A commentary drive is where you describe what you are doing as you are driving. It’s a technique used by advanced drivers such as the police. This video shows a high speed commentary drive by a police officer through urban streets. Watch it a couple of times because the first time you’ll find that the officer is talking about things happening on the road that are far further up the road than you are looking, and you’re not even driving!
In a commentary drive the driver describes everything that he or she sees and is doing and why they’re related to the situation. In the video above you’ll notice a point at 3:07 at which the officer moves from the right-hand lane to the left-hand lane because a car looks like it will enter the roadway from the right. This is a great example in the drive of describing the hazard and how to minimise the risk from the hazard.
The comments are supposed to be articulated before the driver performs the manoeuvre because this indicates that the driver has seen the danger and is responding to it. The types of things a driver will mention in a commentary drive are:
- Use of mirrors and indicators
- Vehicles entering the roadway or waiting at junctions
- Pedestrians and other vulnerable road users (e.g. pedestrians waiting at a crossing, cyclists, horse riders, etc)
- Changes in the road condition (narrowing, change of surface)
- Approaching hazards (traffic lights, roundabouts, t-junctions, blind corners or crests, parked cars reducing visibility, schools)
- Actions of other vehicles that could cause a danger (vehicles changing lanes, large vehicles that might lead to less room, brake lights ahead)
- Changes to your road speed or position to give you a buffer
- Indicated change in road direction where you can’t see the road (e.g. using tree line, lampposts, etc)
- Changes of gear and the reason why
- Use of road markings and other clues (e.g. checking centre line and markings on the road, e.g. SLOW)
General statements should be avoided as they don’t describe what is actually happening, for example. In urban areas such a large number of events can be happening at the same time that you will need to develop a shorter way of describing what is happening. For example, you wouldn’t say ‘checking my mirrors now’, when you can just say ‘mirror’ or ‘left mirror’.
The purpose of a commentary drive is to train the driver to take in and process much more information than usual, and to anticipate danger. Once you start doing a commentary drive you will realise the enormous number of things that our brains process automatically every time we drive. By learning to process these distractions and potential dangers in a more efficient way you will be able to drive more safely.
An advanced driving instructor will be able to fine-tune where you are looking so that you are taking consideration of the most important things that are up ahead and you are choosing the correct speed. It will also teach you to ignore things that aren’t of importance so that you can remain focused on the things that are important.
The only way to get good at commentary drives is to practise. When you first start you it will seem like you are inundated with things to describe, but over time you will become fluent, like you would when learning a language.
If you are currently learning to drive, ask your instructor if you can have a go at a commentary drive.
Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.