Defensive Driving – System of Car Control
System of car control or the System is the fundamental foundation on which all defensive and advanced driving principles are built. It is the process which drivers adopt whenever they are approaching, driving through or passing a hazard, e.g., junctions, cyclists, brow of a hill, potholes, bends/corners or any hazardous situation, for which you make a mental process or possibly do something physical with the car controls.
According to Roadcraft, UK’s Police Handbook, a system of car and motorcycle control is split into five phases – information, position, speed, gear and acceleration, represented by the acronym IPSGA. The system is quite simple and should be considered in the same order whenever a driver is approaching or negotiating a hazard on the road. Brief explanations of the phases are given below:
Information – On approach to a hazard, the information phase runs through the System and it overlaps all the other four phases. When driving we take, use and give information. We take in information through observation, looking or scanning to the front, side and rear of your car; we use information to formulate a driving plan of how we intend to deal with a hazard; and we give information to other road users by a wide range of signals available to us – direction indicators, flashing headlights, horn, brake lights, hand signals etc. The information phase is a general theme running continuously throughout the application of the system by taking, using and giving information. The taking, using and giving of Information is, arguably, most important and surrounds (and drives) the five phases IPSGA. It may, and often should, be re-applied at any phase in the System.
Position – On approach to a hazard, we should plan to take up an appropriate position on the road, which is optimised for safety, visibility and correct routing.
Speed – On approach to a hazard, you need to consider whether you need adjust or maintain an appropriate speed. This can be attained via explicit braking or accelerator control (engine braking), and plan to always being able to stop in the distance you can see to be clear on your side of the road;
Gear – On approach to a hazard, you need to be at the right speed, before selecting the appropriate gear for maximum vehicle control through the hazard. A systematic approach to a hazard means braking for the hazard, coming off the brake, before gear change. For automatic vehicles, this phase is already taken care of by the automatic mechanism of gear change.
Acceleration – For clearing the hazard safely, you need correct amount of smooth acceleration to negotiate and leave the hazard.
Drivers should always remember to consider all the phases of the system on approach hazards even though you may not need to use every phase for all hazards, other than information, in every situation. As highlighted above, the information phase spans the System, so you need to constantly reassess and if a new hazard arises consider whether to return to an earlier phase of the system.
From the explanations of the five phases above, in practice as presented by Bristol Advanced Motorists, it can be broken down as follows:
1. The purpose of the System of Car Control is to prevent road collisions by providing a way of approaching and negotiating hazards that is methodical, safe, and leaves nothing to chance.
2. It promotes concentration, careful observation, early anticipation and planning and a systematic use of vehicle controls to maintain stability in all situations.
3. It is applicable in all circumstances and provides the most effective way of dealing with an unpredictable environment.
4. Above all, it provides time to react to hazards.
The System is used whenever a hazard requires a manoeuvre. A hazard is something which requires a change in speed, direction or both. The benefit of applying a systematic approach to driving is to reduce the simultaneous demands on the vehicle and the driver mentally and/or physically. That is, the System seeks to separate out the phases of a manoeuvre into a logical sequence so that the vehicle and the driver avoid being overwhelmed by having to do too much at the same time.
The system provides the foundation for all defensive and advanced driving. If all the attributes and phases of the System are used sequentially and intelligently, it provides a logical and flexible structure for dealing with all hazards.
In summary, using the system of car control allows you to negotiate hazards in a way which is simple, safe and leaves nothing to chance, thereby reducing road traffic crashes.
Stephen K. Dieseruvwe
Director General, Delta State Traffic Management Authority (DESTMA)
**Driver Trainer and Road Safety Consultant