Driving Hints and Tips

Pet passengers

If you drive with your pet, the Highway Code states that any animal travelling in a moving vehicle must be suitably restrained. If your pet is not properly secured, you could invalidate your car insurance so make sure you take the necessary precautions ranging from pet cages to specialist safety harnesses. To help create the perfect driving conditions for your pet and other passengers, try the following tips:

Make sure your dog is exercised before travelling so it will be more inclined to rest during the drive. Don’t feed your pet within two hours of starting a long journey as this could make it carsick. Pack a favourite toy or blanket to create a sense of familiarity. Never leave your dog in a hot car as they can quickly become dangerously overheated. When the outside temperature is just 20 degrees, inside a closed car in sun it can rise to 45 degrees in minutes. Always carry a large water bottle (five litres minimum) in case your dog overheats and needs rapid cooling. Don’t let your pet ride with its head hanging out of the window, this is potentially dangerous and could lead to an injury. Always leave a lead on your dog so it can be instantly controlled in an emergency. Many dogs suffer from anxiety when travelling, so keep initial journeys short for puppies and extend them as they mature.

Horn blower

Make sure you know the rules about honking your horn as you could face a fine ranging from £30 to £1,000 if you don’t comply. Never use your horn out of frustration at another driver or in stationary traffic. According to the Highway Code, you should only use your horn when your car is moving and you need to warn others of your presence. It states that the horn is not a tool to alarm others ‘without reasonable intention’. In addition, there are only certain times of day when you can use it. Rule 112 of the Highway Code states you must not honk your horn when driving in a built-up area between 23:30 and 07:00.

Essential oils

Don’t waste money on car fresheners that smell artificial and look even worse. Instead, choose some wooden clothes pegs and sprinkle a few drops of your favourite essential oils (lavender, rosemary, frankincense, bergamot) on top. Attach the clothes pegs to your vent. Each time you turn on the heat or air conditioner, your car will smell incredible.

Tailgating

When it comes to fines associated with tailgating, research shows that one in three drivers are unaware there are official penalties. These can range from a caution, referral to driver improvement scheme, £100 fine and three penalty points, a driving ban or even prison.

While many drivers will have experienced being the victim of tailgating, fewer see themselves as the perpetrator. There seems to be a double standard: a lot of drivers are happy to get somebody else to speed up or move over in this manner, but don’t like it when it’s done to them. According to the police, many motorists inadvertently tailgate due to a lack of awareness of the correct distance to leave between your car and the one in front. This is why the ‘two second rule’ is so important in keeping a safe distance between your car and the one in-front. To check you are following the rule, simply pick a roadside landmark (like a sign, lamp post or tree) and when the vehicle in front of you passes it, start counting ‘one thousand and one, one thousand and two’. If you pass the landmark before you finish counting then you need to drop back and stop tailgating.

Mirror, mirrors

It’s essential to check you’re using your mirrors correctly at all times. This means always using your mirrors: before you move off to check it’s safe to pull out into traffic; before you signal to check you won’t confuse a driver behind you; before any change of direction including turning, overtaking and changing lanes; before any change in your speed to make sure other drivers have time to react; before you do anything that could interfere with what other road users are doing. Remember side mirrors are convex (curved outwards) so things look further away than they actually are. As a general guideline, try to use your mirrors every five seconds. Say to yourself ‘1-2-3-4-5 mirrors check’.

Those mirror checks

It may be one of the first things you learn, but lack of observation and missing an essential mirror check is one of the main causes for minor faults during the practical test. While examiners are trained to look out for you checking your mirrors, sometimes being a bit over the top in your mirror checking won’t do any harm. Move your head when checking your mirrors and your examiner is less likely to give you a minor fault than if you give the mirror just a cursory glance. You could even get into the practice of saying ‘mirrors’ quietly out loud every time you check to make sure your examiner knows you are doing it. It’s all about demonstrating that you are observing the situation properly, and acting on the information received

Eating at the wheel

You could land yourself a hefty fine if you are caught eating or drinking behind the wheel. As it stands, eating and drinking while driving is not illegal, but should your food or beverage cause a distraction, then it can be categorised as ‘careless driving’. While there’s no specific law against snacking at the wheel, a police officer can still issue a penalty for careless driving at their discretion if they feel eating or drinking has been a contributing factor. This currently carries a penalty of £100 and three penalty points.

Hill parking

Even if you live in a relatively flat area, it’s important you know how to park on a hill safely. Always make sure you park close to the kerb or verge and apply the handbrake firmly. If you are facing uphill at a curb or verge, remember to turn your front wheels away from the curb, towards the road so if your car rolls backwards your front tyre will hit the curb or verge and stop the car rolling back further. It’s also important to select first gear (or ‘park’ if you are driving an automatic), this will keep your engine engaged and prevent your car from further rolling.

If you park facing downhill, turn your front wheels towards the curb or shoulder and select reverse gear, this will stop your car rolling into the road should your brakes become disengaged. If you are parking uphill or downhill but on the right-hand side of the road, simply turn the wheel in the opposite direction to that when you park on the left.

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.