When we ride a horse or a bicycle we change our size as far as the spatial understanding is concerned, we have to take into account our size and the size of the horse or bicycle.
Next we can judge the size of an object and where it will fit. For example, will this piece of furniture fit in that space?
We use both of these concepts when we drive a vehicle.
1. Firstly our mind has to accept that we are the size of the vehicle and that we are sitting on one side of it. A lady recently told me the story of her driving in the USA for a few years (Left drive vehicles on the right side of the road). On returning to Australia she drove down a country road that was very familiar to her and came to a narrow bridge. She had the strangest feeling that the car wouldn't fit across the bridge because her spatial understanding had not returned to right drive vehicle on the left side of the road. In effect her mind was driving two vehicles, the real one to the left of her and the imagined American vehicle to the right of her. She was right, two vehicles abreast wouldn't fit on the bridge.
2. Secondly we need to project the size of this vehicle into or through that space. These judgements are required when we make a traffic judgement; park the vehicle and many situations in between.
There is a gender difference in spatial understanding.
The way we learn spatial skills is different. Generally speaking
however, observing the vehicle from outside when it is being parked for
example, helps both males and females.
The former Victorian rules booklet "The Victorian Traffic Handbook" was an excellent manual, except the passage on reversing. A great deal of research went into the entire preparation of the manual and those who developed it worked very hard to make sure it was accurate and thorough. However, the section on reversing may have been misconstrued to suggest that it it wrong for a person to use the mirrors whilst reversing. Page 48 "Reversing. When reversing, don't rely on your mirrors. Always turn around and look over your shoulder." The new "Road to Solo Driving" is clearer on page 16 it says "Quickly looking over your shoulder....Do this as well as using your mirrors....when reversing". Much clearer! The problem is that ideas that develop into beliefs can hang around for many years. Unfortunately too many have adopted the idea that is wrong or too difficult to use mirrors when reversing.
At DTA, we agree that we should include looking over the shoulder when that is possible, but without teaching mirrors for reversing, we miss out on very important skills. We believe that mirror use should be taught along with other methods of observing whilst reversing, for the following reasons:
There are a number of vehicles that you cannot see behind by looking over the shoulder through the rear window. (e.g. Delivery vans, camper vans, panel vans etc. utilities, hatchbacks and station wagons when loaded).
During heavy rain, windows may become 'fogged up', when even sedans are difficult to observe out through the rear window by looking over one's shoulder.
As one becomes older, or even when people have a temporary or permanent disability, turning around to observe becomes more difficult.
Often when stretched around, the vision of the 'corner of the eye' becomes distorted.
Using the mirrors is a higher skill level than looking over the shoulder. Using the "clearance technique" with external mirrors it is possible to reverse past an object (e.g. gate post) closer and with more safety than one can by looking over the shoulder. The driver can look straight at the side of the vehicle and the post and note the clearance between them. Therefore, one knows exactly what clearance is available.
Using the "tangent technique" with the external mirrors it is possible to reverse in a circle around an object. (e.g. corner of a vehicle, gate post, etc.)
When a driver is skilled in using the mirrors for reversing, these skills are transferred to a higher skill level of mirror use for lane changing and general traffic observation.
The development of mirror use skills develops the driver's spatial understanding. This in turn enables the driver to make safer traffic judgements.