What Driving Can Teach Us About Personal Awareness.

A little more than a month ago I started mulling this around in my head, and have been hashing it around with some friends. I attended a MAG 40 class in Conway Arkansas this past week that was hosted by Chaz Murray of the Roadgunner Podcast and this came up several times and I thought that I should actually get to this and write it up.

I have been a professional driver for the past 12 years and have nearly 1 million safe driving miles in a big truck under my belt. When I initially started training for driving truck in 2002, we learned something called the Smith System for driving. This is a driving system that teaches risk mitigation and provides the safest possible driving environment. The company that I drive for has since switched to a system called “Value Driven Driving” and while it is a good system I still prefer the tried and true Smith System.

I can hear it now… “What the heck does that have to do with being armed and living a defensive lifestyle?” Funny you should ask. I have talked with several people that I greatly respect in the firearms training community and have brought this up and haven’t yet got a “Lathrop, at long last you have finally lost it” and got quite a bit of agreement. Let’s get started.

The Smith System uses what it calls “The 5 Keys” even though I learned it 12 years ago, I still remember it well mostly because of a mnemonic saying that goes with it. “All Good Kids Like Milk”. The AGKLM stands for…

A) Aim high in your steering – Look far ahead of where you are, the farther you look in the direction you are going the more time you have to react to whatever dangers may be coming at you. In driving that means that you scan traffic patterns 10 to 15 seconds in front of you. I personally look at patterns from 10 seconds to the limit of my vision. Of course you want to do the same thing for personal awareness outside of a vehicle. I equate this to getting outside your little bubble, Look as far as you can see, and try to identify any dangers in your field of view. If walking look as far as you can see in the direction that you are moving. The farther away a danger is from you when you see it the more time you have to formulate a plan to deal with the danger and the greater the chances that you will be able to avoid the danger altogether.

G) Get the big picture. In driving this means that you should look other than at what is going on right in front of you, check mirrors and windows often. You should try to get a 360 degree picture in your head about what is going on around your vehicle. I see this as also applicable for personal awareness, especially when walking. The natural tendency is to focus on where you are going, but threats can come from any direction. Look to the sides and over your shoulder every once in a while.

K) Keep your eyes moving. While driving this is a big one. If you only stare out the windshield you quickly loose peripheral vision and your field of view narrows considerably. We teach students that the main focus should be out the windshield, but very often (more than 2 times a minute) check mirrors and gauges. These are quick glances, just a second, it not only helps with keeping the big picture of what is going on around you, it helps to keep your peripheral vision intact as well. Again I see this directly relating to awareness wherever you are, the more peripheral vision you use the more chance you have of picking out something that “isn’t right”. (I have also heard many people use the “head on a swivel” analogy). Peripheral vision is crucial in picking up threats both inside and outside the vehicle. Most people can see in a 60 degree to 110 degree field of vision but only pick up what is in a 30 degree field in front of them. By practicing keeping your eyes moving and making an occasional conscious effort to expand your peripheral vision you can be amazed what you pick up.

L) Leave yourself an out. In trucking this is primarily leaving yourself a LOT of breaking distance between you and the vehicle you are following. When coming to a stop it also means stopping far enough behind the vehicle that you can steer around that car or truck if it doesn’t move when it is supposed to. Of course this directly relates to personal awareness. If something starts to go south, where to I start to move? How close should this person get to me before I evade, and what does that evasion look like? Instead of looking at your smart phone next time you have a little down time in public. Take a minute or two and think, “If I had to get out of here right now what direction do I move and what obstacles are in my way?”

M) Make sure they see you. In driving this means use your turn signals, head lights, running lights, horns etc. to communicate with other drivers. Make eye contact with other drivers and pedestrians so that you are aware of what they are doing and so that they are aware of what you are doing. In personal awareness outside of a vehicle this means that if you identify a threat make sure that they see you seeing them. For a criminal, target selection is a critical part of their job. They need easy targets that can be taken advantage of quickly and without fuss so that they can move on. It is far easier for the common criminal to take advantage of and unaware person who will be startled by the attack and be momentarily shocked into inaction. An aware person looking directly at the criminal projects “I am paying attention, I have seen you, and I recognize that you are a threat.” Of course nothing works 100% of the time but the smart money says that a bad guy looking for a fast “score” will keep looking for other victims. I have taken to looking directly at people and as they come within conversational speaking distance smiling and saying “Good morning!” or good afternoon, or some other generic greeting. This tends to take people a little off guard as not many people do it any more, and if I have misjudged them and they really are a threat when they get that close I want them to be a little bit off balance mentally. If I haven’t misjudged them and they are a normal person, I have just given them a smile and wished them a good day, not a bad thing in my opinion.

As always your mileage may vary and please keep in mind that I am not a professional trainer. I am beginning my journey in the world of personal protection and you should treat this advice as such.