Driving Hints and Tips

Space yourself

The safety space in front of your car is the easiest one to control as you can simply adjust the gap between yourself and the vehicle in front by varying your speed. If you’re regularly getting a close-up view of large or slow vehicles, then you need to maintain a safer gap to give you more time to react or stop. Your forward safety gap must always be large enough to stop safely in half of the clear distance you can see ahead.

An easy way to maintain this gap on a dry road is to use the ‘two-second rule’. Applying this rule is easy. First, watch the car ahead of you pass a static marker point. A tree, a phone box, a lamp-post, or any fixed reference point. As the vehicle passes the fixed point, recite the following phrase at a normal speaking rate: ‘Only a fool breaks the two-second rule’. This should take approximately two seconds to say. You should have finished the phrase as, or before, you reach the fixed reference point. If you pass the point before you finish speaking, you are too close to the car in front; pull back and try again.
In poor weather your gap should be at least double. As the vehicle in front passes a fixed point, recite the following at a normal speaking rate: ‘Only a fool breaks the two-second rule – and more time in the wet’. This should take approximately four seconds to say. Again, you should have finished the phrase as, or before, you reach the fixed reference point. Initially the gap might seem very large – if this is the case, it’s indicative that up to now you’ve been driving too close and trusting to ‘good luck’ to keep you safe.

Emphasis on eyesight

When it comes to driving your eyes are the most important sense as 90 per cent of the information you process is visual and therefore fundamental to your decision-making on the road. However, because changes in vision can be slow, you may not notice subtle differences. At present, drivers must take responsibility for their own eye health and regular checks. The guidelines advise an eye test every two years until the age of 70 and annually after this. The law states that all car drivers must be able to read a standard number plate, in good daylight, from a distance of 20 metres – with spectacles or corrective lenses if required. A good stride is approximately one metre, so pace out the distance and check you meet the legal minimum without squinting or screwing up your eyes.

If you’re told you must wear glasses for driving, then make sure you wear them. Failure to do so could invalidate your insurance if you’re involved in an incident. The best advice is always to carry a spare pair, especially on long journeys or driving abroad. In some countries it’s a legal requirement. Remember, the police has the power to require a driver, at any time, to undertake an eyesight test in good daylight. The maximum penalty for driving with defective sight is £1,000, three penalty points or a discretionary disqualification.

Pick your passenger

As a new driver you’ll have to take a passenger of your own age for the first time at some point. Just remember that driving with your instructor doesn’t prepare you for chatting with a mate and driving, so your first passengers can help by being quiet and not encouraging you to drive in a way you don’t want to.

Best advice: build up, starting with one responsible friend before carrying multiple passengers.

Again, you’ll probably have kids or a pet as passengers at some point and they are a distraction, so it’s best to wait a while until you are 100% confident. If you do have to drive a child or animal somewhere, remember they’re unpredictable. Make sure they’re securely settled and if in doubt how to do this check online for regulations.

Red X on motorways

This symbol is an increasingly common sight especially on the new generation of smart motorways where traffic is managed and lanes controlled. You’ll find it either on an overhead gantry, or increasingly on cantilever signs at the side of the road. Regardless of where you see the sign, be it a normal traffic lane or on a motorway hard shoulder, it simply means do not drive in that lane as it is closed to traffic. Ignoring the ‘red X’ sign is an offence as it’s dangerous to so. Any driver who ignores this sign could be fined £60 and receive three penalty points on their driving licence.

Your speed triggers

We all have our ‘speed triggers’ that make us more likely to speed up and perhaps exceed the limit unintentionally. This could be feeling pressurised into keeping up with other drivers, or feeling stressed by a driver too close behind. Being tempted to overtake a vehicle in front may also mean exceeding the limit to complete the manoeuvre. Distractions, such as listening to loud music, can also pick up your speed or it could be something as simple as going down hill.

Learning to recognise your own ‘speed triggers’ will make it easier to avoid being ‘pushed’ into speeding. It will also make driving less stressful. Many cars now have speed management devices that allow you to set certain speeds and receive a warning when they are being exceeded. If your car has a pre-set speed function, set this to flag up if you creep over certain speeds without realising.

Car paintwork protection

Innocent everyday happenings like accidentally spilled fuel, doodles on a dirty car or bird droppings can leave long-lasting stains, scratches and cause corrosion to your paintwork. Luckily, you can prevent this by cleaning away spills, splatters and muck promptly and properly.

Bugs might be tiny but can damage the paint on your car. Insects are surprisingly acidic, and if they are not properly cleaned off they can etch into the paint. Again, avoid filling your fuel tank to the top as this increases the chance of spillage. If not quickly wiped away (with a micro-fibre cloth), the spilled fuel can seep into your topcoat causing it to lose shine, and leave a stain on your car’s finish that is difficult to remove.

Likewise bird droppings can do damage. With a diet of berries, seeds and gravel, these acidic and grainy droppings can stain, dull and scratch your paintwork if ignored. Surprisingly, writing a message or doodle on a dirty car also causes damage. Dragging your fingers across the paint acts like sandpaper, grinding the dirt and debris into the paint, leaving wiry markings that will last long after the dirt is gone. Again, murky air can leave a fine layer of ash or soot on your car. Don’t wash this away with water because mixing water with this layer can create powerful alkalies that will ruin your car’s finish. Instead, dust the layer away first before washing. Remember you can cause further damage if you use dirty washing accessories. Even if you’re using the softest cloth or sponge, the moment it drops on the ground it will pick up microscopic grit, sand and dirt, which can’t be entirely washed off. If this happens, grab a new one by keeping a spare beside you.

Thought for the day

Make sure you are in the right frame of mind before you get behind the wheel. Expect the unexpected and understand that you cannot control the traffic, only your reaction to it. Never take it personally and don’t make assumptions. Always give other drivers the benefit of the doubt, they could be lost, unsure of their route or have an emergency. The chances are they have not cut you off intentionally. The best advice: always apply the common courtesy that you would show to your family, friends or work colleagues. Remember driving is a partnership largely between strangers taking part in a common purpose; collaborate and we all benefit.

Traffic light basics

As we know green means go, red means stop and contrary to popular belief, the amber light doesn’t mean that you should speed up to squeeze through the lights. Remember, the amber light is there to tell you to slow down and stop because the red light is on its way, unless you’ve already driven over the line. Occasionally traffic lights will breakdown so be prepared when this happens. If you suspect that the traffic lights aren’t working, always proceed extremely carefully. Roads without rules are dangerous (which is why you are learning) so drive very slowly and keep your eyes peeled.

Mist and fog

Mist and fog are often used interchangeably as they are closely related, however, there is a key difference depending on how far you can see through them. The defining difference is visibility; if it’s less than 1,000 metres we call it ‘fog’ and if visibility is greater than 1,000 metres we call it ‘mist’. Importantly, if visibility is less than 100 metres (length of a football pitch) put on your fog lights and remember to turn them off when visibility improves.

One thing drivers forget about fog is that it coats everything with a damp, moist layer in much the same way as light rain. That includes the road surface, so take this into account when you’re at the wheel. It doesn’t help that fog blanks out your vision of the road surface ahead, so the fact that the road is wet is not always obvious. This effect is worse at night, dusk or sunset. What’s more, if it’s cold enough, the moist layer will turn to ice, making driving conditions even more hazardous. So if it’s foggy, remember the effect this can have on the road surface, and drive accordingly.

Carry a spare bulb set

It’s not uncommon to see a car with one brake light out and if you’re the one driving, you may not realise it needs replacing. Although easily done, a faulty brake light is dangerous as it’s vital that cars behind you can tell when you’re slowing down, especially if you have to stop suddenly.
Light bulbs can go at anytime, so it’s wise to carry a spare. Also, if you are stopped by the police for having a broken light, they cannot charge you if you are able to replace the defective bulb there and then. This will save you a possible fine, points on your licence and an automatic breathalyser test. The best advice: ask someone to help you check your brake lights by standing behind your car while you apply the brakes. You should do this once a week. If you don’t feel confident fitting the new bulb yourself, your local Halfords or garage will do it for a small fee.