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  • Writer's pictureAndy Murphy

Tips to Improve Situational Awareness while Driving

Tips to improve situational awareness while driving

Use these driving situational awareness tips to increase your safety on the road

Ever feel like you're on autopilot behind the wheel? Traffic flies by, but are you really seeing everything? Driving is a complex dance, and staying safe requires more than just knowing the rules of the road.

Imagine having a sixth sense for potential problems. This article will help you develop that sense, turning you from a driver into a leader of your driving environment. Let's get you ready to navigate the road and and how driving situational awareness safety will help you protect yourself behind the wheel.

Watch Situational Awareness on the Road

What is Situational Awareness?

Situational awareness is the ability to understand the elements of an environment and how it can affect your personal safety. This is a layman’s definition of the term and the one we’ll be using for this article. Overall, situational awareness is a vast study in human behavior that can become a life-long journey to master.

The reason that situational awareness is important is because we can read people, places, and vibes of an environment to draw reasonable conclusions that will help us understand if we are in danger and if so, what is our best course of action.

Everyone has the ability to understand what’s going on around them, few are willing to fully embrace it. Now, let’s address 8 elements that can improve your situational awareness and keep you safe in your daily life.

What is Driving Situational Awareness?

Driving situational awareness is all about being constantly aware of what's happening around you on the road. It's not just about seeing the cars directly in front of you, but rather a mental understanding that includes:

  • The road itself: Are there any upcoming hazards like curves, merging lanes, or traffic lights?

  • Traffic conditions: How fast is traffic flowing? Are there any erratic drivers or slowpokes?

  • Weather: Is it raining, foggy, or sunny? How might the weather impact visibility or road conditions?

  • Driver behavior: How are other people using the road? Are they being reckless and even targeting you?

  • Other vehicles: Are there motorcycles, bicycles, or pedestrians you need to watch out for?

  • Your attention: Can you minimize your distractions to give your brain time to respond to the road and other drivers?

By constantly scanning your environment and anticipating what might happen next, you can be a much safer driver.

Listen to Situational Awareness on the Road

How do I Develop Situational Awareness for Driving?

Sharper situational awareness is the key to becoming a confident and defensive driver. It allows you to anticipate problems on the road before they develop into emergencies. The good news is that situational awareness is a skill you can constantly improve. By actively using your vision to scan the road ahead, checking your mirrors frequently, and staying alert to potential hazards, you'll build a mental picture of your surroundings. This allows you to react smoothly to unexpected events, reducing your risk of accidents and keeping yourself and others safe.

The best way to boost your driving situational awareness and personal safety is to learn what to look for and respond accordingly. Later in this article you'll learn to spot anomalies, read an environment, and the red flags of potential threats.

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Ever Changing Environment and Anomalies

Normally when situational awareness is discussed the environment is static. Generally, we talk about the baseline of a restaurant or shopping mall. While time and how people may use the environment change, when driving the environment is continually changing as we progress on our trip.

How we drive and what we encounter on a two-lane country road is very different from downtown Atlanta. The interstate is different from your street. But you may be in all these environments in the course of your commute.

The takeaway is that potential hazards and personal safety is going to vary, and it may devolve very quickly. While some anomalies like driving behavior and hazards may be common, how they play out will heavily depend on the vibe of your current location.

In some driving situations an anomaly greatly influences how every driver behaves. For example, an ambulance rushing through traffic is going to change how you and those around you drive. The same can be said for a driver speeding away from police officer. The introduction of a speeding car is going to change how you and your fellow drivers behave and use the road (your environment).

This leads us to how we make decisions for our safety and the safety of others.

Decision Making at Speed

I’ve often repeated the wise words of Greg Williams and Brian Marren of Arcadia Cognerati. But none are more poignant for driving situational awareness than, “Give yourself the gift of time and distance.”

Time and distance are the key to safe driving.

The more time we have to sense make and distance we have to adjust our car, the better off we are going to be. In the context of driving this means we need to slow down, focus, and decide best course of action. This will help you mitigate a potential threat and avoid a dangerous situation.

In order to achieve a great response time, we must not be distracted. More and more drivers are preoccupied by smartphones and shooting social media videos than they are safe driving. No longer do we only have to deal with tired or drunk drivers, now we have to deal with American’s obsession with smart devices which affects a greater number of drivers every day.

While smartphones can enhance driving with apps like Google Maps, we must minimize how often we are looking away from the road. Don’t contribute to the problem. Keep your eyes up to see what’s happening around you.

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Reading Driver Behavior

If you’ve been driving for a while, you’ve probably noticed that a car that wants to change lanes starts to drift over. Other drives can see the intent of that car to change lanes because the driver is already thinking about it, so therefore they unconsciously start to move. This can be dangerous if they move too far, and the way is not clear.

Similarly, people that are lost tend to slow down to get a better bearing on their location. They may also speed up and slow down again especially when approaching intersections and turns. Knowing that a driver is lost will help you maintain a safe distance and know how to respond to that car.

Being able to discern the intent of a driver will help you know how to act around them. Eventually this skill will become second nature. By keeping an eye on them, you can better understand how their behavior may affect your safety. It’s also important to know these things about yourself as well.

Potential Hazards

When driving the environment and nature can supply their own anomalies and threats. Road conditions are a great example of this. When it starts to rain the oil on the road mixes with the rainwater causing the slickest conditions. It’s important to note how road conditions change as it will affect how you drive. Also, you must take notice of other drivers who may be ignorant of this fact and may cause an accident.

When planning a road trip or your daily commute the weather is an important element to plan for. Thankfully weather apps and your local new station can keep you informed of the current conditions. However, in some places in certain seasons, sever weather can occur quickly. Being attune to mother nature will help you avoid being caught in a bad place.

It is also important not to become complacent in your driving. Case in point, I was driving on an interstate around a city in the fast lane when I spotted a landscaping boulder in my lane. Yes, there was a Wile E Coyote boulder in my lane that I was driving toward at interstate speed. This was unexpected as this was a flat area with no hills our mountains. So, keep your eyes, and mind, open to what the road may throw at you.  

The Potential Risk Road Rage

One of the scariest events that can occur while driving is to be the target of unhinged road rage. I have experienced this. Thankfully I was able to deescalate the situation, and no one got hurt.

When a driver intentionally tries to run you off the road or crash your car, it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. Generally, there is a moment that sparks the fury. It may be small or a near miss. Many times, the rage is caused by life circumstances and mental health issues that boil over when they are behind the wheel.  Regardless, after any sort of altercation on the road know that road rage is a potential outcome.

It is vitally important that you, the calm driver, not escalate the situation. Be aware of this most dangerous course of action (MDCOA) and act accordingly:

  • Don’t honk your horn.

  • Keep your hand gestures to yourself.

  • Do not speed up to the other drivers.

  • Do not follow the other driver.

  • Don’t yell at them.

Feel free to say whatever you want in the solitude of your own car, just don’t let them know.

Conclusion: Tips to Improve Situational Awareness while Driving

In conclusion, implementing situational awareness while driving is essential for ensuring the safety of yourself and others on the road. By staying alert, being aware of your surroundings, and anticipating potential behaviors, you can react quickly and make informed decisions to avoid accidents and threats.

Developing good situational awareness skills can significantly reduce the risk of collisions and improve overall road safety. So next time you hit the road, remember to stay focused, stay vigilant, and always prioritize safety above all else. Practice situational awareness every time you get behind the wheel. You never know what’s on the road ahead.


Andy Murphy

Andy Murphy founded The Secure Dad in 2016 with the aspiration to help families live safer, happier lives. What started as a personal blog about family safety has turned into an award-winning podcast, an Amazon best-selling book, and online courses. He focuses his efforts in the areas of home security, situational awareness, and online safety.


Andy is a husband and father. His interests include coaching youth basketball, hiking, and trying to figure out his 3D printer.

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