Safety Corner logo



Situational Awareness

Safety Corner logo


by Eli Post



‘Situation awareness’ is the study of the environment critical to decision-makers in complex, dynamic areas from military command and control, and emergency services such as firefighting and policing; to more ordinary but nevertheless complex tasks such as driving an automobile or bicycle. From Wikipedia.

Paying sufficient attention to one’s surroundings to identify and respond to potentially dangerous situations is especially critical where hazards exist or could arise without warning. Whether it’s the scuba diver looking out for sharp rock edges, the skydiver aiming for cleared land, or the road cyclist making sure the path ahead is clear of road debris, certain tasks require close attention to one’s surroundings. Cyclists cannot assume that others (motorists or other cyclists) are watching out for their safety.

Situational awareness is a mindset, and strategies can be learned that better prepare cyclists for situations where danger might lurk. Awareness of what is happening in your environment helps you understand how information, events, and your own actions will impact you. For example, you are riding on a country road that is free of traffic when you see cars parked ahead and hear cars approaching from behind. These cues should make you realize that you will have a more limited corridor to ride and need to become more watchful of obstacles in the road that might cause you to alter your line of travel, now more difficult with cars passing on one side and cars parked on the other.

Some situations; however, require more preparation than simply a heightened sense awareness. A parked car can pull out without warning or, a car door might swing open in front of you, blocking your path. The larger challenge is to develop strategies to prepare for, and deal with, the unexpected.

Obviously, this article can’t define the entire range of possible situations and/or provide all the answers. The key is to develop a sense of awareness that guides you in determining your actions. Over time, cyclists develop an experience base that tells them what is safe and gives them a heightened alertness of any aberrations from the expected that might represent a danger.

Although we do not recommend a state of hyper-vigilance, which can be exhausting, cyclists need to remain aware of their current situation and simultaneously prepare for what might be coming up. Situational awareness involves preemptively figuring out maneuvers to ensure safety in a variety of common cycling situations. Experienced riders are prepared for many possible hazards, and develop strategies to prevent being caught off guard and/or unprepared. Though that sounds complicated, it becomes second nature once one understands where dangers can exist.

Some specific examples illustrate how a cyclist’s decision-making requires attention to the road ahead, and reading the signs and environmental clues that facilitate proactive decision-making:

The polar opposite of situational awareness is mindless cycling, which can be very dangerous for you and for everyone around you. Mindless cycling has many forms including obliviousness of the need to follow the rules of the road and being inattentive to potential hazards such as car doors, blind spots and being hidden from motorists. Becoming a mindful cyclist is an essential part of safe cycling and improves the odds that you will not be the cause, or the victim, of a mishap.

Please send corrections, additions, comments and praise to Safety Web Admin

© 1997- CRW, Inc. All rights reserved. Revised: