise the risk of a crash.  “Setting Up” is used in any situation where a hazard may enter the path of the vehicle. Remember, hazards can include cyclists, animals, pedestrians, and other vehicles that have the capability of entering you CAS.

Effective scanning skills and gathering as much information as possible, is always a good way to recognise and respond to hazards.  While pedestrians can appear in many various locations, you must always be vigilant particularly around
shopping centres, bus stops, intersections and schools.  You always need to continually scan the road and the footpath. Effective scanning means looking between parked cars for pedestrians, particularly children as they can be hidden.  Checking for white reverse lights, brake lights and indicators are all signs of potential hazards.

To be able to identify and respond to pedestrian hazards, ensure that you slow down in areas where you are likely to encounter pedestrians such as shopping centres, bus stops, intersections and schools.  The same goes for cyclists.  Ensure that you give all cyclists plenty of room when approaching or passing them (eg when making a left or right turn).  Remember, there are laws for safely passing cyclists.

Motorists must stay wider of bicycle riders by giving a minimum of:

  • 1m when passing a bicycle rider in a 60km/h or less speed zone
    or
  • 1.5m where the speed limit is over 60km/h.

To help you acquire hazard perception skills, there are five interactive practice modules available, to help you practice many of the skills you need to pass the Hazard Perception Test (HPT) and become a safer driver.  Practice the HPT online.