Spatial Awareness of the Vehicle

Vehicular spatial awareness is the ability to sense the space surrounding your vehicle, along with the ability to understand where your vehicle is located in relationship to objects around it. 

Are you constantly bumping into things, have no sense of direction, difficulty reading maps or a hard time assembling items?  You may have a poor sense of spatial awareness, which can lead to difficulty driving, particularly when performing such functions as parallel parking.

Driving a panel van without windows on the sides can contribute to a lack of spatial awareness for even the best drivers.  This can lead to additional problems when driving at night, staying in your lane and potentially sideswiping parked cars.

How can I increase my spatial awareness when driving?

Spatial awareness is part innate ability, part skill.  Consider these tips for honing your skills:

  • While practicing parking may seem boring, the more you practice parallel parking you’ll improve your spatial awareness. 
  • Before parking, get out of your vehicle and walk around it to see how much space you have on all sides.  It’ll help you become familiar with your vehicle’s edges and how much room you have to maneuver.
  • The steps when parallel parking:
    • Line up your vehicle door to door with the car in front of the space you want to enter
    • Your car should be 2-3 feet from the side of the parked car
    • Check your rear-view mirror to make sure there is no traffic coming behind you
    • Shift into reverse and turn your steering wheel to the right
    • As your vehicle moves into your empty spot, slowly straighten your wheel as you move backwards
    • Continually check your mirrors to ensure you won’t hit the car in front/behind you
    • Once the front of your vehicle has passed the back bumper of the vehicle in the spot ahead of you, begin turning your steering wheel to the left
    • Continue to inch backwards in reverse while straightening your steering wheel
    • Once you have your car straight and as close to the curb as possible you may need to inch forward so there is an equal amount of space in front and behind your vehicle
  • Getting good at driving backwards requires real spatial awareness and can help you learn to judge distances better.
  • Set up a driving course in an empty parking lot using cones or whatever you have on hand.  Practice weaving between the cones without clipping them.  As you get better move the cones closer together.
  • Look further down the road when taking turns will help you judge the corner better and reduce weaving.
  • At long distances the brain determines spatial relationships by using certain context clues. Training yourself to identify the relative speed of vehicles in motion, can enhance your spatial awareness.
  • Keep your windows clean.  Even a small amount of dirt on your front and rear windows can result in reduced visibility.
  • Use sunglasses and your sun visor to reduce glare and improve your vision.

Like shooting basketballs or any skill that can be developed it takes practice, practice, practice.

“1-Second Guide: How to Parallel Park,” Driving Tests, August 26, 2018.
“10 Driving Techniques that Will Make You a Better Driver,” Russell’s Auto Salon, October 24, 2016.
“Struggle with Depth Perception When Driving? Try These Tips,” Essilor, 2018.