Before You Start Driving
Vehicle's Operating Space

Managing The Operating Space Around Your Vehicle for Safer Driving

Updated Oct. 26, 2020

Learning to manage the space around your vehicle effectively will help to improve safety and limit the chances of a collision occurring. The area immediately around your vehicle is referred to as the “vehicle operating space”. This space consists of seven “zones”, each of which is as wide as a lane and extends as far as the driver can see in that direction.

The space around your vehicle is divided into the following zones:

  • Zones 1, 2 and 3 cover the space in front of your vehicle.
  • Zones 4, 5 and 6 cover the space behind your vehicle.
  • Zones 1 and 6 are in the same lane as your vehicle.
  • Zones 2 and 4 are in the lane to your left.
  • Zones 3 and 5 are in the lane to your right.
  • Zone 7 is the area occupied by your vehicle, including any area which is obscured from the driver’s view (i.e. the blind zone)

The condition of your vehicle operating space can be classified as open, closed or changing. Often, you will need to deal with different conditions in different zones.

Zone 7: the blind zone

Zone 7 covers the blind area around your vehicle which is obscured from view when you’re sat in the driver’s seat. Safe management of the area around your vehicle demands constant awareness of the blind zone, which is hidden from your view by the vehicle itself. The size and area of a blind zone vary from one model of vehicle to another, though generally, blind zones cover:

  1. One car’s length in front of the vehicle
  2. Two car’s length to the rear of the vehicle
  3. One car’s width to the left of the vehicle
  4. Two car’s width to the right of the vehicle

You must monitor this blind zone for potential hazards and make adjustments to your driving behavior as necessary. Never drive in another vehicle’s blind spots, as you may not be seen by the driver.

Identifying your vehicle’s blind zone

When you first begin learning to drive and are getting used to managing space around your vehicle, it can be useful to get a friend or family member to help you mark out your blind zone. The blind zone ends where the surface of the pavement becomes visible, so:

  1. 1

    Park your car in an empty lot and sit in the driver’s seat.

  2. 2

    Get your friend to stand against the bumper to the rear of the car while facing you and then walk backward one step at a time.

  3. 3

    As soon as you can see their feet while looking over your shoulder, give them a wave and ask them to mark that spot with a cone or similar device.

  4. 4

    Repeat these steps to the front and side of the vehicle, turning your head to look as you would whilst driving.

When you’re done, get out of the car and check out the result. The area marked with cones around your vehicle indicates the outside of the area you will not be able to see from the driver’s seat.
Now, let’s talk about vehicle operating space conditions.

Open operating space

An open operating space represents ideal driving conditions. When this occurs, you will be able to see across a relatively large distance and there will be no immediate objects or other vehicles nearby. As a result, you should be able to change lanes, slow down and move forwards without any danger of conflict with other traffic.

Closed operating space

In a closed operating space, your line of sight will be partially or completely blocked by nearby vehicles or obstacles. You cannot safely alter course, change lanes, slow down or move forward in a completely closed operating space. However, it may be that some maneuvers are possible if not all zones around your vehicle are closed.

Changing operating space

When an operating space is described as “changing” this generally means that the situation around your vehicle is becoming less-favorable or moving from open to closed. In a changing operating space, your line of sight will become increasingly restricted as the situation progresses.

Any alteration in conditions on the roadway can create a changing operating space. For instance, the area around your vehicle may become more closed as speed limits or lane widths reduce, traffic becomes denser or weather conditions become poorer.

Real-life application

The more space you can maintain around your vehicle, the safer you will be while driving. When a zone (or several zones) around your vehicle is closed or changing, you should consider ways to maneuver into a more open operating space. This may not always be possible if traffic is densely packed and slow moving.

Think about these real-world situations and how they would affect your vehicle’s operating space:

  1. Zones 1, 2 and 3 ahead of your vehicle will be closed when you are stopped at a red traffic light.
  2. Zone 2 to your left will be closed when another vehicle is approaching in the left-hand lane.
  3. Zone 3 to your right will be closed when approaching a cyclist on your right or a parked car.
  4. Zone 4 to your left will be closed when another vehicle is passing you.

To become an effective defensive driver, you must pay attention to events on the roadway around you to stay one step ahead of changing conditions. Look out for changes in speed limit and environment (e.g. driving into a construction zone). Then, you can consider whether your lane position is safe based on current conditions.

Maximizing your operating space

When sharing the roadway with other motorists, you will never be completely in control of your vehicle’s operating space. When it is safe to do so, alter position to maximize the space to the front of your vehicle (zones 1, 2 and 3) as these areas offer an escape route if something goes wrong on the roadway around you.

If another driver closes the space around your vehicle by tailgating, do not speed up to regain that space. The tailgating driver will probably speed up too and you will be left with no space to the rear or front of your vehicle. Instead, tap your brakes lightly to show the other driver that you are slowing down and indicate that they may pass you. Alternatively, merge into a slower lane or pull over to let them pass.

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