The role of expectancies

When you drive you rely on expectancies built up based on your experiences (e.g. that other drivers will stop at red lights) – enabling you to better predict how a hazard might develop. A prime example is a road you frequently use where you know what lane you should be in, where there are often parked cars and where pedestrians cross the road. Expectancies are OK most of the time, but they can lead to crashes when they’re relied on instead of hazard perception skills.

The unexpected

Not all road users obey the road rules all of the time and behave unexpectedly. Good hazard perception skills allow drivers to detect hazards and react, preventing crashes.

Expecting the unexpected

Applying the following key hazard perception skills is the best way to deal with the unexpected:

  • Scan well ahead of your car – keep your eyes moving
  • Look for indicators on other vehicles
  • Observe the head and eye movements of other drivers
  • Check for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists that may be hidden
  • Give yourself plenty of time and space to detect and react to hazards
  • Slowing down is a good precaution
  • Get lots of driving experience in a variety of traffic conditions so that fewer situations are new
  • Get a more experienced driver to help you learn how to deal with situations you feel you don’t cope well with
  • Be cautious and wary in situations that are new or different
  • Make your car easier to see (e.g. turn your headlights on during the day)

Identifying the main hazard

You will likely have to deal with a few hazards at once, meaning you have to identify the main hazard (that poses the most immediate hazard to you) and deal with this first.

Key points summary

  • Drivers rely on expectancies when they drive
  • The road system is not perfect – other road users sometimes do the unexpected
  • To cope with the unexpected, scan and maintain a space cushion
  • Hazards rarely come one at a time so deal with the main hazard first
  • Give yourself time and space to cope

A few final words about hazard perception

Experience and practice the main teachers

As a new driver experience and practice across lots of different driving situations will be your main hazard perception teachers.

Summary of key hazard perception skills

The basic hazard perception skills are:

  • Keeping a safe distance from other vehicles
  • Selecting safe gaps when turning, crossing traffic or changing lanes
  • Scanning for hazards ahead, behind and to the side

Applying these skills effectively will help you deal with unexpected situations.


Continue reading the Hazard Perception Handbook Summary:

1. What is the HPT?

2. Crash Patterns of Provisional Drivers

3. How the HPT works

4. Keeping Space From Other Vehicles

5. Selecting Safe Gaps

6. Scanning for Hazards

7. Important Situations

8. Expecting the Unexpected

Check out the other resources available to help you pass the Hazard Perception Test so you can take the Practical Driving Test:

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