PACKS = Patience-Awareness-Courtesy-Knowledge-Skill

Every driving action has a safety or danger quotient. Driving too close to the car ahead of you or driving on ice has a high danger quotient. The lowest danger quotient is happily and healthily driving the speed limit at noon on a clear day with no other traffic on a straight new highway in a brand new vehicle. When did you ever do THAT?

“Cars to the left of me, cars to the right of me, cars all over the place and I’m in the left lane and want to get off the highway. What got me into this mess?” I didn’t think ahead. I did not notice how many cars were around me. I did not pay attention to my location vis-à-vis my exit. In a word, I was driving without awareness. Awareness of conditions and the dangers on the road and actions that you and other drivers take, is crucial for you to become a safe driver.

Drive as if your life depended on it, because it does. Webster’s Dictionary defines awareness as watchful and wary, having or showing realization, perception, or knowledge.

Awareness on the road means anticipation of events so you can respond to them thoughtfully and in time rather than be forced to react to them without thinking. Situations occur quickly on the road that many drivers are not prepared for. The lack of awareness leads to lack of preparedness that in turn leads to crashes.

As children, many of us have read books about Native Americans and their learned ability to move through the forest and see so much happening around them. They could read the wind and the weather, read signs of human disturbance, read footprints, read signs of animals moving through the forest for their hunting needs, and read the meaning of disturbed leaves and brush. Being able to read “sign” was an important capability. That was their awareness on their roads. It contributed to their health and well being and to their safety and the safety of their families.

The road environment is similar to the forest and safe drivers learn to read “sign” and become aware of the road environment as it changes as they move along. This is a highly complex interaction between you the driver, other drivers, your car, the signs and lights and quality of the road, the weather, the time of day, the amount of traffic, your own physical condition and what’s going on in your head.

Common “sign” to look for is which way the driver in the car ahead of you turns his head. He’s warning you of a possible turn or lane change. Look at a poorly tied-down load on a truck ahead of you and drop back or switch lanes. Look at the driver ahead of you with his arm around his girlfriend and be prepared for erratic (or erotic) behavior. Look for leaves or mud on a road after a rain and slow down or be ready to skid. Look at a ball rolling into the street ahead of you. The longer you have been driving, the more “sign” you’ll know and read. Trust that this information is valuable. Use that awareness to drive safely. Newer drivers can be told about the enormous variety of helpful “sign” on the road, but it will take experience for that knowledge to translate into aware driving. Until we train new drivers using simulators, they will have to learn from experience.

How to gain driving awareness? Safe driving is a full time job. You must be dedicated to driving while driving. The next step requires that you consciously use all the other elements of safe driving – patience, courtesy, knowledge, and skill, in all of your driving decisions. Our brains process huge amounts of information all the time. Driving requires continuous responses to that information in ways that most other activities do not. Driver awareness spotlights information needed to make safe driving decisions. All of the actions you take while driving contribute to the level of danger you face. If you are aware of that fact and you are prepared to compensate for your own actions and the actions of other drivers on the road, the chances of your causing a crash or being the victim of a crash are reduced substantially.

Uncle PACKSMAN’s Quick Tip: Always look for brake lights two and three cars ahead of you for early warnings.