Personal Security – Commentary Driving

The Problem

When we are concerned about being attacked, we fortify our homes and workplaces. That seems reasonable since we spend the majority of our time there. However, people specifically targeted for violence (as opposed to targets of opportunity or collateral damage) are most often assaulted when they are in transit – usually between home and work.

There are several reasons for this:

  • The target’s travel is predictable.
  • The assailant is able to determine the time and place, giving the attacker the home-field advantage.
  • The assailant can see the target, or at least the target vehicle, before being seen.
  • The attacker can control the target using roadblocks, distractions, or other ruses.
  • Even if unable to slow or stop the target, the attacker may employ explosives.

A Solution

Studies confirm that perceptions from multiple senses are more impactful than those from only one. Commentary driving is observing your environment and, at the same time, hearing yourself describe it aloud as you drive. It is remarkable how much this increases your awareness. It is a sure way to place yourself in alert condition yellow (relaxed but alert). Seeing something and only thinking about it is not nearly as effective.

Commentary driving is an excellent way to avoid accidents as well as attacks. A similar procedure was originally developed specifically for accident avoidance.

Commentary driving helps familiarize you with an area. In order to recognize what is suspicious or dangerous, you must first establish what is normal. Most people who try the technique quickly discover things in their customary environment that they never noticed before.

In addition to potential dangers, look for traffic and pedestrian patterns, street vendors, drivable terrain on the shoulder of the road, areas where maneuver is restricted, potential escape routes, etc. On later travel in the same area look for changes. Also look for alternate routes, safe havens, danger areas, and potential surveillance and attack sites.

The Technique

A piece of yellow tape on the GPS or at the 12:00 o’clock position on the steering wheel can serve as a reminder to employ the procedure.

First identify the “limit point.” It is the farthest point where you have an unobstructed view of the road. Often there are indicators that suggest what is beyond the limit point. Power lines, lampposts, or tree lines that parallel the road and are visible beyond the limit point may indicate lower elevation, or a turn. Say, “Limit point” and then describe it. For example, “Limit point – crest,” or “Limit point – road curves left.” It is important to scan as far as possible to the front. The sooner a threat is recognized, the more time there is to react.

After scanning beyond and at the limit point, scan and describe the situation from you to that point. Next check the immediate front and sides of your vehicle. Finally say, “Mirrors” and describe what is behind you.

Repeat the process. Having moved, a new scene is now in view and objects originally spotted in the distance are now closer. You may mention the same object several times.

Some Warnings

At first you might find that this distracts you from your other driving tasks. However, with a little practice, it improves your driving. Begin using it in low traffic areas.

You may find that your words cannot keep up with your observations. You will eventually develop solutions. There is no need to say, “I see indications of a hidden driveway on the right side of the road about 20 yards ahead,” when “Hidden drive right,” will suffice. In light traffic you might describe each vehicle you see. In heavy traffic you can simply say, “Heavy traffic.”

Keep talking. Talking forces you to scan for things to mention. Remaining focused on just one thing promotes tunnel vision. That one thing may be a distraction causing you to miss other, possibly more dangerous, concerns. There is a tendency to mention only imminent threats. Describe things that could develop into problems. If there is no actual or potential danger, comment on whatever you see.

You will be tired after 20 to 30 minutes of commentary driving. It is not physical exertion or paranoia that is taxing you; it is the extreme concentration that results from, and is the purpose of, commentary driving. Because of this you will not always be commenting as you drive but will find that proper scanning has become automatic.


You must practice commentary driving frequently in order to master it. It is critical to use it in dangerous environments. Try it. It costs nothing and it makes you much more aware of your surroundings. It could save your life.