Low risk driving

Driving is never risk free, but you should aim to drive ‘low risk’. A low risk driver has good observation, speed management and road positioning skills.


The key to good observation is scanning.

Scanning is keeping your eyes moving, checking in one area for a couple of seconds and then moving your eye to another area.

When scanning look:

  • In the distance
  • At the road surface
  • To your left and right
  • Regularly at your mirrors and instruments.

Speed management

Drive at a speed that is within the speed limit and this will allow you to react and completely stop within the distance you can see is clear. When you see potential hazards, slow down and prepare to stop (referred to as setting up the brakes), for example when pedestrians are close to the road or when other vehicles may turn in front of you. If you cannot see at least five seconds ahead you must slow down.

Slow down on wet, icy or gravel roads where it will take longer for your vehicle to stop.

Road positioning

Position your vehicle to maximise the distance from hazards (referred to as buffering). For example, moving to the left at the crest of a hill to create space from oncoming vehicles, or moving away from parked cars to avoid pedestrians and doors opening.

Crash avoidance space

A safe low risk driver maintains a crash avoidance space completely around the vehicle. The crash avoidance space is managed by adjusting the vehicle’s speed and road position.

To determine the crash avoidance space to the front of the vehicle you need to take into account two key factors – reaction time and response time.

Reaction time is the time the driver needs to:

  • See the information
  • Perceive what it means
  • Decide on a response
  • Instigate that response.

A driver who is fit, concentrating, alert and not affected by alcohol, drugs, fatigue or a distraction, will still require about one and a half seconds to react to a hazard.

Response time is the time required to take action. Generally a minimum of one and a half seconds is needed to respond. In many situations braking may be the only possible response. Swerving is rarely appropriate and can result in a more severe crash, for example a head-on collision.

A total of three seconds crash avoidance space is needed to react and respond to a situation in front of you. You may need even longer in poor conditions such as in rain or darkness.

The three-second gap, explained on the next page, can be used when following another vehicle or if there is potential for something to move into your crash avoidance space.

Following another vehicle

To calculate a three-second crash avoidance space when following another vehicle use this basic technique. As the rear of the vehicle in front of you passes an object at the side of the road such as a power pole, tree or sign, start a three-second count ‘one thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three’.

If your car passes the object you picked before you finish the three-second count, you are following too closely. Your crash avoidance space is not large enough. Slow down, and repeat the count again until the three-second crash avoidance space is achieved.

In poor driving conditions, such as rain, night and gravel roads, it may be necessary to increase your crash avoidance space to four or more seconds.

To reduce the risk of driving into the rear of a vehicle, the three-second crash avoidance space is essential, as the vehicle in front has the potential to stop very quickly if it collides with another vehicle or stationary object.

The three second gap will change depending on you speed.

The following table shows the crash avoidance space needed for these speeds

Speed Crash avoidance space in metres
60 Kilometres per hour 50 metres
80 Kilometres per hour 67 metres
100 Kilometres per hour 84 metres

Potential for something to move into the crash avoidance space

The three-second gap can also be used for situations where there is potential for something to move into your crash avoidance space; for example a car in an adjacent street could fail to give way and pull out in front of you.

Safe low risk drivers experienced in maintaining a three-second following distance are able to mentally judge a three-second crash avoidance space in front of their vehicle. If there is potential for a hazard to enter this crash avoidance space, reduce your speed to create a buffer. It is necessary to maintain the crash avoidance space for all potentially hazardous situations, including blind corners and crests.

Many of the crashes that occur each day in NSW could be avoided if drivers actively maintained their crash avoidance space.

NSW crash patterns

Crash patterns for provisional and newly licensed drivers are different from those of experienced drivers. However, almost 90% of all NSW crashes fall within only five crash types.Many of these crashes could have been prevented if the driver managed their crash avoidance space and speed.

The five most common crashes in order of prevalence

1. Colliding with the rear of another vehicle.
2. Colliding with another vehicle from an adjacent direction (from the side).
3. Colliding with another vehicle from the opposite direction.
4. Running off the road on a straight section and hitting an object or parked vehicle.
5. Running off the road on a curve or bend and hitting an object or parked vehicle.

For all drivers, rear end collisions are the most common form of crash. However, over 30% of crashes involving provisional drivers are single vehicle crashes in which they run off the road.For more information on crash patterns, read the Hazard Perception and Driver Qualification Handbooks online or purchase them from any registry or service centre.

Comparison of crashes based on driver experience

Type Provisional drivers Full licence holders in thier first year Experienced full licence holders
1. Colliding with the rear of another vehicle 33% 34% 40%
2. Colliding from adjacent direction 17% 17% 19%
3. Colliding from opposite direction 15% 16% 17%
4. Run off road on a straight section 15% 16% 17%
5. Run off road on a curved section 8% 10% 6%
All other crash types 18% 12% 12%
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