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Scanning verses looking – How to scan properly

The difference between Scanning and looking for Motorcycle riders

The difference between Scanning and looking for Motorcycle riders

Scanning is training yourself to see everything, whereas looking is a targeted view at a fixed point.

Many road users do not understand the difference between scanning versus looking and they certainly don’t scan properly. That’s because when we first learn to drive, we are not taught to a high level. In fact, in many cases, you are taught to just pass the test.

How were you first taught to look at junctions and roundabouts? There is a good chance that you were taught a routine to get you looking in the correct place at the correct time. This is learning by rote. Learning parrot fashion is very good to start off with but you must develop a skill once it has become a habit.

Unfortunately, the skill is set to pass the test and not to develop further. This is why so many road users are not that good, mainly because they passed the basic test with very basic induction training and have never taken further training or lessons to improve from a basic level.

Most people think that they only start to learn once they pass their test. How wrong they are, they only get into more bad habits the more they drive and set the wrong skills.

Poor foundation training

I’ve heard many times over the years that instruction has been rigid and is taught by rote. Learners are taken through a strict process of looking and told to look left, right, and then left again to make a decision.

This may be good enough for early training but it is certainly not good enough as ability and experience increase. You cannot become a good driver just because you are putting in the miles.

This is why campaigns like ‘Think Bike’ exist. It’s because most road users are car drivers and their early stages of guidance and education are poor. Again, this isn’t anyone’s particular fault, it’s inherent in our driver training system. People try to pass as quickly as possible and only drive or ride to a minimum standard to pass their test.

Why car drivers do not see motorcyclists

As a biker you need to know what a car driver looks for and you must understand what they were taught to look for during their early driving lessons. This stays with drivers all their life unless they undertake further education. They are not taught the difference between scanning versus looking.

Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘Looked but fail to see”? If you have then you know that the vehicle that pulls out on you appears to be looking at you but didn’t see you. They were probably looking and not scanning.

Motorcycles only account for 1% of traffic. It is no wonder that car drivers don’t look for motorbikes. This is because 99% of the time the other vehicles on the road are other cars. Take the winter months for example – riders probably account for 0.1% of traffic, so one bike in every thousand vehicles and that’s optimistic (the figure is probably much smaller than this).

This is why car drivers seem to be looking in the correct direction but fail to actually see. They pull out on smaller vehicles because they are not used to looking for bikers and cyclists. The reason is they aren’t taught to look effectively at junctions and scan the vicinity and really see what is there.

I’m not saying that motorcycle rider are perfect, far from it. They too have a lack of visual skills and many do not know the difference between scanning versus looking either.

Scanning versus looking – How to scan properly

I will use an open T-Junction here to show the example of scanning properly and effectively. An open junction means a good view of the approach in both directions.

  • As you approach the T-Junction, pick a point directly in front of you on the other side of the road.
  • Then slowly move your head and eyes to the left, allowing time to pick up everything from where you start looking from the position in front of you to the position where you finish looking. This should be as far to the left as you can physically see.
  • Once this area has been scanned, instead of looking the other way quickly without scanning back first. Scan backward through the same area to the first focus point you started with.
  • Then look the other way using the same method. Letting your eyes pick up everything between the point in front of you to the furthest point where you can see to the right.
  • This means you have looked at least twice through both zones of vision.

This way of scanning sees everything in view and in focus. If this method is used it means that road users actually see what’s there instead of taking quick inadequate looks either way!

Many road users look left and right a number of times (too quickly) and miss everything that is in between where they fix their vision. This is because they are taught that way and they never improve their vision unless they take further lessons and education after passing a basic test.

Motorcycle Training Instructor and student


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Taking further education

It sounds like a cliche I know, but unless you actively seek to improve your riding skills by undertaking further training, you will not increase your ability very much on your own.

Trying to improve yourself without proper guidance is difficult and as a result, you will probably end up doing it by trial and error. I just hope for your sake if this is your intended route that there are not too many errors before you get it right!

But how do you know it’s right unless it is assessed by an educator? By undertaking some formal advanced training with a professionally qualified trainer, you will see some massive improvements. It is imperative to survival on today’s busy and congested roads where all vehicles outperform the person in charge of them. Accidents happen because people challenge each other for the same road space, either on purpose, unknowingly, or through a lack of skill!

Take further training, advance your skills to a higher level and Keep it on the Black Stuff.

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