Driving Hints and Tips

Dashboard warning lights

You should be aware that the varying colour lights displayed via your dashboard symbols communicate the severity of an issue within the car. There are five colour lights that can appear on your dashboard, namely red, amber, blue, white or green. Red is the most urgent warning and relates to something which must be addressed immediately as it will have serious implications regarding the safety of your car. Certain red warning lights refer to safety issues which can be resolved straight away, such as putting on your seatbelt or shutting a door, but others relate to something significantly more severe, such as an engine fault. Amber lights are advisory, such as the oil being low, and signal a potential problem if not dealt with fairly promptly. Blue, green and white lights usually signify that a system in the car is switched on, such as the air con or your headlights.

Powers of observation

Overwhelmingly the most common cause of an incident on the road is a driver failing to look properly and not being sufficiently observant. Blind spots aside, this is no excuse for SMIDSY or ‘Sorry mate, I didn’t see you’. It is therefore vital to stay alert and avoid any form of distraction such as using or reaching for devices and controls, eating and drinking, being ‘lost in thought’ or simply looking at something outside the car. Remember, before you make any manoeuvre, you need to look not once, but twice. At least.

Insurance quotes

If you’re on a budget, many drivers assume third party insurance (the minimum legal requirement which only covers damage to other vehicles) will be the cheapest. But next time you renew your policy, try getting quotes for fully comprehensive cover as well (which also covers damage you’re responsible for to your own vehicle). Surprisingly, the algorithm of insurance companies’ computers often means it’s cheaper than third party.

Private practice

Apart from driving lessons, additional practice is a useful way of gaining experience behind the wheel before your test. However, as a provisional licence holder you must be supervised by someone over 21-years-old by law, and some insurers require them to be at least 25, with 75 the upper age limit, so it’s best to check. Your supervisor must have held a full UK driving licence for at least three years, and it must be for the same type of vehicle they are going to supervise you in. Failing this is punishable by a fine up to £1,000 and six penalty points for the learner. It is also important to note that all road traffic laws for drivers apply to your supervisor. This means it is illegal for them to use a phone as a passenger while supervising you, or be over the drink-driving limit. Further to that, their eyesight must meet legal standards to supervise; they need to be able to read a car number plate 20 metres away, with glasses or contact lenses if necessary. As a learner, you are allowed to have other people in the car who do not meet these requirements, providing your supervisor is in the front passenger seat and able to take control. Official L plates should be visible on both the front and back of the vehicle.

Driving licence check

Keeping your driving licence up-to-date and accurate is essential as it’s a legal requirement on the road and failure to do so could lead to a £1,000 fine. Most drivers are aware that you need to update your address when you move home, even temporarily. Similarly, if you change your title or get married then you also need to update it. However, you may not be aware that your photocard licence expires every 10 years, so each decade you will need to renew your licence as the photograph expires. To check your expiry date, look at the list of numbered information on the front of your licence and check point 4b.

Analyse your moves

Instead of simply forgetting ‘oops factor’ moments, take a moment at the end of your journey to think about why a particular incident occurred. It may be all you need to identify the reason and adapt your observation or concentration techniques to prevent a similar situation happening again. Try to learn from your mistake and make yourself think back and wonder why you didn’t see another vehicle or why you misjudged a vehicle’s speed or distance. This will help improve your driving in much the same way that elite sports players analyse their performance. It’s not about apportioning blame, but recognising situations that could lead to an ‘oops moment’ and what could you do differently next time to reduce risk to yourself and those around you.

Clear signals

As a driver, you should use signals to inform, not instruct. Giving the correct signals at the right time and in the right way is an essential part of good driving, and your only way of communicating with other road users. You should never use signals to give orders to other drivers; a signal never gives you the right to make a move, such as a lane-change on a motorway, on the assumption that other drivers will give way. The art of proper signalling requires practice as well as learning. The ground rules are simple: use only those signals described in the Highway Code. Do not make up your own signals or copy those adopted by other drivers. Even if a personal signalling device seems perfectly clear to you, it could be misleading to others who may not understand what you are trying to ‘say’.

Crystal clear

As a motorist, you must ensure your driving does not have a negative impact on others, and this also applies to how your car is kept, especially your windscreen. After all, a filthy windscreen could impair your vision and consequently your decision making and reaction times. Under Regulation 30 of The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, drivers are warned they must keep all glass clear of obstruction. The law states: ‘All glass or other transparent material fitted to a motor vehicle shall be maintained in such condition that it does not obscure the vision of the driver while the vehicle is being driven on a road.’ A dirty or muddy surface could see you charged with careless driving which carries a £100 on-the-spot fine and three penalty points on your licence. Best advice, always keep your windscreen crystal clear and your screen wash topped up.

Watch that space

If you have stopped on a hill in traffic, always allow a little extra room in case the vehicle in front of you should roll back slightly. The driver may not have applied the handbrake firmly enough, or may make such a clumsy start that their vehicle rolls back a couple of feet before it moves forward, so always leave an extra few feet as a margin. The fact that learners — and some more experienced drivers — have been known to select reverse instead of first emphasises the value of leaving that extra gap when you have to wait in traffic on a hill.

Splashing out

You may think driving through puddles or roadside water is a bit of fun, but anyone who has been drenched would probably welcome a financial penalty for the driver. Under section three of the Road Traffic Act 1988, it is illegal to splash someone as it amounts to driving ‘without reasonable consideration for other persons.’ Those found guilty of deliberately splashing pedestrians face a £100 fixed penalty notice and three penalty points if caught by police. If you are deemed to be driving in a manner that ‘amounts to a clear act of incompetence, selfishness, impatience, and aggressiveness’ then the maximum punishment of a £5,000 fine could be imposed. Best advice: always watch out for pedestrians and other road users and avoid unwanted soakings.