Driving Hints and Tips

What is freezing rain?

Arguably the most treacherous of all road conditions, freezing rain occurred during February 2018 when ‘The Beast from the East’ collided with Storm Emma. It is a rare weather phenomenon which sees water droplets freeze into snow before passing through patches of warmer air and melting into rain. The rain then passes through sub-zero temperatures nearer the ground and freezes on contact with a cold surface like a road or car windscreen, creating an invisible lethal glaze across roads and pavements. Under these conditions, the RAC advises drivers to avoid travel.

Dawn and dusk

These can be tricky times behind the wheel and demand your full attention. The road surface, pedestrians and other vehicles often are shrouded in shadow at these hours, while the sky remains fairly bright. That contrast creates a problem – the light sky prevents drivers’ eyes from adjusting to the darker road and identifying hazards quickly, so increase your following distance and drop back from the car ahead of you. The smart way to stay safe at dusk is to turn your headlights on before it gets dark while the sun is low in the sky. Not only will your headlights provide additional illumination for you, they will make it easier for other drivers to see you. Again, people on foot can be hard to spot at these low-light hours, and because there’s still light in the sky, pedestrians may not realise drivers cannot see them.

Perfect passenger

As a passenger all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. Well, perhaps if you’re the Queen, but being a passenger – particularly in the front seat – is a responsible role. In rally cars, the co-driver is an extra pair of eyes for the driver, telling them where to go and warning them of hazards. There’s no reason why a front seat passenger shouldn’t play a similar role. You can alert the driver to vehicles they may not have seen or look out for road signs. And you can be a handy assistant, programming the sat nav and taking control of in-car entertainment. But, it’s essential to be a help not a hindrance, so don’t distract the driver.

A good passenger will know when to pipe up and down: you might be directing someone along roads that are unfamiliar. In that case, the driver will probably thank you if you tell them which lane they need to be in. Equally, if you see a vehicle that they may not have noticed, tell them. However, if the driver does something to endanger you or other road users, react in a firm but calm way. Tight spots can arise and for passengers this is the real test as you have no control over the car. The one thing not to do is gasp, shout and swear. Best advice: if you can’t say anything helpful, don’t say anything at all.

Probationary P plates

You’ve passed your test and can say goodbye to your L plates only to be presented with the option of green P plates. They are not a legal requirement and many newly qualified drivers head off without them. However, you may want to consider that P plates simply let other drivers know you’re new on the road and to give you more space and take extra care. This should give you peace of mind and create a win-win for everyone. If P plates make you feel like a learner why not keep a set in your car just in case, and use them if you’re visiting somewhere new or driving a challenging route for the first time?

Brake lights dazzle

The Highway Code is clear on the use of brake lights. When stopped in a queue or at traffic lights, you should put your car in neutral, engage your handbrake and then take your foot off the brake pedal until the traffic moves again. As long as your foot is on the pedal, the brake lights are lit – dazzling the cars behind you. According to the AA more than a quarter of drivers admit to keeping their foot on the brake when stationary in a queue of traffic and with modern brake lights, particularly high-mounted central brake lights, this is highly distracting. Common sense suggests there are times when brake lights are useful. For example, if you are stopped on a rural road at temporary traffic lights, but the moment a car stops behind you be legal, courteous and kind.

Smoother gear change

If you’re driving a manual car, there’s nothing worse than a clunky gear change. This can be easily improved upon by using the correct palm position. Simply ensure that your palm faces towards the passenger when changing into 1st or 2nd gear, and towards yourself when changing into 3rd and 4th. By taking a moment to position your palm correctly you will achieve an unrushed, smooth gear change which will always put you in the correct gear.

Using fog lights

In the UK, street lights on 30 mph roads are placed no more than 200 yards (183 metres) apart, so a good rule of thumb for deciding when to use your fog lights is whether you can see the next street light up the road from the one you’re passing. Use this rule, and it’s clear that it’s only going to be in the foggiest or snowiest conditions that fog lights should be used. Once the fog has cleared, remember to switch them off because you risk dazzling other road users. Check they are definitely off if you continue to drive with your headlights on.

Pay the old-fashioned way

Paying for food using your phone at a drive-through is an offence under the current mobile phone driving laws. With the increase in popularity of Apple Pay and Android Auto many drivers are opting to pay for their meals with these services, however, doing so can attract an on the spot fine of £200 and up to six penalty points if you touch your phone while driving on a road. This fine can be increased up to £1,000 if your case goes to court. According to the police if your engine is off, your handbrake applied and you are parked then you can use a smartphone payment app, but if your engine is on no you can’t.

Change for the better

Try these little courtesies behind the wheel and you’ll be surprised how they make life on the road more pleasant. For example, try giving way and let other cars out of side streets, leaving enough space for them to merge in front of you at busy junctions. Always indicate in plenty of time, after all, indicators are there to signal an intention not an action, so give other drivers time to react. Acknowledge when someone pulls over to let you through when cars are parked at the side of the road, even if it’s your right of way. Again, give way to more vulnerable road users, regardless of whose right of way it is. Driving courteously doesn’t necessarily increase your journey time and reduces potential stress.

Roundabout signs

You may be one of the many drivers who wonder why there’s a deliberate gap in the roundabout sign and not a complete circle? Well, it is to help drivers, especially foreign, to understand which way to go around the roundabout. A majority of countries drive on the right, which means their drivers tackle roundabouts in an anti-clockwise direction. However, as we drive on the left in the UK, we approach roundabouts in a clockwise direction. The gap in UK roundabout sign is to show there is no road to go around anti-clockwise, you must go clockwise to get to your exit.