Driving Hints and Tips

Reversing made easy

When you drive forward you don’t look at the steering wheel because you’re looking where you want your car to go. With practice, your brain automatically works out how much steering to do and when to steer because your hands on the wheel will follow your eyes. It’s the same with reversing, so your main focus should be out of the back window. For this reason, the Highway Code allows you to take off your seatbelt for any manoeuvre involving reversing, so you can move more freely in your seat and see clearly out of the back window. As you look out of the back window, try pointing the way you want the back of the car to go and steer the way you are pointing. If you want the back of your car to go left, steer left, and if you want it to go right, steer right. It’s tempting to simply use your interior mirror to reverse, but this makes the whole task more exacting. After all, what do mirrors do? They reverse images, making it more difficult to work out your steering.

Slow driver alert

Driving too slowly is rarely the direct cause of an incident but driving like a snail can be as dangerous as driving like a cheetah. Learner drivers aside, driving behind someone who is going too slowly creates frustration for other motorists and provokes dangerous behaviours. This can lead to tailgating, abrupt braking, over-ambitious overtakes, undertaking on the motorway, tailbacks and road rage. While punishments are normally associated with speeding, if you do drive too slowly you could be charged with driving without reasonable consideration for other road users or driving without due care and attention, and face a £100 fine and three points on your licence. There are a number of reasons why people drive too slowly. They may lack confidence on the road, have health-related issues like bad eyesight, poor reactions or anxiety, or think they’re conserving fuel, but getting frustrated because of somebody else’s bad driving is pointless. Better to laugh it off and see the funny side of getting riled at a complete stranger who you’ll never see again. To make sure you are driving at the right speed, use common sense, courtesy and the maximum speed limits as a guideline. If you don’t stray too far below the speed limit, you won’t put others at risk or break the law. Remember, if you do feel pressurised by cars behind you, then simply find a safe place to pull over and allow following traffic to pass. It will be less stressful and less frustrating for everyone.

Salt and grit alert

While roads need to be treated in winter with grit and salt to ensure your car doesn’t lose grip, road salt turns ice back into water creating a corrosive substance that can damage your car’s bodywork and the components underneath. You may think that driving on salt and grit once or twice a year can be ignored, but corrosive substances build up. The best advice is to apply wax protection to your car this winter to minimise damage and hose off the underside of your car after every trip in ice or snow. Should you come across a road gritter, allow plenty of space as they can throw small chips across your bonnet creating scratches that are irritating and costly to repair.

Petrol station etiquette

Feathers are easily ruffled at petrol stations when an inconsiderate driver stops to fill-up and obstructs two fuel pumps or blocks in other vehicles. Petrol stations can be tight areas and you should take extra caution to avoid doing this as most people want to fill up and go. It’s also annoying if someone forgets which side their fuel cap is on and others have to wait while they stretch the nozzle over their car to reach the other side. While fuel nozzles can be slippery or greasy, it’s also irritating to wait while a driver makes a meal of putting on and taking off disposable gloves. Again, someone who has to reach a precise amount of fuel and spends time squeezing an extra five pence worth is unlikely to add miles to a journey and delays fellow motorists. Waiting for a driver to leisurely stock up on snacks or sit on the phone is also no fun, especially as mobiles are not designed for use in explosive atmospheres. Although the risk is low, don’t use your mobile near petrol pumps.

Steer clear of alcohol

Before you head out for the evening, make sure you know how you’ll get home. Preparing in advance removes the temptation to get behind the wheel after a drink or two. Punishments for drink-driving offences are severe and usually include a mandatory 12-month driving ban, a fine up to £2,500 and a criminal record. This will harm your chances of employment in industries where driving is required, and your car insurance is likely to increase as insurers will classify you as a higher road risk. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the drink-drive alcohol limit is 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. This can also be measured as 107mg of alcohol per 100ml of urine or 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100ml of breath. However, every human is different and there is no safe way to calculate how many units you can consume to stay below the legal limit. Although food may slow down the process of intoxication, it will not remove the amount of alcohol already in your system. Again, coffee may help you feel more alert, but you’ll still have the same amount of alcohol in your system when the police stop you.

Winter road skills

Driving in snow demands anticipation and delicacy. Always give yourself at least double the distance to the car in front. The Highway Code suggests at least 20 seconds which is 10 times the normal distance. Read the road ahead: look at the surface and behaviour of other cars for clues where it may be slippery. Try to use lower gears downhill so you can stay off the brake and avoid any sudden inputs of steering, brakes or throttle as these are more likely to break grip, so gradual application is key. Likewise, icy conditions can mean little or zero grip if you’re using standard all-season tyres, so treat the road as guilty until proven innocent. Assume there is ice, even if you can’t see it. Again, read the road ahead and look for clues, such as the behaviour of other cars and shady sections of road. Major roads usually receive more grit than minor ones, so plan your route accordingly. The later in the day you travel, the less ice there’s likely to be. If you do encounter a patch and lose grip, don’t panic and hit the brakes. Do as little as possible, allow your car to pass over the ice, keep your steering wheel straight and ease off the accelerator slightly until your grip is regained.

Homemade frost solutions

The Highway Code says that frost cover must be completely removed from your windscreen and windows to ensure ice is not covering a potential blind spot or hazard. To avoid the irritating delays caused by a frosty car, try these simple homemade tips next time the temperature drops. Cover your windscreen with an old towel soaked in a mixture of salt and water the night before. You’ll find this limits frost cover next morning. As frozen mirrors are also deemed a dangerous driving offence, place hole-free plastic bags over your wing mirrors, secured with an elastic band. Your mirrors should be frost-free next morning. If you have an older car which unlocks using a key, remember locks can freeze. To combat the inconvenience, simply place a straw near the frozen lock and breathe warm air on to it.

Effective mirror checks

A common issue for learners and experienced drivers alike is forgetting to regularly check your mirrors while driving. It is a serious omission which you need to correct for your safety and that of other road users. Fortunately, there are ways to help you remember and the following ‘triggers’ should prompt you to check what’s going on behind you. Always look in your mirrors before moving off, before indicating, every time you change direction including turning, overtaking and changing lanes, and every time you change your speed be it faster or slower. Finally, always look in your mirrors every time you encounter a hazard or potential hazard that may cause you to change speed or direction.

Freeze control

Frozen roads are a different ball game to the rest of the year and your driving style needs to adapt for the conditions. Traction is the big difference as there’s less grip on icy and slippery roads. To drive safely, go easy on your controls and always accelerate and decelerate slowly and gently to avoid wheel spin, locking brakes and oversteer. Staying in a high gear can also help maximise your traction. As speed limits are not targets, make sure you drive at a pace safe for these wintery conditions, even if that means travelling slower than usual.

No more ice screen

It’s a common sight to see drivers creeping along with a letterbox size gap scraped into the ice on their windscreens as temperatures turn to frost. Don’t follow this foolish example as rule 229 of the Highway Code states that before you set off, ‘you must be able to see, so clear all snow and ice from all your windows’. This does not mean just the part of the window in front of you, but all of your windscreen. The police have the right to stop and fine you £60 if any part of your screen is obstructed. Again, your number plates and lights must be clear and your mirrors and windows thoroughly demisted. You’ll also need to remove any snow from your car roof to prevent it falling into the path of other road users. Best advice: when there’s snow and ice always give yourself extra minutes to get road ready