We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

The eyes have it for safety on the road

December 30, 2013

Driving instructors like to keep a watchful eye on whether the student is regularly checking rear-view and side mirrors, as well as the speedometer, sides of the road and dead ahead.  Photograph by: LYLE STAFFORD, Times Colonist - See more at:

Driving instructors like to keep a watchful eye on whether the student is regularly checking rear-view and side mirrors, as well as the speedometer, sides of the road and dead ahead. Photograph by: LYLE STAFFORD, Times Colonist – See more at:

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, December 11th , 2013

The way a driver sees the road, and all hazards in the full space cushion around the vehicle, is a key factor in distinguishing a great driver from the rest.

Identifying the positive eye movements of any driver can be done with the inclusion of an observer’s “eye mirror” throughout the observation phase of the instruction or assessment. It is an additional mirror an instructor applies to the windshield with a suction mounting device.

I got a chance to see an expert master instructor give an eye mirror workshop at the Driving Schools Association of the Americas annual convention in New Orleans last month. Despite the fact that I had previously used an eye mirror while instructing, there was much new material to absorb. First came the suggestion that the eye mirror should be moved from the right-side-high position on the windshield, where I had originally mounted it, to the low centre point of the windshield. In doing so it was a lot easier for any instructor to observe student drivers without unnecessary lateral eye movement or without taking their own eyes off the road.

Several viewing behaviours can be easily identified. For instance, when drivers are scanning for hazards, the eyes move in a fluid uninterrupted fashion. When they are looking at specific hazards, their eyes shift in an intermittent manner. It is easy to see the number of times a student driver checks the rear-view mirror when the instructor’s eye mirror is strategically placed so as to cut down on the amount of time an instructor has to glance at the student, or look at an upper-right-side-placed eye mirror. It is also easier to see if a person being assessed is “zoning out” or losing focus or concentration.

The most common viewing technique on the highway has the driver checking ahead, the rear view mirror, ahead, the speedometer, ahead and both sides of the road. The sequence of safety checks is so much easier to observe with a properly placed instructor’s eye mirror.

The inner-city sequence of student scanning intersections, checking the rear-view mirror upon deceleration and prioritizing hazards is easy to see when the instructor does not lose focus on the road. Proper shoulder checks for turns, lane changes and pulling in and out of traffic are also easier to note for any co-pilot.

Teens all suffer from a type of myopia that makes it very difficult for them to see well at night, particularly in the dimly lit area between residential and rural street lamps. Their eyes do not fully mature until their early 20s. Different viewing habits, which are easier to identify with an instructor eye mirror, must be employed for this group of learners.

Most seniors lose the range of peripheral vision as they age. It is important for them to include a greater head turn for virtually all lateral checking motions. It is so much easier for an instructor to spot and correct omissions through the proper use of an eye mirror.

Good professional drivers are always looking for potential dangers as they travel. They are able to rank potential hazards as critical, important and tertiary. It is so much easier to see if a driver has the right sequence of hazard identification when the instructor is effectively using an eye mirror.

A workshop on the effective and proper use of backup and blind-spot cameras is planned for a future regional or annual convention of the DSAA, and given what I learned about eye mirrors, I definitely plan to attend.


Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is a former Western Canadian vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas, a registered B.C. teacher and a graduate of the University of Manitoba.


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