Look where you want to go. You’ve probably heard that many times before – especially if you happen to watch Canada’s Worst Driver – but do you really know how important it is?
I certainly know it, having taken a number of performance and car control courses, but even I forget sometimes. It isn’t always intuitive. It’s something you have to practice, practice, practice, because when you need it, it may save your life.
Vision is everything in driving. You should always be looking as far ahead as possible – right to the horizon, if you can. This lets you see what’s in front of you, including potential problems. But then there’s a step beyond. If there’s a problem ahead and you have to get around it, you need to look at where you want to go. When you look at the open lane, rather than the indecisive driver stopped in front of you, you’ll move smoothly and safely around him.
Your hands follow your eyes, and if you fixate on something, chances are very good that you will hit it. You’d think it would be pretty easy to avoid a cop car or tow truck way off on the shoulder with its lights flashing, but a ridiculous number of people slam into them. The lights catch their attention, they stare at it, and the rest is history.
But it’s more than just not banging into something on the side of the road. I recently drove a few laps at a Michelin event, where black ice was simulated with a wet plastic mat. Professional drifter Ryan Lanteigne sat beside me, and when I hit the pad, he pulled up the handbrake to send me into a skid.
I tried my best, but still ended up with my taillights where my headlights should have been. “What did I do wrong?” I asked.
“You weren’t looking where you wanted to go,” he replied.
Sure enough, I’d gone into default mode, looking straight down the hood instead of at the dry patch where I’d gain traction. On the next lap, that’s where I looked, and when the car slid, I aimed for it. The result: I brought the car out of the skid, with the grille facing the right direction.
It isn’t an instinctive response. Practice it every time you’re on the road. If you find you’re slipping and sliding more than usual (and it isn’t that you need better tires), make note of where your eyes are fixated. Looking in another direction may make all the difference.
And here’s a neat trick, passed on to me by a driving instructor some years ago. If you’re walking through a crowd, don’t look at people. Instead, look past them, to the place where you want to walk, and they will get out of your way. I scoffed, until I tried it, and I felt like Moses parting the Red Sea. People look at your face, see your intent, and indecisive themselves, they get out of your way. If that isn’t the coolest thing ever, I don’t know what is.