All about commentary driving and why you should try it

Ever seen a movie of Apollo 11 landing on the moon? We know exactly how it played out because the astronauts described every single action they made.

The same applies to Formula 1 drivers learning a new circuit and Police taking part in a high-speed chase – they talk through every step they take behind the controls and describe every change in conditions or potential distractions and dangers. It’s called commentary driving (or perhaps flying if NASA is involved) and is a technique where you describe exactly what you are doing as you are driving, and what you are doing to avoid potential risks.

It’s used by advanced drivers and those who spend a lot of time driving in high-risk situations, but it’s also particularly good for learner and newly solo drivers.

Driving requires alertness and concentration and learner drivers often find it hard to maintain both of these in what is often a high-pressure environment with many new skills to learn. Commentary driving helps to maintain a driver’s focus by engaging the brain in every action. It trains drivers to be observant and pushes out other distracting thoughts that can take the mind off the road.

If you initially feel self-conscious speaking out loud and describing your every move, you’re not the only one. But like many new skills, once commentary driving becomes a habit it’s hard to imagine not doing it. More importantly, it will give you an indication of the enormous number of things that our brains have to process every time we drive. Learning to process these distractions and potential dangers in a more efficient way is key to being able to drive more safely.

In practice, commentary driving means articulating what you are doing from when you start the vehicle, put your indicators on and check your mirrors before pulling out onto the road – right through to when you park again.

Here are some of the things to cover on your journey.

  • Vehicles coming onto the road or waiting at intersections
  • Where cyclists and pedestrians are, whether they are waiting at a crossing or coming up from behind in a cycle land
  • Changes in the road condition including change of surface, narrowing or corner
  • Approaching hazards such as traffic lights, roundabouts, intersections with or without stop or give way signs, parked cars, or a group of shops or a school
  • Actions of other vehicles that could cause a danger including indicating they are going to change lanes, or use of brake lights
  • Changes to your speed

Many professional driving instructors use commentary driving in their lessons, but it’s also a good technique for parents teaching their teens to drive. Driving lessons can be equally stressful for the person behind the wheel and the one in the passenger seat. There can be a tendency for tempers to flare and voices to be raised. Commentary driving provides a calm forum for each lesson, improves the confidence of student drivers by easing their nerves and tendency to second-guess themselves, and gives both the student and the teacher an idea of the student’s driving and decision-making abilities and how well they are paying attention to what’s happening on the road.


Takeaway tips

  • Commentary driving involves describing aloud exactly what you are doing as you are driving, and what you are doing to avoid potential risks.
  • It’s useful for both experienced and learner drivers.
  • It helps make you a safer driver because it encourages you to maintain focus by engaging the brain in every action and training you to be observant. It pushes out other thoughts that can take your attention off the road.
  • It can provide a good framework to make learning to drive less stressful and nerve-racking