man holding the steering wheel with both hands

The SEE system is a defensive driving strategy that allows you to avoid collisions, by keeping the space around your vehicle free from obstacles – it is a space management system. Drivers who manage the space around their vehicles effectively can predict hazardous situations before they happen and change their driving behavior to avoid that situation coming to pass. The SEE system will also help you to avoid a collision in the face of unavoidable dangers, which do sometimes occur.


SEE prepares you to deal with dangerous roadway situations, by searching, evaluating and executing an appropriate response:

Search the road around and ahead of your vehicle, to identify potential dangers and situations which would warrant a change in your behavior.

Evaluate what you have seen. Prioritize dangers in order of risk and decide on the safest course of action.

Execute the action you have decided on. That may be a change in speed or lane position, communicating with other drivers, making an evasive maneuver, or doing nothing!


With application of the SEE system, you can prevent hazards from entering the immediate space around your vehicle. In the rare occasions where a hazardous situation cannot be predicted and avoided, the SEE system will give you the best possible chance of escaping the danger unscathed.

Remember that the goal of defensive driving is to prevent dangerous events before they occur, by identifying future points of conflict and acting pre-emptively against them. Actively searching your target area on the roadway ahead and along your path of travel 15 to 20 seconds ahead will help you to achieve this. Look for possible dangers and anticipate how events may play out when you reach your target area. Then, you will have the time and power to alter your behavior to avoid danger.


Searching the road


“Searching” is the first step of the SEE system, which involves actively looking for hazards on the roadway.

As your goal is to maintain a safe bubble of space around your vehicle, you must monitor the immediate area 360 degrees around your car with your side-view and rear-view mirrors and by looking over your shoulder to check blind spots.

You must also search your target area on the roadway ahead and various points along your intended path of travel, 15 to 20 seconds ahead, at minimum to identify hazards that may enter the space around your vehicle in the future. To do this effectively, you must keep your eyes moving and avoid staring at a single spot for too long.

A hazard is any object or situation which would demand an alteration in your driving behavior to avoid a collision or an increase in danger. This could be physical aspects of the roadway itself, other vehicles, objects in the road, intersections, interchanges or traffic control devices.

Your aim while searching the roadway should be to collect as much visual information about your driving environment as possible.


Evaluating visual information


Having compiled a mental list of potential hazards on the road, you will then draw on all the knowledge and experience stored in your brain to evaluate the situation.

This is where your understanding of road rules, vehicle control and defensive driving techniques come into play! Studying driving rules and traffic laws is an extremely important aspect of your driver’s education program, as without it, the visual information you have collected will mean nothing.

Your evaluation of the roadway will answer two questions:

  • Which hazards deserve priority?
    Some potential roadway hazards are more dangerous or more likely to occur than others. If you cannot avoid all dangers at the same time, you must choose which to act against first.
  • What is the safest thing for me to do?
  • Consider all maneuvers you could use to avoid the danger (e.g. steering, changing speed, etc.) and choose the action which creates the safest situation for yourself and other road users in the vicinity.

This seems a lengthy and complex procedure but remember that the human brain is an incredibly efficient information-processing machine. If you arm yourself with the correct knowledge, the evaluation process will occur in the blink of an eye.


Executing a response


The last stage of the SEE space management process is execution. To put it simply, this means carrying out whichever action you have decided upon during the evaluation stage.

Achieving this will depend on having good reflexes, vehicle control skills and knowledge of how your vehicle handles. Your response may be preventative in that it stops some potential danger from coming to fruition, or evasive, in that it avoids an immediate danger. If you carry out the search and evaluation stages correctly, these latter instances should be rare.

As you progress through this section of the defensive driving course, you will notice that many different types of common hazards are dealt with similarly. Often, the safest course of action is to reduce speed, adjust lane position or increase your following distance. Sometimes, the execution stage of the SEE process will involve several actions, such as slowing down, shifting lane position and signaling your intention to turn.


SEE as a continuous process


While progressing along a stretch of road, your mind will work through the SEE space management system in a cyclical, continuous manner.

You will search, evaluate and execute based on all the information you have about your current environment, then repeat that process as more visual information comes into view. The more complex and hazardous your driving environment, the faster this process must operate. Attentive driving is the key to working with the SEE system effectively.

Managing space is key to being a defensive driver. In order for any driver to be able to react to situations that come up it is important to have space around your vehicle – front, back and on the sides, if possible.

The most critical space is the space you leave between you and the vehicle in front of you. In the State of Arizona the recommended space rule is 3 to 6 seconds, in other States, it is 2 to 4 seconds.  MORE is always better. How do you measure seconds between you and the vehicle in front of you? While following at a constant distance, identify a stationary object like a sign or a tree and wait until the vehicle in front of you has passed that object and count one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand until your vehicle comes to the object.  Remember that speed matters — the faster you are traveling, the more space you need to maintain that cushion.

It is particularly important for young drivers to know how much space they have in front of them and to maintain a minimum of 4 seconds. The reason is simple: if anything out of the ordinary happens, and it does on a pretty regular basis, they will need enough space to see it, decide what to do and then execute their decision.  All of this happens quickly, and with little space it is virtually impossible to avoid a collision.

Some people will say, “it isn’t possible to leave space when there is heavy traffic.”  We would beg to differ with you. Whenever we are on the road we constantly “test” what we “preach” are here to tell you that it is possible. Do people cut in? Sometimes, but not as often as you would think AND when you leave more space between yourself and the person in front of you, the person behind you tends to widen their space between their car and yours – it is a win-win all around.

It is also important to maintain a much larger space cushion when driving in inclement weather such as rain, snow or ice. The rule is to reduce your speed by at least 1/3 of the posted speed limit and maintain a larger space cushion. When driving larger vehicles such as trucks or SUV’s more space is required to stop those vehicles. Remember, for novice drivers, bigger is not necessarily better. Large vehicles are difficult to control and stop for a novice driver. A regular sized sedan, with a small engine and safety features is a good choice, if possible.

How do you get space behind you? One of the strategies mentioned above: the more space you leave, the more likely the person behind you will leave more space as well. Use your signals when you are going to lane change or turn. It is how you communicate your intentions to other drivers. Covering the brakes is another strategy, where you place your foot lightly on the brake pedal without applying any pressure.  The brake lights will go on and it signals the driver behind you that you are slowing down. Be careful not to apply pressure and actually brake, particularly if someone is very close to you, because if they are not paying close attention they may hit you from behind.

New drivers need to be aware of what is going on around them at all times. Driving in the right lane where they have a shoulder as an option and where they can maintain the speed limit is a good place for them to drive.  Just remember space will ALWAYS be your friend and you will find once you get into the habit of maintaining a safe space cushion, it will become second nature to you no matter what the traffic conditions.


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