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Some Free Driving Tips for You
These tips will help with some of the things that many people find difficult to master and stuff that causes a lot of problems after the test is passed. Scroll down to get easy fixes and advice for some of the most common issues.
For 100's more tips and lots of valuable advice about learning to drive subscribe to the DriverActive Learn Online Programme to speed your progress towards passing the driving test.
If you are teaching your kids - or helping them with home practise between lessons the advice in the DriverActive Course will keep you on track.
Hill-starts are easy
This advice will help to ensure that you are always confident about hill-starts!
By using this simple trick you will always move away safely in a car with a conventional handbrake.
The trick is to use the handbrake as a 'safety lever' to prevent the car from rolling back while you adjust your feet during an uphill start.
When new drivers have a problem with starting on hills, it is usually because they are worried about rolling back. If the car rolls back, even a little bit, they 'panic' and start tap-dancing with the pedals!
But the truth is, if you can move off OK on a level road you already have all the skill you need to move off on a hill.
Using this method, you will only adjust your feet on the pedals when the car is safely secured with the handbrake is firmly pulled on.
Start by preparing the car. Select first gear and press the gas pedal (accelerator) so the engine makes a bit more noise than it does for a flat road start. Next bring the clutch up to the biting point (the point where the engine start to connect with the wheels). Now keep both of your feet still!
Make your normal safety checks (look all around and use your mirrors) and then release the handbrake very gently - no more than a few millimetres. If the starts to move (back or forward) keep your feet still.
Re-adjust your feet while the car is secure, double check that the road is still clear, and then try again. Repeat this until you have full control.
By using this method you will feel secure in the knowledge that you can't roll back more than a couple of centimetres at the very most; with practise you will find that you soon get the right 'feel' for the clutch every time and that you won't need to pull handbrake back at all - its simply a matter of confidence.
You will find more information about hill starts and moving off generally in the Full DriverActive Online course.
This video is taken from the Watch, Learn, Drive programme. For all 14 moving off Tutorial Videos and videos lessons for lots of other subjects, visit Watch, Learn, Drive.com. You can find more videos in the DriverActive course.
Steering clear of trouble
Look at what you want to hit!
Your first response to the statement above might be "I don't want to hit anything!"
You will be drawn towards whatever you put your main focus of attention on (what you are looking at). So it follows that if you look at the obstacles, you will probably hit them!
Almost all steering problems are related to observation.
By looking well ahead and keeping your eyes moving you will be gathering as much information as possible, this is essential for effective steering control.
When steering through narrow gaps, for example, between parked cars, keep looking well ahead and aim for the clear space. If you look ahead early you will always be on the correct course, you don't need to look at the obstructions.
This is a bit like throwing a dart or shooting an arrow from a bow. The aim is taken early and then the arrow follows the correct course.
Turning right (or left in countries where you drive on the right)
Many new drivers have problems when turning right or completing the final leg of the turn-in-the-road (three point turn) manoeuvre. This is because they are looking in the wrong place!
The natural tendency is to look at the end of the bonnet or directly in front of the car, but you should be looking through your driver's door window.
Fix your view well along the new road and then as your head or your eyes start to move back towards the front (this will happen as the car moves around the corner) move the steering wheel with them.
On the diagram, the driver starts to steer at point 'A'. At this point observation should be through the driver's door window, towards point 'C'.
At point 'B' the driver's head will be moving back to the front as the view of point 'C' is moving from the driver's door window to the windscreen.
As the driver's head moves, the wheel should also move (gently) to straighten up the car. This is because, although the car is still angled across the road at point 'B', the front wheels are pointing towards point 'C'.
Drivers who do not 'Look at what they want to hit' (point 'C') will usually straighten up late or need to rush the steering, turning the wheel faster than is really necessary - both of these things can cause major problems.
Checking your blind spots ...
When moving off, you must always make sure that it's clear and safe.
This is one thing that your driving instructor will stress time and time again during your driving lessons.
As you sit in the driving seat you can see clearly to the front, and when you use your mirrors you can see most of what's behind...
But there will be some areas around the car that need special attention - areas that you can't see clearly.
These are the blind spots.
A blind spot is an are area that can't be seen in your mirrors or that is masked by parts of the car's structure.
An example of a blind spit caused by the car's structure would be the front windscreen pillars - these can mask a distant object such as a motorcycle at a junction. With this in mind you must always take special care to compensate for blind spots by moving in your seat when necessary in order to get a good view.
When moving off, the blind spots behind your left and right shoulders are critical.
For example, if you look at the diagram you can see that the grey car that emerging from the junction would not be visible in the mirrors of the red car - if the driver of the red car moved off without seeing the grey car there could easily be an accident.
To compensate for this blind spot, you need to check over your right shoulder before moving off from the left-hand side of the road.
You will find much more information about moving off safely in the Full DriverActive Online course.
Remember that this information is not only essential for safety during your driving lessons - it is absolutely essential for safe driving and a keeping a full no-claims insurance bonus after you pass the driving test.
Using a hazard routine
A hazard routine is a basic drill, or system of actions, that you will use each time you approach a hazard.
A hazard is anything that causes you to change your speed or direction, for example, junctions, parked cars, animals on the road, etcetera.
By taking a routine approach, you will be sure that it is safe to carry out any action that may be necessary to deal with the hazard safely.
The basic routine for driving in the UK is Mirrors Signal Manoeuvre, abbreviated to MSM.
The full routine, however has more abbreviations...
MSM - PSL - LAD.
See the steps below for the meaning of each letter in the abbreviation.
MSM in action
The sequence of actions that make up this expanded Mirrors Signal Manoeuvre (MSM) hazard routine is:
The example below describes how you would use this basic routine to make a right turn (the diagram shows a car in the UK where we drive on the left)..
As soon as you are aware that there is a hazard ahead, you must check your mirrors to see what is happening behind.
Just looking is not enough; you must ask yourself the question: 'Is it safe to carry out my manoeuvre?'
When you are sure that it's safe ask yourself if there are any other road users who need to know what you intend to do.
If there are other road users give the appropriate signal (by indicator, arm or brake lights).
After signalling, check your mirrors again to find out how drivers behind are reacting.
Check your mirrors to make sure that it's safe to move into the correct position for the manoeuvre.
4. Speed and Gear
Use the footbrake to make sure that you have plenty of time to change gear before the hazard.
If things feel rushed, you're going too fast.
Make a final observation check all around and then complete your manoeuvre.
5. Look, Assess, Decide, Act.
While carrying out the hazard routine you must keep a constant look-out for other road users. Doing this will help to ensure that you have all the information you need to make the correct decisions about your dealing with whatever is ahead.
Note that mirrors have been mentioned at least three times in the routine above - there is no set number of times to check your mirrors...
The important thing is that you MUST always know how your actions will affect following drivers and how their actions will affect your plans. Use your mirrors as often as necessary during the routine.
Two seconds is all it takes...
The most common cause of accidents is a lack of space between vehicles, coupled with excessive speed (5 mph can be too fast in some situations)
You owe it to yourself and your passengers to keep a safe gap between you and the vehicle ahead at all times.
If you are ever behind the wheel, or in the passenger seat and your view to the front is something like that in the picture on the right... It's only a matter of time before the crash.
The easiest way to judge a safe gap is to use the two-second rule. By keeping a minimum of a two second time gap in front of your vehicle (double in poor weather) you will create space in which to react to any emergency that happens ahead. In wet weather or on poor road surfaces you should double this gap. Remember that two seconds is a minimum gap, the longer the gap, the bigger your safety margin.
Look around and you will notice that many drivers neglect to leave a sufficient gap, especially in poor weather conditions - read the news and watch TV and you will see stories about accidents in which people are killed and injured. Coincidence?
Try holding your hand about two inches in front of your eyes and consider what you can see directly in front of you... But not while you are driving!
Now, keeping your hand in front and in line with your eyes, gradually move it away and notice how your view of the world in front is changing.
If you now apply the same principle to large vehicles you will find that by keeping well back you have a wider field of view ahead - this is one of the reasons that drivers are advised to leave a 'two chevron' gap on specially marked sections of motorways.
Quite often, drivers who follow too close to large vehicles miss opportunities to overtake simply because they can't see far enough ahead.
By keeping well back you will be in a much safer position to overtake and as a result of this, you will probably complete your journey quicker.
When should I learn my manoeuvres?
Be patient when it comes to learning manoeuvres - leave them until you have mastered forward driving skills.
There are four 'set manoeuvres' in the UK driving test.
Reverse (parallel) parking
Reversing into a parking bay
Driving into a parking bay and reversing out
Stopping on the right and reversing in a straight line
You won't know which of the manoeuvres you will be asked to do during the test until you are in the car with the examiner.
In addition to these manoeuvres, on some tests the examiner will also ask for an 'emergency stop'.
The reason for being patient and leaving the manoeuvres until you have mastered the skills of controlling the car and making good decisions about other road users, is that the manoeuvres will be easier and you will learn them quicker.
If you start your manoeuvres too soon you will waste driving lesson time and money and also risk becoming de-motivated if you find yourself struggling.
A logical order for set manoeuvres:
Emergency stop as soon as you have mastered basic control skills
Parking on the right - with straight reversing
Finally, parallel parking and dealing with car parks should be left until late on in your course when you have developed a wide range of skills and are gaining confidence.
Although they were dropped from the driving test in 2017 we also recommend that you learn to turn the car around using the 'three-point-turn' method and to reverse into an opening on the left and/or right (for example reversing around a corner). If you were to accidentally turn into a no-through-road on your driving test, the examiner would expect you to be able to turn the car around safely.
This example shows why complex manoeuvres are best late until you have had lots of learning experience (between 20 and 30 hours). Other complex manoeuvres include parallel and bay parking and reversing into openings.
The 'Turn-in-the-road' manoeuvre needs all of the following skills:
Moving off on a slope
Coping with traffic
If you don't have these skills, you will spend too much time and money practising.
The skills for the turn-in-the-road break down as follows:
Clutch control can be learnt as a specific exercise early on in training, but it needs to be 'second nature' before the turn is attempted.
Reversing skills need to be mastered. Broadside across the road with traffic approaching is not the best time to start learning to reverse!
Moving off on a slope is required because of the 'camber' of the road.
Accurate steering will only be achieved after you can turn right into or out of a narrow road.
Angle-starts will help you to co-ordinate clutch-control and steering.
The ability to cope with traffic (learned at crossroads and in narrow streets with parked cars) is essential to deal confidently with vehicles that approach during the turn.
When doing any low speed manoeuvre, for example, parallel parking, you are the 'odd one out', that is, you are the one who is doing something out of the ordinary and getting in the way of other people.
When you complete slow speed manoeuvres keep a good lookout all around, especially your 'blind spot' areas. Just like an OWL!
As a general rule, drivers should always give way to pedestrians, especially to those who are at most risk (the old, young and infirm). But you must also give way to anyone else who is not giving way to you!
A good way to remember about all round observation during manoeuvres is to think about the way that an owl can turn its head all around. Apply the same principle of: Observation Without Limits.
When you are learning to drive there will be times when you have to make decisions but don't know what you should do.
"Do I go or stop?"
The driver in the picture on the right has made a late decision to stop for the cyclist - this is possibly because he wasn't paying attention or he might have been indecisive.
If it was indecision, there is a simple remedy that you can start to apply next time you go out in the car.
There are three distinct choices that you can make in any situation ...
- Don't know
If it's obvious that the road is clear ... You go. If it's obvious that it's not clear... You stop.
What might not be so obvious is that it's also perfectly OK to 'don't know'.
When you are learning to do something new, like driving, it is natural to want to get stuff right - but sometimes you won't know what to do for the best. The good news is that 'Don't know' is what expert drivers do all the time. It's what keeps them alive!
Don't know means don't go, but you must make sure you take action as soon as you are uncertain, not at the last moment!
You will know when you feel uncomfortable - this is the start of your 'don't know' situation.
As soon as any uncomfortable feeling starts, take action and slow down.
By slowing down you give yourself more time to think and give other drivers more time to react. If find that you are going too slow or if you stop, you can easily start again. If you go too fast you might get a ride home in an ambulance - or end up with a hefty repair bill for your car.
As a general guide, as you approach any situation, ask yourself "Is it safe to carry on". If the answer is "Don't know", slow down, and keep slowing down as you approach.
If you still don't know when you are about eight car lengths away from the situation (by which time you will be going very slow!) the decision is easy ... Don't go!
You will find much more information about decisions and routines in different situations in the DriverActive Online Course.
This information is not only essential for safety while you are learning to drive - it is absolutely essential for safe driving after you pass the driving test.
Next time you don't know remember that being unsure is an automatic safety warning designed to keep you safe.
As you gain more experience you will find the decisions become easier to make.
'Don't know' will be keeping you safe when you are out with your instructor on driving lessons, when you pass the driving test and for the rest of your driving life!
Passing other vehicles
In normal driving you should only pass other moving vehicles on their right.
But there are four exceptions to this rule.
If the vehicle in front is signalling to turn right and you can pass safely to the left without entering a bus lane during its period of operation
If you are turning left in a lane specifically designated for left turning traffic.
If traffic is moving slowly in queues and your queue is moving faster than the queue to your right - Note: you should not change lanes to the left simply to overtake in this situation
In one-way streets where vehicles may pass on either side
In all of these situations you must take special care.
Vehicles turning right:
The vehicle you are passing must be signalling to turn right, but don't rely on a signal alone - some drivers are lost or change their mind at the last moment.
Be cautious and be ready to change your mind. If you are in any doubt at all wait until the situation develops and you have more information before reaching a decision.
Left turn lanes:
Some roads have lanes set aside for left turning traffic - filter lanes. You should not use these lanes unless you are turning left and as above, be cautious - drivers on your right may change lanes at the last moment or pull out of a traffic jam to find a different route.
Slow is open to interpretation, however, it is almost certainly lower than 30 mph on fast roads such as dual-carriageways/motorways and on most other roads lower than 10 mph.
Studies have shown that changing lanes does not get you there any quicker when there are traffic jams! Don't change lanes simply to get past other traffic.
You may pass on either side in a one way street but this is not a licence for reckless overtaking.
Drivers that you are passing may not be aware of your presence. Always be ready to give way to drivers who may move to the left without warning!
Also take care to watch for pedestrians who might be crossing from the right and hidden by other vehicles.
Accidents will happen...
Hopefully, you will never be involved in an accident, either as a learner driver or after you have passed your driving test.
The best way to avoid accidents is to adopt a safe driving attitude and follow the advice from your driving instructor and the DriverActive course.
If you are involved in an accident you have a legal duty to stop - even if it is only a minor bump.
The only exception to this rule is if you hit a wild animal, but the laws on cruelty to animals state that you should not cause unnecessary suffering and so it could probably be argued that you have a moral, if not legal, duty to stop in these circumstances as well.
If you have an accident involving injury you must inform the police.
It is always a good idea to get the details of witnesses, this will help in with insurance claims or in the event of a police investigation. Ask your driving instructor for more information.
There are several things that you can do to reduce further risk and save lives if you are at the scene of an accident. Visit the accident procedure page at SmartDriving to find out what to do if the worst happens. As a driver, you owe it to yourself, and others, to be as knowledgeable as possible about these actions for coping with accidents.
You will find much more information about avoiding risk in the DriverActive Online course.
The driver is responsible for the safety of any vehicle that he/she is in charge of.
Whether you are learning to drive with a driving instructor, friends or parents, the rule is the same - there are no special rules for learner drivers.
In the event of an accident, speeding fine or anything else you are liable to penalties - in some situations your driving supervisor can also be liable.
We've said in other places on the site that we don't want to preach to new drivers about what they should or shouldn't do... You have to make your own mind up about what you think is acceptable. But be prepared to face the consequences if you take risks.
Regardless of who a vehicle belongs to, if there is a problem the person behind the wheel is fully or jointly responsible in the eyes of the law. For example, if you are driving an un-roadworthy car that belongs to someone else it's no defence to blame them when you are stopped by the police.
If a friend loads a vehicle for you, check the load to satisfy yourself that the load is safe. Likewise, check that all passenger doors are securely closed before staring to drive.
If you borrow someone else's car, make sure that it is roadworthy and properly insured (for you to drive) before driving.
A car to die for...
It's great to care about your car - to personalise it with spoilers, a paint job, alloy wheels... And if you absolutely must, furry dice.
But all of this stuff is second to safety - first spend your money on an MOT and make sure your car is 100% roadworthy. It's your licence, and your life and your friends' lives that you are dicing with if the vehicle you drive doesn't cut it
If the vehicle you are driving is not roadworthy, you might well find that, as well as being legally responsible, your insurance might also be invalidated. If you have recently passed your driving test, you could be ordered by the courts to take another one - back to 'L' plates!
Some new drivers aren't so lucky, they end up in prison - and worse, some never make it out of the hospital. OK, this is a bit 'preachy', sorry, but it's how it is.
You will find more information about legal requirements in the Full DriverActive Online Course.
Chill! Avoid road rage
Every driving licence comes with a set of responsibilities.
As a driver you are responsible for the safety of yourself, your passengers and other road users - this means you need a good attitude.
If you ever feel annoyed, ask your driving instructor for tips to stay calm (also in the Full DriverActive Online course).
If another driver pulls out in front of you, put safety first. Chill out! Check your mirrors, slow down and be prepared to stop.
It might be that the other driver is a PRATT (Person Responsible for Atrocious Traffic Trauma) and has moved out aggressively.
But so what?
He/She is the one who looks stupid and you are safer with them in front and clearly visible, you will see the accident but not be involved in it!
On the other hand, the other driver may have misjudged the situation and genuinely made a mistake.
None of us, no matter how experienced, are immune from mistakes. And of course you don't know the full story - it could be that the other driver is rushing to hospital to see a loved one who has been in a car accident...
If you feel up-tight, take a couple of deep breaths and ease off the gas. The other driver is going to take about three seconds of your life - this hardly a lifetime. But three seconds could be all that is left of your lifetime if you respond aggressively and end up in an accident - or being attacked by an aggressive driver (Google road rage attacks).
Avoid becoming a victim of your own road-rage. let it go...
Get a grip!
Your tyres are your only contact with the road - bearing this in mind you must treat them with tender loving care.
No matter how well your driving instructor helps you to learn to drive, or how quickly you pass the driving test, if your car has defective tyres there is a real risk that you won't be behind the wheel for long.
One of the ways that you can show love and affection for your tyres is to check their pressures regularly - at least once a week.
Tyres should be checked when they are cold. This means you should drive no further than your nearest garage to check them.
When you drive, friction causes your tyres to heat up, this, in turn, causes the air inside to expand and the pressure to increase. If you check tyres when they are warm you will get an inaccurate reading (manufacturer's recommended tyre pressures are for cold tyres).
Check your tyres!
If you neglect your tyres you run the risk of blow-outs and consequently, an increased accident risk. Often people say 'It happened so quickly, there was nothing I could do!" (use your web browser's back arrow to return to this page if visiting the blow-outs page).
In reality, tyres usually take weeks or months of neglect before they burst - but sooner or later thy will.
Ask your driving instructor to teach you how to check tyres for wear, damage and pressure (most good instructors will do this as part of a 'garage routines' lesson).
You will find more information about vehicle safety in the Full DriverActive Online course.
There are times, either during your driving lessons or after you have passed your driving-test, that you will feel tired in the car. If this happens, follow the advice below.
On some roads, particularly on motorways, you will see signs that say 'Tiredness can kill - Take a break'
At 60 m.p.h., falling asleep for just one second will mean that you travel about 30 metres with no control.
Try walking briskly 30 metres with your eyes tightly closed and see how it feels!
Opening the window, turning on the air conditioning, or playing loud music are an OK short term fix to get you to the nearest safe parking place but they are not effective in keeping drivers alert for any extended period of time. If you feel tired, stop as soon as possible for a walk or a sleep - on a motorway this means taking the first available exit (or service area if this comes before the next exit).
You may be suffering from drowsiness or fatigue if you become aware of any of the following points. Continuing to drive in this condition will put you at serious risk of being involved in a fatigue-related crash. You should park the car in a safe place at the first opportunity and get some rest.
Warning signs include
Can't remember the last few miles driven - Having wandering or disconnected thoughts- Experiencing difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open- Having trouble keeping your head up - Drifting out of your lane or hit a rumble strip - Yawning a lot - Following other traffic more closely than normal - Make sudden steering corrections.
If you feel tired
Take a nap for at least 15 to 20 minutes
Take frequent breaks at service areas
Get plenty of sleep the night before a long trip
Never drink and drive, this will increase tiredness
Be aware of the signs that you are tired
Take frequent breaks at least every two hours or 100 miles
Snow and ice hold many dangers for drivers.
The most obvious danger is the lack of grip between the tyres and the road surface.
It's very easy to be lulled into a false sense of security when sitting in a warm car. But remember that in the winter it's freezing out there and so there are likely to be icy patches!
The grip of the tyres can be broken by any sudden action, this is why driving on very slippery surfaces requires careful and delicate use of the car's steering, brakes, accelerator and clutch.
The best advice for drivers in winter is 'stay at home' in wintry weather. Especially in icy weather.
Ice, unlike snow, is not always easy to see. The first sign may be an eerie silence. This will be coupled with light steering. If this happens, allow plenty of time to stop (up to ten times your normal stopping distance).
To reduce the risk of wheel-spin and sideways skids, use the highest gear that it is practically possible.
Move off in second gear, change to fourth or fifth gear early. It's OK if your car grumbles a little bit - in fact, the nearer to stalling it is, the more grip you have.
When you first drive in snow, try and find an empty car park, or similar location, and 'play' for a while by driving slowly in circles, etc. This will give you a feel for your car's ability to grip the road and improve your control skills.
Moving off in snow and ice is best done using the highest gear possible - this will usually be second gear. If you encounter wheel-spin, ease off the gas, otherwise you will simply 'polish' the snow and ice, making it more slippery. 'Rock' the car back and forth to get it moving (clutch up and down).
Once you are moving, keep your speed down and use the highest practical gear. Gentle use of all controls is essential. Always leave plenty of space between yourself and the car ahead, otherwise you may end up being stuck (literally) behind less skilful drivers.
If you get stuck stay in your vehicle but be careful about keeping the engine running - there is a real danger of fumes filling the car and so you must ensure that there is a good clear area for the exhaust fumes to dissipate (you might have to clear snow from the rear of the car to do this). Only run your engine for about 20 minutes in each hour.
See Winter Motoring at the SmartDriving web site for detailed information.