The most advanced piece of tech riding onboard with you at all times is the human eyeball. Fitted with night vision, it can detect movement at distances of more than two miles. Your eye can switch focus from a close object smaller than a pinhead to a panoramic view in just 0.04 seconds.
Being hard-wired to your brain, the most advanced of processors, the eyeball can not only read incoming signals but actually predict them. Vision and control are the driver’s two most important functions. Analysing the scene from further away means that it takes longer to materialize, so time and speed effectively slow down, giving you the strategic advantage to control events.
The modern world encourages us to be near-focused on everything from TVs to computers. Our field of vision is constricted, and so our shoulders tense up, because it’s unnatural.
Samurai warriors learned to use a wider-focus technique in combat with multiple opponents. Rather than maintaining a hard focus on one individual, they relaxed their vision, allowing the edges to blur and extending their field of view. Peripheral vision is strongest at detecting movement, so by shifting their awareness around the scene rather than moving their eyes, the warriors were able to monitor multiple attacks.
To master this technique you don’t need black pyjamas. Stick your thumb out in front of you and look at it closely. Your thumb is now in sharp focus at the expense of the wider scene. Now ignore your thumb and look straight ahead to absorb the 200-degree field of vision without fixing on anything in particular. Move that thumb around and track it using your consciousness without moving your eyes. Now you’re seeing like a ninja and you can process ten times as much information.
It is simply not possible, nor recommended, to locate every threat or hazard on the road using a fixed stare. When you do need to move your head or your eyes to analyse situations, the aim is to flick across to make observations and return to the core peripheral view.
For cornering, peripheral vision creates a much more fluid landscape than you can achieve using a series of hard focus points. The enhanced spatial awareness massively boosts your perception of speed and distance.
Inexperienced drivers with less eye discipline use focused vision to corner by moving their gaze rigidly from one point to the next along the kerb or the roadside. Alternatively, they focus on the area directly in front of them or the tailpipe of the next car, reacting passively to situations as they develop, rather than actively anticipating and controlling them. Put simply, they are missing the bigger picture.
Growing into the wider view takes practice, and it is worth noting that even experienced drivers will often revert to the series of fixed points.
The problem with big eye movements to pull focus, or to use the technical term ‘saccades’, is the eye can see only once it stops moving, so it takes a few tenths of a second for it to land and refocus. That may not sound like much, but it adds up and gets compounded by speed, because you travel a considerable distance in that time.
Racing drivers flick their eyes rapidly at a scene, without drawing focus, and return to the main view. It’s not accurate enough to read a sign, but it suffices to check for something alarming in the rear-view mirror, or just to re-establish the general landscape.