Driving Hints and Tips

Fuel saving tactics

Drivers everywhere are looking for ways to help save on fuel costs. Small and simple adjustments to save you money start with being careful as you fill up your car. Did you know that the metal part of the fuel pump can retain a small amount of fuel after you stop pumping? For this reason, it’s worth waiting a few more seconds before retracting the nozzle as it can hold up to 250ml of fuel. This will allow it to drain into your tank rather than splashing down your paintwork or on to the forecourt. It won’t be a life-changing amount of money that you save, but over the year it can add up. Another useful money-saving tactic involves learning to drive at a constant speed over speed bumps. Most drivers tend to slow down for the bump and then accelerate after passing over it, but this constant slowing down and acceleration over and between bumps affects your fuel consumption as this is when most fuel is used. Approaching speed bumps in a consistent way that keeps you moving without losing momentum makes good sense and is an easy way to improve your fuel economy. This ‘slow-down, speed-up’ driving is mostly found in 20mph zones, and by sticking to the speed limit, you’ll find you can cross most speed humps safely at 20mph. Just remember that the faster you drive the more fuel you will use. Generally, the most efficient speed to drive is around 45-50mph. According to the Department for Transport, driving at 70mph uses 9% more fuel than at 60mph, and 15% more than at 50mph.

Simple tunnel tactics

You may assume that driving through tunnels is easy, you just keep going until you get to the other end. However, there are some things to consider as you approach a tunnel and for some drivers, they are a cause of anxiety. To avoid any issues, as you approach the tunnel, make sure you get into the right lane early and watch out for drivers changing lanes to second guess which lane will be travelling quickest. If you are wearing sunglasses, be sure to take them off. If you wear prescription sunglasses and can’t see properly without them, remember to change to your regular glasses in good time before entering the tunnel and for some drivers, adjusting to changes in light levels can cause difficulties. You should also put your dipped headlights on. It’s important to see and be seen and while it may be sunny outside, it won’t be in the tunnel. Keep an eye out for speed limits as they are likely to change as you approach, so stay alert for signs near or at the tunnel entrance. Once inside, keep an eye out for phones and emergency exits. It’s also useful to listen out for local traffic news or for information on gantries to be sure there are no issues before you enter. If for some reason the traffic stops while you’re in the tunnel, leave a safe space of a least five metres between your vehicle and the one in front, and turn off your engine if the traffic is at a standstill. You should never overtake in a tunnel with two-way traffic and don’t get out of your car, reverse or make a U-turn unless there’s an emergency.

Watch out, bikers about

Vulnerable road users are people who require extra care and motorcyclists fall into this group. As you’ll discover, bikers can surprise you by appearing in your rear or side mirror as if by magic even though you checked your mirrors moments before. You need to bear in mind that your eye is only looking at a very small area at any given time and motorcycles are small and quick enough to fall outside your field of vision and avoid immediate detection. This can happen even if the motorcyclist is right in front of you. A bike approaching head-on from a distance occupies a very small part of your vision and may be moving at such as speed that your eye won’t properly register its presence before it’s close to you. The shape of a rider and motorcycle is also more likely to blend into the images you’re seeing as you drive, and difficult to spot against a background of moving traffic. For these reasons, it’s extremely important to look around and keep scanning and checking your mirrors to double check your car’s blind spots before making any manoeuvre. The more you make a conscious effort to look around you, the better the overall mental picture of your surroundings and the less likely you’ll be surprised by a biker behind or overtaking you. It’s also important to remember that a motorcyclist can react quicker than a driver, so if you’re following behind a biker, maintain an adequate distance should they suddenly brake or turn. If you’re aware that there is a motorbike close behind you, signal your intention to turn sooner than you normally would.

Be cool, be courteous

Being a considerate driver generally means that you’re less likely to be involved in an incident, less likely to incur a fine, your car will last longer and you’ll probably enjoy driving more. As you gain experience behind the wheel, you’ll realise there are many ways to support others safely on the road. Perhaps one of the kindest examples is to give way to another driver during the rush hour as peak travelling times can test drivers’ patience, attitude and decision-making skills. There are so many meaningful and considerate gestures that are easy to observe, cost you nothing and make all the difference to fellow drivers. Some examples to adopt include making sure that you always park in the middle of a bay. With the ever-expanding girth of cars, this is important. If you leave your car right on the white line, the chances are the driver in the next bay will have to do the same, and there comes a point where the bays next to walls or bollards become needlessly unusable. You also need to be aware of how much space you leave between yourself and other cars. Can the owner of the car next to you open their door or boot easily? Considerate drivers also give other motorists comfortable space on the road and avoid creating unnecessary pressure by tailgating, even if the driver ahead is going too slowly and you’re in a hurry. If you drive too closely behind the car in front at night, your headlights will dazzle that driver’s mirror which is irritating, plus you’ll no longer be able to see what’s ahead of them which is simply dangerous. Again, if you park, stop or wait for someone even for a minute, be considerate and switch your engine off. Idling creates emissions which affect people walking by and you could be liable for an engine idling fine. Be friendly and follow the rules of the road.

Ditch those distractions

Distracted driving happens when you’re not focusing solely on your actions as a driver. Even the smallest thing can distract you and we often don’t realise the full impact this can have on our concentration. Research shows that we can’t effectively multi-task on more than one cognitively demanding task at the same time. In terms of driving, the more complex the manoeuvre, the greater a distraction is likely to affect you, delaying your reactions and endangering yourself and other road users. Both new and experienced drivers risk losing focus, but once you’re aware of the type of things that can threaten concentration, you can take preventative steps. Most instances are down to distractions in your car. There are four main culprits. These are visual, for example, looking at anything other than the road, other road users, signs, road markings and potential hazards. Anything auditory that encourages you to lose focus or anything manual that prompts you to take a hand off the steering wheel, and fourthly, cognitive distraction. This is the most common as we’re all prone to thinking about other things or daydreaming as we drive. This is dangerous as you often don’t realise it’s happening. The most typical distractions to guard against are your mobile phone, eating and drinking, smoking, using a satnav incorrectly, passengers, pets, adjusting the radio and doing your hair and makeup. To help focus your attention back on the road, always practice defensive driving by keeping your eyes on the move and proactively looking for potential hazards ahead. It’s also important to prepare in advance, sort out your phone and satnav before you drive off, have your water in a convenient place, secure your pets. Also, get used to pulling over to deal with potential distractions, for example, messaging someone or having a snack. Sense-check your actions, and if you find something disrupts your concentration, make every effort to avoid that situation.

When to toot your horn

Using the car horn improperly is more common than you might think. According to the road safety charity, IAM RoadSmart, an estimated eight million drivers run the risk of a fine for sounding their horn inappropriately. It’s worth noting that Rule 112 of the Highway Code states that drivers should only use their horns when their car is moving and when they need to warn other road users of their presence. In the eyes of the law, you must not use your horn aggressively because it’s not a device to draw the attention of other road users without viable and reasonable intention, so never use your horn to indicate annoyance or when stationary. For example, don’t beep when you pull up at a friend’s house to say you’ve arrived. It’s also illegal to sound your horn while driving in a built-up area between 11:30pm and 7:00am. Most drivers know the rules when it comes to wearing a seatbelt or using a mobile phone, but may not be aware that using the horn inappropriately can lead to a non-endorsable fixed penalty notice (FPN) of £30. More importantly, you not only run the risk of a fine, but could be risking your own as well as other road users’ safety. Tooting your horn aggressively or at an inappropriate time can panic other road users, prompting them to make rushed or risky decisions. You never know how another driver might react to such a challenge so why risk confrontation? However, there are times when it is appropriate to beep, for example, approaching a blind bend on a single-track road. Again, if a car starts to reverse towards you as you are approaching, honking alerts them to the potential danger. As you’ll discover, you often only have a split second to make decisions when driving and this applies to beeping your horn, that’s why it’s important to follow the Highway Code and avoid using it as a reflex.

No need to wing it

As a learner, it’s essential to know how to set-up your wing or side mirrors correctly. While they’re not a replacement for turning your head and looking over your shoulder to check your blind spots, they do help to minimise them and inform you of what’s going on behind your car. For this reason, it’s important they are properly positioned. The control to adjust your side mirrors could be electronic or manual. Whichever method, you should always start with the driver’s side mirror first and position yourself as if you were driving. You then need to adjust this mirror so that a small portion of your car, from around the backdoor handle towards the boot is visible with the rest of the mirror showing the surroundings. If you can see too much of your car in the mirror, move it further out, and if you can’t see your car at all, then move it back in. Next adjust the angle of the mirror so that the horizon sits in the middle of the glass and the view should be flat, not angled. An overly wide-angled view will reduce your blind spot and you could miss seeing cyclists close to your car. Again, if you angle your mirror too far inwards, you could be surprised by someone changing lanes or emerging from a junction. Follow the same steps for the left side mirror moving it until you can see most of the road and part of the car. The only thing that’s different is the angle of the left side mirror. It should be slightly lower than the right side, to give a better view of the kerb when you pull over or complete a manoeuvre. You’ll need to check your side mirrors every time you drive, especially if you share a car. Finally, never rely on your side mirrors to get out of the car, use the Dutch Reach instead. By using your hand furthest from the door to open it, this forces you to swivel and look behind before opening your door on an unexpected road user.

Lessons in confidence

One way to become a confident learner is to use your driving lessons effectively. It pays to remember that these lessons are about more than passing your practical test first time. They’re about giving you the skills and confidence to drive safely for the rest of your life. During your lessons, you are in a unique position with an experienced professional sitting right beside you, so use this time to address any confidence issues you may have. Once you pass your test, you’ll no longer be able to rely on their instant expertise. After all, it’s their job to teach you, answer your questions and give you tips, so use them. It’s no times to be self-conscious. If you let embarrassment or shyness stop you from asking to do something again, and again if necessary, you’re letting a valuable opportunity slip away. It doesn’t matter if it’s a straightforward manoeuvre or one you were taught at the start of your lessons, if you feel uncertain, ask to go back to the beginning and be taught again from scratch. Get the hang of it properly and that way your confidence will naturally increase. To get the most out of your lessons, always ask the questions that come to mind as you are driving, tell your instructor which areas you feel unsure about, and always ask for an honest appraisal at the end of each session. To gain maximum benefit from each lesson, it’s also important to be alert and well-rested beforehand.

Cars in clever camouflage

You may have noticed weird and wonderful camouflage designs on test-driven cars, especially in the motoring media and wondered why? In this digital age, scoop photos and spyshots are global in a matter of minutes, prompting car manufactures to go to ever-greater lengths to keep their top-secret future models under wraps. As a result, automotive camouflage has evolved into quite an art form as there comes a point in every car’s development when the engineers have to test the prototype on public roads and in the real world. This is where an appropriate disguise or distinctive ‘camo’ comes in handy using vinyl wraps, usually in black and white which work best to keep the vehicle’s design obscured. The wrap patterns have become increasingly complex with layered graphics creating optical illusions. The psychedelic swirls intentionally confuse the human eye and autofocus camera, and distract prying eyes from the curvature of panelwork. The thin plastic wraps stuck on to the prototype bodywork are often swollen with disruptive padding to mask sensitive shapes along with dummy headlights to hide the real ones. The idea of vehicle camouflage was inspired by the First World War. Navy ships were painted with large angular shaped patterns in contrasting colours known as dazzle camo to break up their profiles and mislead the enemy. Today, camo has become a sophisticated form of promotion attracting more attention than deflecting it, yet cleverly preserving the mystery and suspense for the big reveal.

Always indicate your intention

While you must signal your intentions clearly on the road, it can be tricky. There are no precise laws around when to indicate, and it’s equally important not to use your indicator lights unnecessarily, or leave them on when you’ve finished a manoeuvre to avoid confusing other road users. Indicators should be used to signal any manoeuvre that isn’t moving straight ahead to show you intend to change direction or position on the road. This will include pulling over to the side of the road, changing lanes, overtaking, turning a corner, taking an exit and turning off a roundabout. Forgetting to use your indicators is considered an offence of ‘careless and inconsiderate driving’ or ‘driving without due care and attention’. However, given there are no black and white rules, it’s essential to know when to indicate and timing is all. Whenever you need to make a manoeuvre, always check your mirrors to make sure it is safe, then signal your intentions to other drivers before making your move. Note that signalling does not give you priority so don’t assume other drivers will give you space just because you’ve indicated. Signalling too soon will confuse other motorists as it could suggest you’re changing lanes or making an earlier turn. Only indicate when you are approaching the turn or manoeuvre you wish to make. Remembering to cancel your indicators is just as important. If you keep signalling after your move, other drivers will be expecting you to take another turn or change lanes. If you’re unsure whether your indicators are needed, it is always safer to signal. Mastering the ability to know when you should and shouldn’t indicate comes with experience, and it will be up to you to assess each situation and respond appropriately.