Hazards are one of the most important things you’ll need to be able to identify in order to become a competent driver, so much so that the second part of the driving theory test is dedicated to the  hazard perception test and hazard awareness.

Hazards can be lots of things; static, moving, road and weather conditions or you, but most simply; a hazard is a situation that may require you to respond by taking action. This could be by braking, accelerating or steering.

In this hazard awareness section, you’ll learn about the different types of hazards you might encounter and how to react to them.

Before we go through the different hazards, it’s important to know which skills we need in order to identify them.

Scanning for Hazards

To spot a hazard, you need to know what’s going on around you. The best way to do this is by scanning which involves looking ahead, behind and to each side of your vehicle. This can seem daunting but the trick is to keep changing where your gaze falls from the area immediately in front of you to the middle distance and then to the far distance. You should do this by altering your view from the windscreen to your mirrors. By approaching driving in this way you should be able to spot any potential hazards and take necessary action.

Top Tips:

Master scanning for hazards by:

  • Practicing looking up and as far ahead as possible
  • Using all of your mirrors, not just your rear-view mirror, to check all around your vehicle.
  • Check your ‘blind spots’ – work out areas that your mirrors don’t cover and find safe ways to check these areas. This could be by turning around and looking out of your back window, asking a passenger or using reflections.
  • Asking your driving instructor – many have their own tips and methods.

Don’t:

  • Speed: if you’re travelling too fast, you won’t have time to take everything in and may not be able to respond safely or quickly enough
  • Let yourself become distracted from the road
  • Fix your gaze on a static point or zone out.

By developing your scanning skills, you will have the ability to take in all of the information in a scene and identify both potential hazards and early warning signs of danger. You can then judge which are most likely to affect you and take action accordingly.

When does a hazard need action?

This ability to make the connection between seeing the hazard and anticipating how it may develop is a vital skill for safe driving and hazard awareness. Some hazards are obvious but others are not so easy to see or to anticipate how they may develop. However, it’s easier to deal with potential hazards safely if you respond in good time. To help you, there are two useful techniques.

  1. You can look for signs
  2. You can ask the question ‘What if?’

Signs

The most obvious clues to what may happen next are triangular warning road signs like this one:

road sign

Road signs and markings can be confusing but they are there to give you clues about possible hazards and rules that you must observe to ensure road safety. Therefore, it’s vital that you learn their meanings. You can find them in The Official Highway Code (book, eBook, interactive CD-ROM, app and online) and Know Your Traffic Signs (book and online).

Look out for signs and markings by being alert and observant. This way you can slow down in good time and be prepared for any action you may need to take. For example, if you see a sign for a bend, ask yourself ‘What if there’s a pedestrian or an obstruction around the bend – could I stop in time? Could I do it safely?’

What if?

In many instances there are no clear clues as you approach a hazard, but the potential for danger remains, such as when you drive towards a sharp bend and you cannot see whether the road is clear. In this instance you need to be driving in a way that will let you assess and react to any potential hazards that aren’t in your range of view. For example, as you approach a sharp bend there may be a horse and rider walking along the road just out of sight around the bend, and at the same time there may be approaching traffic. As soon as you see the horse and rider, you must know what you should do.

To anticipate hazards as you approach them you need to ask yourself ‘What if?’ and ‘What will I do if?’

Responding to Hazards

After scanning and recognising hazards, the next step is being able to identify which ones will develop into something more dangerous, and cause you to respond in some way.

Have a chat with your driving instructor about which procedures you can use for safely dealing with hazards. For example, the Mirrors – Signal – Manoeuvre (MSM) routine for car drivers.

How you deal with a hazard depends on the situation. However, action needs to be taken early enough so that:

  • The option to stop safely is always available
  • Another road user can respond to your signal in good time
  • You can keep the vehicle under control.

You will need to use your judgement to decide whether to:

  • Accelerate
  • Decelerate
  • Brake
  • Steer
  • Sound the horn
  • Use a combination of the above.

Managing hazards

Through good hazard management and anticipating how events may develop you can reduce the number of hazards you encounter, and the likelihood of needing extreme responses such as swerving and heavy braking. Examples of good hazard management include:

  • Effective scanning
  • Anticipating hazards to give you more time to react and respond safely
  • Controlling your speed so that you can cope with whatever the situation requires
  • Maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle in front.

In good conditions, you should always leave a two-second gap between your car and the vehicle in front. Use a fixed point, such as a road sign or bus stop, to measure the time gap between your vehicle and the one in front. You can measure two seconds by saying the sentence ‘Only a fool breaks the two-second rule’.

Types of hazards

Static hazards

There are many varied types of static hazard. These can include:

  • Bends
  • Junctions
  • Roundabouts
  • Parked vehicles and obstructions in the road
  • Roadworks
  • Road surfaces
  • Crossings of all varieties
  • Traffic lights.

All of these may require you to react or respond. Therefore it’s important that you’re:

  • Aware that they’re there
  • Slow down and be ready to stop if necessary.

Junctions

Your view is often reduced at junctions.  This is especially the case in built-up areas like towns and cities. In this situation you must take extra care and pull forward slowly until you can see down the road. This style of driving can be referred to as ‘creep and peep.’ Take extra care – pull forward slowly until you can see down the road. Use any reflections you can see to help gauge the traffic, but beware that distances may be distorted.  If you have a passenger, you could ask them to help you to spot oncoming traffic.

Be careful not to block a junction: leave it clear so that other vehicles can enter and emerge.

Where lanes are closed, be ready for vehicles cutting in front of you and keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front. If you’re too too close, you can run the risk of a rear-end shunt.

A traffic-light-controlled junction should also be treated as an unmarked junction, if the lights aren’t working and you should be prepared to stop. There may be police officers controlling traffic in these circumstances – make sure that you know and understand their arm signals.

Motorways and dual carriageways

If you’re driving on a motorway or dual carriageway and see a hazard or obstruction ahead you may use your hazard warning lights briefly to warn the traffic behind you. This could be in the form of a crash or traffic jam ahead.

Slow-moving or stationary vehicles with a large arrow displayed on the back show where you need to change lanes when approaching roadworks. Be aware that traffic is likely to slow and traffic jams may occur where roadworks are in place.

Breakdowns

If your vehicle breaks down and is causing an obstruction, switch on your hazard warning lights in order to warn other road users.

Parked vehicles

Parked cars can bea hazard – especially if they’re parked illegally, for example on the zigzag lines by a pedestrian crossing. You are most likely to encounter this in built up areas where you should watch out for:

  • Children running out from between vehicles
  • Vehicle doors opening
  • Vehicles moving away (sometimes without indicating).

Ask yourself – would you be able to stop or safely avoid them in time?

Moving Hazards

Pedestrians

Pedestrians are just as important as drivers and you should be mindful of them. If you see pedestrians walking across the road, be patient and wait for them to finish crossing. Some people may have disabilities which aren’t obvious.

On country roads there may be no pavement, so look out for pedestrians on the road. They may be walking towards you on your side of the road.

Cyclists

You should always be aware of cyclists and give them plenty of room. They may wobble or swerve to avoid drains or potholes and need extra room in the wind when they run the risk of being blown across the road.

At junctions or traffic lights, give cyclists plenty of time to turn or pull away.

When travelling in slow traffic, before you turn left, check for cyclists filtering through the traffic on your left by using your wing mirror.

Motorcyclists

Look out for motorcyclists, especially when you’re:

  • Emerging from a junction
  • Turning into a road on your right
  • Changing lanes
  • Moving out to overtake

Drivers of large vehicles

If you see a bus at a bus stop, always remember:

  • People may get off and then cross the road, often in front of the bus
  • The bus may be about to move off and pull out.

School buses might stop at places other than bus stops.

At some bridges, high vehicles may need to use the centre of the road to be able to pass underneath safely.

Large goods vehicles over 13 metres long have red and yellow markings at the back of the vehicle. These vehicles may take longer to turn or have to take alternative routes, so be cautious.

Drivers of vehicles carrying hazardous loads

Some vehicles have information signs on the back to show that they are carrying a hazardous load. Learn what these signs mean. It could be particularly important in the case of a crash or spill.

Drivers overtaking you

Watch out for vehicles, especially motorcyclists, overtaking and cutting in front of you. Allow them to do so by maintaining your speed and if you need to, drop back to keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you.

When turning right, don’t forget to check your right hand wing mirror for overtaking vehicles before making the turn.

Disabled people using powered vehicles

Reduce your speed and be careful. These small vehicles are extremely vulnerable on the road because

  • They’re difficult to see
  • They travel slowly (maximum speed limit of 8mph).

 

Older drivers

Older drivers may have slower reactions so it is important to be patient with them and remain calm.

Horses and their riders

Horses can be unpredictable and easily spooked. Reduce your speed and give them plenty of room when overtaking. Remember that they have as much right to the road as you.

 

Weather conditions and its impact

Different types of weather can create hazards by making it harder to see the road or affecting the control of your vehicle. You should alter the way you drive to suit the weather conditions, and be aware of the potential for added dangers.

How to react to different conditions:

  • Double your distance from the vehicle in front to four seconds.
  • Slow down and increase your separation distance: allow up to 10 times the gap you’d leave in dry weather.
  • Slow down and use dipped headlights so as not to dazzle other road users.
  • Be aware that sunlight can dazzle you or other drivers.
  • Consider using sunglasses or a sun visor.

The Driver

Don’t allow yourself to become a hazard on the road. You must be alert and concentrate on your driving at all times.

Hazard Awareness

Make sure you use your mirrors so that you are always aware of what’s going on around you. These may be convex (curved outwards slightly) to give a wider field of vision. Be aware that this will make objects appear further away than they actually are.

Fatigue

Don’t drive if you’re tired as this will reduce your concentration. Plan your journey so that you have enough rest and refreshment breaks. Try to stop at least once every two hours. Open a window so you have plenty of fresh air.

If you feel tired

  • Pull over at a safe and legal place to rest
  • If you’re on a motorway, leave at the next exit or stop at the next services.

Distractions

Your concentration can be affected by by many things, including:

  • Using a mobile phone
  • Listening to loud music
  • Looking at a map or navigation system
  • Your emotional state.

It’s important to avoid being distracted by these things while you’re driving. Maintain control of yourself and your vehicle at all times.

You can do this by:

  • Turning off your mobile phone or switching it to voicemail
  • Keeping  music to a reasonable volume
  • Finding somewhere safe and legal to stop before looking at a map
  • Taking time to calm down before you begin driving if you’re upset or angry.

Alcohol

Never drive if you’ve been drinking alcohol; it’s not worth taking a chance.

Alcohol can:

  • Reduce your concentration, coordination and control
  • Give you a false sense of confidence
  • Reduce your judgement of speed
  • Slow down your reactions.

If you’re planning to drive, don’t drink even if you think you’ll be under the drink-drive limit – this can be difficult to judge. If you’ve had a drink, find another way to get home, such as public transport, taxi, walking or getting a lift. Remember that if you’ve been drinking heavily you may still be over the limit the next morning. A useful rhyme to remember is that there should be ’12 hours from bottle to throttle.’ i.e. don’t drive for 12 hours after drinking.

Medicines and drugs

Some medicines can make you sleepy or disorientated – check the label or ask your doctor or pharmacist if it’s safe to drive after taking medication. You must be fit and alert in order to be able to drive safely and legally.

Using illegal drugs is highly dangerous and the effects of some can last for up to 72 hours. Never take them before driving.

Drinking or taking drugs and then driving could be fatal to yourself or other road users. If you are convicted of driving while unfit through drink or drugs, the cost of your insurance will rise considerably. Driving while under the influence of drink or drugs may invalidate your insurance. It is never worth the risk.

Eyesight

Your eyesight must be of the required legal standard to drive; if you need glasses or contact lenses to bring your eyesight up to this standard, you must wear them every time you drive. This will be the first thing you are tested on when you take your practical test. Sunglasses or tinted lenses can restrict your vision, so don’t wear them if you are driving at night.

You MUST tell the DVLA if you suffer from any medical condition that may affect your driving. Failure to do so can result in your licenxe being suspended or your insurance being invalidated.

Hazard Awareness Theory Test Questions

The hazard awareness theory test section contains questions about situations that can diminish your ability to spot hazards or react to them.