Driving tests

Commentary drives: what are they and how can it improve your driving?

If you are just learning to drive you might be feeling inundated with everything you have to take in – road signs, other vehicles, lane markings and more. Once you’ve been driving a while, trying a commentary drive can take you right back to that feeling of there being too much going on. A commentary drive is where you describe everything that’s happening on the road around you that has the potential to affect how you react, and everything that you are doing to mitigate dangers on the road. It’s a technique taught by advanced driving instructors and used by drivers and riders in the emergency services and those that are members of organisations like the Institute of Advanced Motorists.

But if you are only just starting to learn to drive, or you haven’t been driving long, you can still take advantage of some of the techniques used in commentary drives. In this video from UK police driver Chris Gilbert you’ll see a drive firstly through the country and then through some urban areas with Chris explaining everything he can see that is relevant.

Even learning just the basics of commentary driving will improve how you use your eyes and how you think while driving, and that will reduce the chances that you will have an accident. Almost all scenarios on the road where you could be involved in an accident unfold in a way that you can avoid them or at least minimise their effects.

The purpose of a commentary drive is to teach you to process visual inputs more efficiently. You will become used to noticing much more on the road and reacting automatically to it. In the video you’ll hear some of the slightly more advanced techniques that you can pick up when you’ve been driving a while, such as recognising when another driver seems hesitant, choosing the lane at traffic lights which will give you the greatest ability to make progress, and so on. It will also teach you to ignore things that are of lesser importance.

When you start doing a commentary drive you will find that you won’t have enough time to explain everything. This is like learning a language. Eventually you become more fluent in it and can talk and operate the vehicle at the same time while identifying all the potential hazards and describing what you are doing.

What should you describe on a commentary drive?

  • Manoeuvring and lane changes – use of your mirrors when considering a manoeuvre or about to manoeuvre; the reason for changing lanes (it shouldn’t be random)
  • Vehicles approaching that may cause a danger to you – maintaining awareness of what’s behind you; approaching intersections with vehicles waiting; approaching parked vehicles where one could pull out; large vehicles approaching from ahead which could reduce the amount of road you are able to drive on; vehicles you are catching up with that could cause a hazard (e.g. school bus, large or slow vehicles); observation of brake lights ahead or vehicles indicating to move into your lane
  • Other road users – cyclists, pedestrians, animals and keeping a lookout for pedestrian crossings; narrow roads without a pavement that could mean pedestrians are walking on the road
  • Changes to your road speed – speed limit changes; your variations to your speed to account for changing road conditions; gear changes
  • Intersections and deviations ahead – traffic lights, roundabouts, t-intersections and crossroads that could require you to give way; blind bends and crests
  • Using road markings and visual cues to deduce road direction – changes in lane markings (e.g. centre line changes to a solid yellow line indicates a blind corner where you shouldn’t overtake); anticipating the direction of the road ahead using the tree line or lamp posts.
  • Change in road surface – changes to wet or slippery surface.

If you are learning to drive, a commentary drive could be overwhelming at first, but is an excellent skill to practise to improve your awareness of the road. If you have been driving a while an advanced driving instructor or an organisation like the Institute of Advanced Motorists will be able to help you develop your commentary drive skills. The only way to improve at a commentary drive is to keep practising, but the results will be well worth it.

driver training

Darren is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the NZ Motoring Writers' Guild

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Posted in Advice, Car, Heavy Vehicle, Motorbike
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