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Getting our retaliation in first - pro-active versus reactive riding
Since I launched my Survival Skills advanced motorcycle training courses back in 1997, the thinking underpinning my approach to riding hasn't changed at all. I've always thought - based on my experience as a motorcycle courier - that whilst we need to plan for things to go wrong, we don't actually need to wait until people make mistakes around us. We can anticipate problems, then respond in such as way as to cancel out the problem before it develips. Nevertheless, there have been changes in other places, particularly around the motorcycle test itself. The theory test aims to ensure that riders already have a degree of ability to see into the future before they take the practical test, but the first time I saw the hazard perception videos I thought it was a lost opportunity. Despite the latest innovation - the clips are now based on CGI - I still think they are poorly-conceived. Read on and find out why.
One of concepts underpinning 'advanced' riding is the idea that we should apply observation, anticipation and concentration to the riding task. The idea is that by avoiding distraction and focusing on the task in hand - riding the bike - we'll be more able to identify hazards and work out how they might affect us. But there's another necessary stop - we have to have a plan to deal with those hazard IF things get tricky. It's no good seeing a car at the side of the road, and knowing it COULD pull out if we don't have a plan in mind to deal with the situation if it does emerge into our path. That's the true essence of a riding plan - we know what's coming next and we know what we're going to do to deal with it.
But we can go a step further - we may be able to see how a situation could develop and take a course of action which actively minimises or even cancels out the risk.
Back in 1999, I got hold of a copy of the brand-new BikeSafe 2000 video produced by the Thames Valley police. Although it's now two decades old, it covers some excellent ground. In particular, I noticed the use of the terms reactive and pro-active - two terms I've talked about in my training since 1997. At the time, these terms were not in regular use.
Even now, the distinction between them is not so well-known, perhaps because of the way that the DVSA set up their hazard perception videos. The DVSA recognise three levels of hazard, where a hazard is defined as something that poses a threat with a consequent risk of personal harm:
- a potential hazard is something that may or may not become a threat
- a developing hazard is something that will require an intervention by the rider in the immediate future
- an actual hazard needs to be dealt with NOW!
When the DSA (as was) brought their roadshow around the country to show of the new hazard perception videos, one of the clips I was shown revealed a kiddie on a bicycle cycling down a footpath across a playing field to the nearside of the car. The footpath was angled to intersect with the road some distance ahead, and it appeared that the cyclist would arrive at the end of the footpath at about the same time as the camera vehicle.
As you'd probably expect - it's a hazard perception video after all - I decided that the cyclist was a hazard almost as soon as he appeared, and clicked on him. He carried on down the path, and bunny-hopped off the pavement and into the road just in front of the camera car. Job done, I thought...
...except that I had scored zero for video.
Why? The presenter explained. "You clicked too early".
Eh? How can you spot a hazard 'too early'?
The answer is that at the point where I clicked, the situation was still fluid and the outcome could have changed - the cyclist could have veered off the path onto the grass, slowed down or even stopped. He was only a 'potential' hazard. So identifying the cyclist as a hazard at this point was too early.
Being slightly bemused by this, the presenter further explained that if I'd left my 'click' until he bunny-hopped off the pavement into the road, that would also have scored zero because I would then have identified the hazard too late - in the car, I would have needed to take sudden evasive action to avoid what was now an 'actual' hazard.
The 'sweet spot' which would score maximum points was a narrow zone where the cyclist had been in sight for several seconds but was still heading for the road and just a couple of seconds from bunny-hopping his bike out into the road. This was where the hazard was 'developing' and would leave me time to steer or brake smoothly to avoid the bike rider.
What should be pretty obvious is that if wait until the cyclist puts us into a position where we will have to change speed or direction, then we're not being pro-active. We're being reactive. We're waiting until we don't have a choice. It may not be an emergency reaction but it's too late.
Personally, I'm still puzzled as to why the DVSA's hazard perception clips require such a last-moment response. I'd argue that the earlier we see a hazard, the sooner we can plan our strategy and get into a position where we are able to 'get our retaliation in first'. Maybe as soon as the cyclist appeared, I could take up a much wider position away from the kerb. Maybe I could accelerate a little to clear the potential zone of conflict before the cyclist gets there. Maybe I could even sound the horn to get him to look round. All these are pro-active responses.
Being pro-active in this way is the next step after anticipation. If working out that the cyclist is on a potential collision course is risk assessment, then being pro-active is risk MANAGEMENT. And the really big plus is that if we're already taking steps, we're not going to be taken by SURPRISE! No Surprise? No Accident.
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