How a Hazard Perception Test Keeps You Safer

We all hope never to find ourselves in a truly hazardous driving situation, but the truth of the matter is, there’s no predicting when such a situation may develop–and how suddenly. Given how much we drive and how many of us are doing it, we’re placing ourselves in real danger every time we slide behind the wheel.

The United Kingdom driving exam includes a special section uniquely designed to appraise your abilities to recognize potentially unsafe roadway scenarios: the hazard perception test. This involves a series of video clips during which participants enter a virtual driving world and attempt to key into so-called “developing hazards.”

Ultimately, the hazard perception test presents hypothetical setups every driver is more likely than not to encounter in some form out on the real-world streets.

The Test

As of this writing, the hazard perception test for cars and motorcycles consists of 14 video clips. The participant is asked to click when he recognizes the onset of a developing hazard–defined as “something that may result in you having to take some action, such as changing speed or direction.” Each clip contains a developing hazard; one contains two. This section of the U.K. driving exam was initiated in 2002, courtesy of preparatory work by the Driving Standards Agency, the Transport Research Laboratory, and the Department for Transport.

Those developing hazards mimic the ones most likely to be encountered in the real world, from pedestrians stepping into the roadway to adverse weather conditions and the vicissitudes of other motorists.

The sooner that you click as you recognize the developing hazard, the higher your score; you can earn up to five points per hazard. If a hazard continues to develop–for example, if a parked car you’d registered having its indicator on starts to actually turn out into the road–you click again. You need to achieve 44 points out of a possible 75 to pass the test as a standard car or motorcycle driver.

In the Real World

Nearly every prosaic, routine commute–for groceries, to the cinema, to pick up the kids–involves one or more “developing hazards,” and the idea of the hazard perception test is to gauge how aware we are of their sometimes subtle inceptions. Every motorist likely gets away with completely missing a developing hazard every day–thanks to timing, the road-safety skills of others, and other uncountable factors.

You simply never know when a dog is going to dash into the street, or a child is going to come zooming in after a football, or a foolish driver is going to take a risky chance and bolt into the road from a side street. An accident, a construction zone, a law enforcement officer pulling over another vehicle, a downed power line or toppled tree–the probabilities of unexpected dangers on even the most habitual driving routes are startlingly high.

A hazard perception test acknowledges this reality, and every driver on the road should bear in mind the volatility of the situation and the omnipresent need to be clear-eyed and aware at all times.

Gillian Kearney has been a driving instructor for 8 years. She enjoys passing on her driving tips through blogging.

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