The Comfort Zone can be explained as a combination of speed, steering and/or braking where the vehicle reacts as the driver expects it to. But in an emergency scenario, the driver will be required to leave their comfort zone and enter what can be called the Red Zone. The Red Zone is a combination of speed, steering and/or braking that creates big changes in the way the vehicle responds, changes that are not expected and create anxiety.
Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) reports indicate that the average driver uses 40 to 50 percent of the car’s capability. This is the driver’s comfort zone. Yet in an emergency, the driver will have to use much more than 40 to 50 percent – more than likely 90 to 100 percent. The Red Zone is not a place a driver would go to on purpose, it is a place visited only when bad things are happening.
Research indicates that going from the Comfort Zone to the beginning stages of the Red Zone happens with an increase of a fraction of an inch on the steering wheel, and/or an increase of speed as little as 2 MPH. It may be difficult to think of a 6300 lb Ford Police Packaged SUV as “sensitive”, but a car’s controls are very sensitive to speed, the faster you go, the more sensitive the vehicles braking and steering become. This area of sensitivity is the Red Zone.
To complicate the issue research has also shown the driver gets into their own personal Red Zone way before the vehicle does. As the driver enters Red Zone the vehicle will send feedback that makes the driver feel uncomfortable (the researcher’s way of saying scared). At this stage of the Red Zone, the vehicle is still controllable, but the level of skill needed to keep the vehicle under control has gone up dramatically, and the window of opportunity to maintain control is extremely small.
Look at it as the vehicle has a limit and the driver has a limit. The drivers limit is much lower than the vehicle’s limit. Basically, the driver is uncomfortable with a combination of speed – steering and/or braking that are below the amount of speed – steering and/or braking the vehicle can handle.
It is the transition from Comfort to Red that creates a training challenge. In an emergency, a driver will be required to quickly transition from their Comfort Zone, into the Red Zone. Common sense dictates that a driver has to be trained to recognize and manage this transition. In our opinion, this transition is the essence of driver training. One of the goals of a driver training program is to raise the amount of steering, braking and speed a driver is comfortable with.