Revision of hazard perception skills

With a full licence you have no provisional restrictions so hazard perception skills are very important. Experience on the road is the best way to develop and maintain the following basic hazard perception skills:

  • Giving yourself a safe space cushion
  • Selecting safe gaps when turning, crossing traffic or changing lanes
  • Scanning 360° for hazards

Keeping a safe distance from other vehicles: Revision

The ‘space cushion’ concept

More space = more time to detect and react to hazards. You should try to maintain a space cushion around the front, sides and rear of your vehicle to give you enough time should you require it.

Maintaining a ‘space cushion’ to the front

Most common crash type is rear collision so the front space cushion is most important. To maintain this you need to:

  • Manage your speed for the conditions
  • Follow the car in front of you at a safe distance

Controlling your speed: Revision and some new information

Speed limits (mainly between 40km/h and 110km/h) are the maximum permitted speed even though good drivers adjust to slower speeds based on the conditions. Speeding is not OK and is a factor in 40% of fatal crashes.

Problems with speed

Speeding reduces the time to detect and react to hazards. At 70km/h in a 60km/h zone you require 30% more distance to come to a stop. Increased speed and wet weather increases the distance required to stop.

It takes 0.75 seconds to see a hazard and decide on a response and another 0.75 seconds to act (move foot from accelerator to brake). So 1.5 seconds are gone before you begin to brake – that’s 25 meters at 60km/h.

How speed influences what you can see when driving

The faster you drive, the narrower your field of vision:

Speed (km/h) 0 50 60 70 80 90 150 110
Field of vision 180° 89° 78° 70° 62° 54° 50° 46°
Reduced by more than 50% of stationary Less than 1/3 of stationary


The narrowing view from the driver’s seat

The reduction occurs because your brain can’t keep up with the rapidly changing images in your peripheral vision. To compensate you need to scan left and right more often, moving both your eyes and head. Don’t take your attention away from the road ahead for too long as at 100km/h you travel 28 metres every second.

To increase safety by reducing left and right hazards, 100km/h roads are wider, sometimes divided by median strips and have fewer cross intersections and less pedestrian and commercial activity. Similarly, 110km/h roads have no cross intersections, are divided and have multiple lanes.

Even at 60km/h your field of vision is reduced by more than 50% so you should increase your scanning when in urban areas.

Speeding and crash severity

If your speed doubles, crash severity increases 4 times.

More than 2,000 pedestrians are injured or killed each year. A pedestrian hit at 60km/h has more than 70% probability of dying. At 80km/h they have almost no chance of survival.

Speeding and the risk of crashing

The more you exceed the speed the limit, the more your risk of a crash. In a 60km/h zone, every 5km/h over the speed limit doubles your risk of crashing.

Reducing the risk of speed-related crashes

Speed-related crashes can be avoided if you give yourself time and space to scan for, detect and react to hazards. Some advice:

  • Don’t speed
  • Slow down before curves and bends (not during)
  • Look for traffic warning signs and slow down when required
  • Slow to warning sign speed (or slower)
  • If conditions are bad, slow to a speed that will allow you to stop for an unexpected hazard

Warning signs won’t help if you’re going to fast to see or react to them. Controlling your speed is your responsibility.

Summary: Controlling your speed

  • The faster you drive, the narrower your field of vision
  • At 60km/h it’s less than half compared to stationary and at 100km/h it’s less than a third
  • Crash risk is reduced by giving yourself time and space to more frequently scan for, detect and react to hazards
  • Speeding increases crash risk (and therefore the risk you will be injured or killed and the risk you will injure or kill other road users)
  • To reduce risk stay within speed limits and drive to the conditions
  • When you are likely required to stop (e.g. pedestrian crossings) take your foot off the accelerator and cover the brake so you can react quickly to hazards

Keeping a safe following distance: Revision

Initial speed (km/h) 60 90 Roughly twice the distance on sealed, dry road
Approx. stopping distance (m) 55 110


As speed increases, so should the gap between you and the vehicle you’re following as the stopping distance required increases. To ensure this use the ‘3-second gap’.

The ‘three-second gap’: Revision

Pick a stationary object the car in front passes (e.g. traffic sign) and count to three. You should pass the same object as you count three or after. If you don’t reach three, slow down until you do. These techniques automatically adjust for your speed (increasing the gap as you go faster). You should use the 4-second rule to increase the gap (and safety) in poor conditions including rain, fog, icy roads or night driving.

Although these might seem like large gaps, remember that rear-end collisions are the most common crash types, so the gaps are necessary to avoid crashes.

Summary: Keeping a safe following distance

  • Faster you drive, more stopping distance required
  • Use the 3-second gap in good conditions and 4-second gap in poor conditions
  • Scan ahead of your vehicle looking through windows for indicator and brake lights many vehicles in front
  • In heavy traffic other drivers will likely move into your 3-second gap. The gap ensures your safety which is more important than one place in traffic, so maintain the 3 seconds regardless

Keeping a safe distance to the side and rear: Revision

A space cushion allows a safe distance should you need to brake or change direction, potentially allowing you to avoid a collision.

A ‘space cushion’ to the left and right

You should keep at least 1 metre between your vehicle and other moving or stationary vehicles (in case someone opens their door unexpectedly). This also protects vulnerable road users, reducing your chances of hitting them.

Travelling next to other vehicles

Try to avoid having a vehicle on either side of you on multi-lane roads as your vision is impeded and your only option is to brake hard for a hazard in front of you. A better option is trying to keep space in the next lane/s so you can also move around a hazard. This might be difficult in heavy traffic, though this usually means you’ll be moving slowly and there’s less risk generally.

Keeping a safe distance to the rear

Managing the space behind you is difficult as it mainly relies on the driver behind you. If they’re too close, slow down to give yourself extra space ahead of you. This will give you more time to slow down gradually for a hazard and will reduce the risk they will run into you.

Summary: Keeping a safe distance to the side and rear

  • Keep a 1 metre space cushion either side of your car
  • Avoid travelling with vehicles either side of you
  • Give vulnerable road users plenty of space
  • If you’re being tailgated, slow down and increase the gap in front so you can brake gradually for hazards

Selecting safe gaps: Revision

What is safe gap?

Safe gap = turning, overtaking, changing lanes, and crossing intersections without endangering road users or causing collision. No one should need evasive action (changing lanes or heavy braking).

Importance of safe gap selection

Around 1/3 of crashes involving drivers in their first year of a full licence are caused by choosing gaps that are too small and result in collision.

Summary: Selecting safe gaps

  • Safe gap = turning, overtaking, changing lanes, and crossing intersections without:
  • Being involved in a collision
  • Endangering others
  • Making others take evasive action
  • If the gap is not large enough, wait

Selecting safe gaps when turning: Revision

Assuming a 60km/h zone and traffic is actually travelling at 60km/h:

Safe Gap - Left Turn

This six-second gap needs to be a judgment, as you can’t count it out when you need to make the turn.

Assuming a 60km/h zone and traffic is actually travelling at 60km/h:

Safe Gap - Right Turn

Turning right at traffic lights

Assuming a 60km/h zone and traffic is actually travelling at 60km/h you need a 4 second gap to oncoming vehicles.

Safe Gap - Right Turn T Intersection Oncoming

Turning right at a cross intersection

Assuming a 60km/h zone and traffic is actually travelling at 60km/h you need:

  • 4 second gap to the right
  • 6 second gap to the left
  • 4 second gap to oncoming vehicles

Safe Gap - Right Turn T Intersection Complex

Making U turns

Each year there are more than 800 U turn related crashes reported to police. They are dangerous and should be avoided unless necessary. The better option is to turn into a side street and do a three-point turn so you can rejoin traffic in the right direction.

Summary: Safe gaps – turning

  • When turning left in a 60km/h zone you need a 6 second (100m) gap to your right
  • When turning right in a 60km/h zone you need a:
  • 6 second (100m) gap to your left
  • 4 second (70m) gap to your right
  • 4 second (70m) gap to oncoming traffic
  • Avoid U turns
  • If the gap is not large enough, wait

Selecting safe gaps when crossing intersections: Revision

It takes at least 3 seconds to cross a standard two-way road. When crossing an intersection in a 60km/h zone you need a:

  • 3 second (50m) gap to your right
  • 4 second (70m) gap to your left

Safe Gap - Straight Through

You may need less if you don’t come to a complete stop but if in doubt, stop when you’re sure you have a safe gap.

Summary: Safe gaps when crossing intersections

  • When crossing an intersection in a 60km/h zone you need a:
  • 3 second (50m) gap to your right
  • 4 second (70m) gap to your left
  • If the gap is not large enough, wait

Selecting safe gaps when overtaking: Revision

Head-on collisions are often severe as the speed of the two vehicles combines (e.g. two 50km/h cars colliding = one 100km/h car hitting a stationary object). Opposing direction crashes make up about 16% of all crashes for full licence drivers. When overtaking you need enough space to avoid colliding with the vehicle you’re overtaking and oncoming traffic.

Overtaking is usually done to maintain your speed - do not exceed the limit to overtake. Whenever possible, you should wait for overtaking lanes to overtake slow traffic. This will barely affect your travel time and eliminates the risk of a head-on collision.

Summary: Safe gaps when overtaking

  • Overtaking is dangerous – if it doesn’t seem safe, wait
  • Use overtaking lanes when available
  • Check someone isn’t overtaking you before overtaking

Scanning for hazards

What is scanning?

Scanning = taking in the 360° around your vehicle. To be effective, scanning should involve moving your eyes, head and/or upper body in a constant routine to detect hazards from all around when driving.

How to scan for hazards when driving

To get your 360° view you need to look out the windscreen and side windows, look in the mirrors to see behind your vehicle and perform head checks to cover your blind spots on either side (head checks are vital when reversing, pulling out and changing lanes).

Revision of a scanning routine

Scanning should be constant. You should look up to 12 seconds ahead (60km/h = 200m, 100km/h = 500m). This will mean looking through the windows of other cars to see brake lights and indicators giving you more time to react. You should also scan side to side for hazards and constantly move your eyes and/or head.

You should check your mirrors every 8-10 seconds for new hazards that may be rapidly approaching (e.g. emergency vehicles). Head checks to cover blind spots are vital when changing lanes.

Summary of a scanning routine

  • Scan up to 12 seconds ahead
  • Check mirrors every 8-10 seconds
  • Check your blind spots

This routine will take about 10 seconds and should be repeated constantly.

Smart scanning

You can’t take everything in, so you need to filter what’s important when scanning.

Look for change

Your vision is designed to notice movement and change which is helpful, but you also need to be aware of stationary hazards (e.g. road works) so keep an eye out for both.

A hazard perception action plan

Through scanning you are trying to See-Think-Do (STD):

  • See road hazards (a.k.a. scanning)
  • Think about what might happen
  • Think about possible solutions
  • Do something to remain safe

Listening for hazards

Keep the radio/stereo at a reasonable volume so you are still able to listen for hazards like emergency vehicle sirens.

Summary: Scanning for hazards

  • Scanning = taking in the 360° around your vehicle
  • Scanning should be constant including looking and listening
  • Scanning routine:
  • Scan up to 12 seconds ahead (60km/h = 200m, 100km/h = 500m)
  • Look for change, movement and stationary traffic hazards
  • Check mirrors every 8-10 seconds
  • Check your blind spots
  • Hazard perception action plan:
  • See (hazards)
  • Think (about what might happen and your reaction)
  • Do (something to stay safe)

A few last words on becoming a better and safer driver

Drivers continue to develop into their mid 30s, so you’ve probably got at least another decade to learn from experience and your increasing maturity. Theoretical learning doesn’t compare to experience in real traffic situations.

Summary of key hazard perception and risk management skills

  • Make sure you follow vehicles at a safe distance (3-4 second gap)
  • Select safe gaps
  • Constantly scan 360° around your vehicle
  • Minimise risk by:
  • Not driving when alcohol or drug affected
  • Avoiding driving when fatigued and not building a sleep debt
  • Maintain an appropriate speed for the conditions
  • Always wearing a seat belt
  • Eliminating distractions you can control
  • Accepting you and other road users will make mistakes


Continue reading the Driver Qualification Handbook Summary:

1. Background Information

2. Understanding and Managing Risk

3. Hazard Perception

Check out the other resources available to help you pass the Driver Qualification Test and get your full (unrestricted) licence:

Share this page with your friends so they can pass their next NSW driving test:
Share on Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Share on LinkedIn
Share on Reddit
Email this to someone