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Driving is a serious matter.


Lesson 1

Part 1



The IPDE Process


Nearly every driver uses some kind of system or process to drive. Drivers who do not use some kind of organized system will have more close calls and collisions. Drivers who use an organized system will be better equipped to manage risk and therefore reduce the possibility of damage or injury.


All activities throughout a person’s life involve some degree of risk. Whether playing a sport, working on the job or driving a vehicle, some degree of risk with the possibility of injury is always present. The risk you take when driving a car is the ever-present possibility of conflict.


Driving a car in today’s environment can cause you to be at a very high degree of risk. Risk factors can be contributed by the driver, by the vehicle, and by the roadway and environment. Some examples of driver-contributed factors are: adjusting the radio, road rage, having blurred vision, drinking and driving or using a cell phone.


Driver-contributed risk factors also apply to other drivers on the road. These other drivers can increase or decrease your level of risk and chance of conflict.


Some risk factors are contributed by the car. However, most vehicle-related risk factors are really contributed by the vehicle owner. Ownership responsibility requires proper maintenance and repair of your car. Some of these risk factors are: bald fires, poorly adjusted brakes, dirty windshield, broken headlight, and worn wiper blades.


Risk factors contributed by the roadway and the environment may include the following: bright sun, construction, dark shadows, snow and ice or a sharp curve.


As you drive, be aware that all of these risk factors, and many more, play a major role in the level of risk you face.


Because some degree of risk is always present, try to make sure nothing about your own condition or the condition of your vehicle raises your level or risk.


Some drivers deliberately take chances. They put not only themselves but others at a high degree of risk. Deliberately taking a chance with a vehicle, with its great capacity for harm and destruction, should be unthinkable. The potential for suffering harm is too great, and the possible penalties are too serious.




Good seeing habits and your ability to manage space in the roadway are basic tools for low-risk driving. The IPDE Process, along with the Smith System and Zone Control System, can enable you to enjoy low-risk and low-stress driving.


Safe driving depends upon your ability to see and analyze traffic situations correctly. Good seeing habits are the basic critical factor necessary for staying out of high-risk situations. However, just being ale to see well is no guarantee you will identify all critical clues and make correct driving responses in every situation.


The driving task is primarily a thinking task. Your hands and feet do only what your brain tells them to do. Most responsible drivers use a system that deals with all the traffic possibilities they will encounter. These drivers have fewer close calls and accidents than drivers who do not use some kind of system.


The IPDE process is an organized system of seeing, thinking, and responding. The Smith System and the Zone Control System will help you apply the IPDE process. The four steps of the IPDE process are:


  1. Identify
  2. Predict
  3. Decide
  4. Execute


Did You Know?


You begin the IPDE process by “reading” traffic situations to gather information for your decisions and actions. To process this information properly, you must identify hazards and predict conflict. You then decide how to avoid the conflict by executing the correct action.


The Smith System is an organized method to help drivers develop good seeing habits by using five rules for driver safety. The five rules of the Smith System are:


  1. Aim high in steering.
  2. Keep your eyes moving.
  3. Get the big picture.
  4. Make sure others see you.
  5. Leave yourself an “out.”


The Zone Control System is an organized method for managing six zones of space surrounding your vehicle. Zone Control allows you to see and respond to changes in the traffic environment at a time when best control can be achieved.


The structure of the Zone Control System includes the following steps:


  1. See a zone change.
  2. Check other zones.
  3. Create time and space by getting the best speed control, lane position, and communication.


Using the Smith System and Zone Control System with the IPDE process can put you well on the road toward low-risk driving behaviors.



The Identify and Predict steps of the IPDE process are critical in every driving environment. These two steps begin your thinking process for every situation you encounter. With practice and experience, these steps will seem to occur in your thinking process as happening almost at the same time. As you search in and around your path to identify possible problems, you will be making judgments and predictions about what conflicts may occur.




The first step of the IPDE process is identify. This step involves much more than just seeing. When you identify, you give meaning to what you see. You must know when to look, where to look, how to look, and what to look for.


Any aspect of the highway transportation system can become a hazardous situation. This includes the roadway, your own vehicle, other vehicles or pedestrians, and traffic controls. Clues you identify may cause you to change direction or speed, signal others, or perform any combination of maneuvers. The sooner you identify a possible hazard, the more time you will have to react safely.


ZonesZones and Searching Ranges


The Zone Control system helps you make quick and accurate use of the IPDE process by setting a standard of what to identify and what to do when you find it. A zone is one of the six areas of space around a vehicle that is the width of a lane and extends as far as the driver can see. The picture shows the six zones around your vehicle. Straight ahead is the front zones, to the left is the left-front zone, and to the right is the right-front zone. Behind you is the rear zone, the left-rear zone, and the right-rear zone.




An open zone is space where you can drive without a restriction to your line of sight or to your intended path of travel. Your line of sight is the distance you can see ahead in the direction you are looking. Your intended path of travel is the space your vehicle will occupy. Your path of travel is directed toward the target areas. The target area is the section of the roadway where the target is located in the center of your intended path, and the area to its right and left.


The closed zone is a space not open to you because of a restriction in your line of sight or intended path of travel. A red traffic light is an example of a closed front zone. A parked vehicle to your right represents a closed right-front zone. A closed rear zone might be a vehicle that is following you too closely. The sooner you identify a closed zone, the more time you have to respond. With more time, the better chance you have to achieve control of the situation by lowering the degree of risk.


In order to keep alert to the conditions of your zones, there are three searching ranges that need to be evaluated. A searching range is a certain distance ahead of the vehicle where the intended path of travel is systematically evaluated.

Next you will search the 12-15 second range, which is the space you will travel in during the next 12-15 seconds. This range is where you need to identify changes in your line of sight or path of travel to make decisions about controlling your intended path. Try to identify the possibility of closed zones by searching to the left and right for anything that might come into your zones.



The 4-6 second range is the space you will travel in during the next 4-6 seconds. This range is where you need to get the final update of how you are controlling your intended path of travel.


Orderly Visual Search Pattern


You can use any of several patterns to help develop your own identifying process. An orderly visual search pattern is a process of searching critical areas in a regular sequence. The use an orderly visual search pattern, look for clues in and around your intended path of travel in a systematic manner. Below is an example of an orderly visual search pattern for straight-ahead driving.


  1. Look ahead to your target area range.
  2. Evaluate your left-front, front and right-front zones in the 12-15 second range. Search driveways and intersections for possible changes in your line of sight and path of travel.
  3. Glance in rearview mirror to check your rear zones.
  4. Evaluate your 4-6 second range before entering that space.
  5. Look ahead again to evaluate another 12-15 second range.
  6. Check your 4-6 second range.
  7. Glance in rearview mirror.
  8. Check speedometer and gauges.


You will repeat this pattern continually as you move forward. Each look or glance should last only an instant as you evaluate your zones and the areas to the left and right. Be careful not to stare as you search. Practice using your orderly visual search pattern as a passenger – in addition to when you are driving – so it will become a safe driving habit. You will then be able to adjust your search pattern for any maneuver or driving environment.

Where and How to Look


Different driving environments and traffic situations present a variety of visual search problems. As you gain driving experience, you will learn what kinds of clues and situations are most important to identify in order to keep an open zone in your path of travel.


The area you can see around you, while looking straight ahead, is called your field of vision. Many of us can see an area of about 90 degrees to each side, for a total picture of 180 degrees. The area you can see clearly and sharply is seen with your central vision. This is a narrow cone of only up to 10 degrees. The area you can see to the left and right of central vision is your side vision, or peripheral vision. As the distance from central vision increases toward the outer edge of peripheral vision, the less clearly you can identify clues and events.


Three of the Smith System rules can help you learn where and how to look as you develop your visual search pattern.


Aim High in Steering


To “aim high” means to look ahead 12-15 seconds into your target area as you drive. Do not just look at the close area in front of or at the sides of your vehicle. Looking far ahead with your line of sight will help you to identify clues and analyze situations before your zone becomes closed. There are many types of restrictions to your line of sight that can cause a closed zone. Some such restrictions are curves, hills, large vehicles, weather conditions, buildings, trees, or even a dirty windshield.




You see most clearly in the area of central vision, but peripheral vision is equally important.



Keep Your Eyes Moving


Looking near and far, side to side, and in the mirrors, will help you see a zone change before it becomes critical. Keeping your eyes moving does not mean just moving them constantly. You must fixate on an object or an event for an instant in order to identify it. Do not fixate for longer than an instant or you will find yourself staring. Keeping your eyes moving will prevent you from staring at any one object or clue.


Develop the art of scanning, glancing continually and quickly with very brief fixations through your orderly visual search pattern. You are looking and seeing as you scan, but not staring at any one event or clue. Staring blocks out side vision, causes lack of attention, and tends to create high-risk driving habits. Keeping your eyes moving helps you stay more alert with your attention at a higher level. You are then more likely to keep up with all the changes in your field of vision.


Get the Big Picture


Getting the big picture is the mental process of putting together the critical clues you have selected. It is the result of aiming high and keeping your eyes moving.

What to Look For


Knowing where and how to look does little good if you do not know what to look for in your target area. Develop the technique of selective seeing in your identifying process. Selective seeing means that you identify and select only those clues and events that restrict your line of sight or can change your intended path of travel.


Look for Open Zones


Use your visual search pattern to look for specific driving-related clues that might cause an open zone to close. When searching parked cars on a street, you might identify an important clue, such as front wheels turned toward the street. You might also identify vapor coming from an exhaust pipe or a driver sitting in a car. These clues indicate that a car might enter your path of travel and cause your front zone to close.


The kinds of clues you search for will change as you drive in different environments. When driving in the city, search for intersections, parked cars, pedestrians and traffic. On open highways, search areas much farther ahead. Look for crossroads, slow moving vehicles and animals. Any of these can suddenly cause an open zone to close, resulting in the need to change your intended path of travel. When you drive on expressways, speeds are higher and scanning all zones becomes even more critical.


Regardless of the driving environment, you should always look for other roadway users, roadway features, changing conditions, and traffic controls that may affect your intended path of travel.


Look for Other Users


Look for other users who might affect your intended path of travel. Watch for movement of other users, especially in areas that have shadows or shade. Watch for pedestrians and bicyclists. A large truck is easy to identify. However, it creates a restriction in your line of vision and may prevent you from seeing another user. Develop the habit of ground viewing as part of your visual search pattern. Ground viewing is making quick glances to the roadway in front of your vehicle. When other vehicles are approaching, use ground viewing to see where they are headed by checking the direction of their front wheels.


Always be on the lookout for problem drivers. Problem drivers usually give clues by their driving behavior. Some fast drivers might be problem drivers. They may try to pass without enough room or in a no-passing zone. They frequently change lanes, trying to get ahead of the normal traffic flow, and can cause a sudden change in your open zone condition.


Look for Roadway Features and Conditions


The roadway itself is another important area to watch. Identify intersections, hills and curves early. Be aware ahead of time that the width of your lane might be reduced for road construction or other obstacles. An intersection is a high-risk area where the management of your path of travel needs constant attention. Stopped traffic or entering traffic can cause line-of-sight restrictions or even a closed zone. A hill is a line-of-sight restriction which could hide a closed zone as you go over the hill. Some examples of changes are: change from multilane to single lane, such as in construction; change in width of lane, such as in construction; roadway surface, such as rain or icing on bridges, etc.; roadside hazards, such as other objects entering your lane of travel.


Look for Traffic Controls


Learn to look in different places for traffic controls. At major intersections, controls can be overhead, in the center, or on a corner. Identify traffic controls as early as possible so you are ready to make correct responses.




Once you have identified a hazard, predict how this hazard might affect your intended path of travel. When you predict, you interpret the information you have identified. You predict where possible points of conflict can occur. You try to foresee what might happen, how changes in zones may occur, and how you would check other zones for alternate paths. Your predictions will be based upon those conditions that may reduce your line of sight or could change your intended path of travel.


If you had to face just one hazard at a time, you could more easily predict the possible outcome. However, most of the time you will be faced with more than one possible hazard or conflict, so predicting can become more complex.


How to Predict


Predicting involves what is happening in your zones, what could happen, and if it does happen, how the change could affect you. To predict you must evaluate the situation and make a judgment about the possible consequences. The more complex a situation is, the more difficult it is to identify and predict. As you gain driving experience, you will become more selective about which hazards or possible conflicts are critical.




One basic part of your driving knowledge comes from the study of traffic laws and driver-education material. Whenever you drive, you also gain knowledge by gathering more information and learning from others.




Making a judgment about a traffic situation involves measuring, comparing and evaluating. As you drive, you judge speed, time, space, distance, traction and visibility. You make judgments about your own driving performance as well as the actions and performance of other roadway users. Make every effort to develop the ability to make sound judgments that lead to accurate predictions.




In addition to knowledge, experience helps you improve your ability to predict accurately. Exposure to a wide variety of driving experiences provides a solid base for making sound judgments later.


What to Predict


Nearly all predictions you make as a driver will be related to predicting changes in zones and looking for an “out” or an alternative path of travel. Two major elements in the traffic scene you must make predictions about are:


  • The actions of other roadways users
  • Your control of your vehicle and consequences of your actions


Predicting Actions of Others


Do not assume other roadway users will always take the correct action. Instead watch for clues to what they might do to alter zone conditions. The most important types of predictions to make concerning the actions of others are:


  • Path – Where might the other driver go? What zone might have closed? Will I have an open zone for an “out”? The Smith System rule of leaving yourself an “out” is critical when predicting possible closed zones.
  • Action – What action will other users take? Is more than one action possible? Where will I be then?
  • Space – Will I have an open zone?
  • Point of Conflict – If I have no open zone for escape, where might our paths cross and a conflict occur?


Predicting Control of Your Vehicle and Possible Consequences


Speed is probably the most important factor in maintaining control of your vehicle. Always be prepared to adjust your speed for different zone conditions and situations. Different traffic, roadway, and weather conditions can change the amount of time and space needed for safe reactions.


The basic requirement for vehicle control is traction. Traction is the actual gripping power between the tires and the roadway surface. The more traction there is, the greather the gripping power.




Once you have identified a situation and predicted a possible conflict, you then decide upon an action. Deciding, like predicting, is also a mental task. There is probably no task more important, though, than making wise decisions and then executing actions to avoid conflict. Drivers must continually identify and predict until they have enough information to make correct decisions.


Once you make a decision, the execute step of the IPDE process will follow. To execute a decision means that you carry out an action that you have decided upon. In order to do this, you will use your vehicle’s controls and safety devices.




As you follow a selected path, your decision might be to maintain speed, change speed, change direction, or communicate your plan to others. Or you might decide to use a combination of these actions. Be prepared to rethink your decisions as zones close and greater hazards are presented. Practice and experience, as well as your judgment and stored knowledge, are the tools you can use to avoid conflict and develop low-risk driving behaviors.


Decide to Change Speed


Any decision you make will be influenced by the speed of your own vehicle as well as the speed of other vehicles. Many drivers think that slowing down is the only way to avoid a collision. In many situations, however, you will decide to maintain your speed. Your other choices of actions, rather than maintaining your speed, are to decelerate, brake, or accelerate. Base your decision about speed control on your evaluation of the situation as well as the possible consequences of your actions.


Decide to Change Direction


In order to change your position in the roadway, you will steer to the right or left. A greater change of direction might even be a lane change.

The Smith System rule to leave yourself an “out” allows you to change direction when necessary. You then can use an escape path into an open zone to avoid conflict. This area of space all around your vehicle is called a space cushion.


Three different lane positions are available to you within your lane. You could change to one of these positions in order to avoid a closing zone. Notice the three lane positions in the diagram below:




  • Lane position 1: The car is centered within the travel lane. This should be your selected and safest position under normal driving conditions. In the position you have the most space around your vehicle.
  • Lane position 2: The car is three to six inches away from the left line of your lane. You might decide to use this position when there is a closed right-front zone with an open left-front zone. Just a slight adjustment of the left is necessary.
  • Lane position 3: The car is three to six inches away from the right line of your lane. Use this position when there is a closed left-front zone with an open right-front zone.


There may be times when the situation requires a greater change in direction than the three lane positions. You may decide that the best position, in some situations, is to straddle a lane line. In these situations, return to lane position 1 as soon as it is safe to do so.


In order to make consistently low-risk decisions, try to detect a changing zone condition at least 12 seconds ahead of your searching area. This gives you ample time to decide on the best action.


Decide to Communicate


Communicating is the process of sending and receiving messages to and from other users of the roadway. The decision to communicate with others helps reduce the possibility of conflict. The Smith System rule, “Make sure others see you,” tells others where you are and what you plan to do. You can decide to communicate with others by using lights, horn, vehicle position, eye contact, and body movement.


A change in direction or speed can be executed with less risk if you have communicated your intentions to other users. Try to avoid changes in speed or direction without communicating first. Surprises of sudden actions can result in high-risk situations.


You can decide to communicate with others in a variety of ways:


  • Headlights, taillights, and brake lights
  • Turn signals
  • Parking lights and hazard flashers
  • Back-up lights
  • Horn
  • Car position
  • Eye contact and body movement


After deciding the best method of communicating, you will execute that action to inform others of your decision.

Traffic Flow


The IPDE process, the Smith System, and the Zone Control System will help you make decisions that will enable you to avoid hazards and conflicts in your intended path. The safest position in traffic is the place where the fewest vehicles surround you. Your objective is to keep your vehicle surrounded by space. Continually analyze your left, front and right zones and make decisions to adjust your speed or direction if one of your zones begins to close. By decision to adjust your speed or direction, you will avoid unnecessary stops and thus reduce your risk of conflict.


Minimize a Hazard


You always want to minimize a hazard, or reduce the possibility of conflict by deciding to put more distance between yourself and the hazard.


Separate Hazards


There will be times when you face more than one hazard at a time. When this occurs, do not try to handle both or all hazards at once. Instead, decide to adjust your speed so you deal with only one hazard at a time. By following this strategy, you will separate the hazards.


Compromise Space


Sometimes hazards cannot be minimized or separated. When this occurs, you must decide to compromise space by giving as much space as possible to the greater hazard.




Carrying out your decision in order to avoid conflict is the execute step in the IPDE process. This step involves the physical skills used in driving. In most cases, you will execute routine actions and maneuvers. Some actions will be using your vehicle’s controls such as heater, defroster, wipers, gearshift lever, and others. More important actions, however, involve timing and placement of your vehicle to avoid conflict. The important actions you will execute are


  • Control speed
  • Steer
  • Communicate


Control Speed


Your decisions to control speed can result in a variety of actions. Sometimes the action you take will be to maintain the speed you are going. Other times your action may be to decelerate. This action can be used successfully as you approach a red light. If you merely release the accelerator far enough before the intersection, you often will arrive at the intersection when the light is green. In this situation, you also may use gentle pressure on the brake if more slowing is needed. Check your rear zone before decelerating.


When greater deceleration is needed, you will execute the action of more firm braking. The amount of braking needed will vary with the situation, the speed of your vehicle, the condition of the roadway, and the condition of your brakes.


Always check your rear zone before decelerating or braking in any manner. Avoid locking the brakes in an emergency stop. Locked brakes making steering impossible because wheels must be turning to provide traction for steering. Most vehicles have vehicles with anti-lock braking systems. Such a system helps prevent loss of steering control. An antilock braking system, through the use of computers, helps brake your vehicle in an emergency. All you need to do is to apply the brakes hard, continually. No pumping action is needed.




When you decide to steer away from a possible conflict, execute just the amount of steering needed. Oversteering can cause you to lose control of your vehicle, especially at higher speeds. Higher speeds also require more space for your maneuver.


Understeering can also present a problem. Try to steer just enough to avoid a conflict without making jerky or sudden movements. Drivers who keep space cushions around their vehicles usually have an escape path to steer into, thus reducing risk.




In many instances your only action will be to communicate. When you do communicate, you must do it early enough so other users know your intentions. Communicate by using the following:


  • Headlights, taillights, and brake lights. Use headlights during periods of reduced visibility. Using headlights during daylight hours is a safety practice that makes your vehicle more visible to other drivers. Some new vehicles are equipped with daytime running lights – headlights that come on automatically whenever the vehicle is operated. The advantage of these lights is to improve the visibility of the vehicle.
  • Turn-signals. Turn them on three to five seconds before making any change in direction.
  • Parking lights and hazard flashers. When you are parked along the roadway but not in an emergency situation, have your parking lights turned on. If your vehicle is disabled, turn on your hazard flashers. Be prepared to change your path of travel when you see the blinking or flashing lights of a stopped delivery truck.
  • Back-up lights. White back-up lights let others know you are backing up. Look for back-up lights on vehicles in parking lots.
  • Horn. A light tap is usually enough for a warning. In an emergency, a loud blast may be necessary.
  • Vehicle position. The position of your vehicle in the roadway communicates a message. It indicates to others your intended path of travel. Other drivers may or may not see a light signal, but the position of the vehicle in the lane sends a message
  • Eye contact and body movement. Try to develop eye contact with other roadway users. You can communicate many messages this way. Body movements such as a wave of the hand may tell a driver to proceed.


Combine Actions


You often will need to execute a combination of actions. Sometimes you might need to accelerate and steer at the same time. In other situations, you might need to brake, communicate, and steer at the same time.




Using the IPDE process, along with the Smith system and the Zone Control System, helps you plan and execute maneuvers to reduce hazards. It is up to every driver to manage space, time and speed in order to further increase safety within the highway traffic system.


You must continually practice using the IPDE process so that it will become habit. Once you have developed the habit, you will


  • See more
  • Make accurate predictions and correct decisions
  • Execute maneuvers more successfully


IPDE Takes Practice


Practice is necessary for the development and improvement of any skill. As you ride with other drivers, practice the I-P-D steps of the IPDE process. You can then judge if the actions taken by others were based on correct decisions.



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