Driving Hints and Tips

Do a good turn

Failing to correctly and safely indicate when turning near pedestrians could lead to a fine, nine points on your licence and even disqualification. According to the Highway Code, you must always: ‘Warn and inform other road users, including pedestrians, of your intended actions.’ When turning into a side street, if a pedestrian has already started to cross the road you should allow them to cross safely as they have the right of way. Again, you should also be aware of pedestrians who are looking to cross the street, and clearly indicate to let them know of your decision to turn. While failing to indicate is not an offence in itself, should it lead to an incident with a pedestrian or colliding with another road user, it could be deemed careless or dangerous driving. Best advice: always signal your intentions to other road users clearly, including pedestrians. Failing to do so may mean you fall below the threshold of being a careful, competent driver and you could receive a ‘driving without due care and attention’ charge.

Know your lines

Usually the centre of the road is marked by a broken white line, with lines that are shorter than the gaps. However, when the lines become longer than the gaps this is a hazard warning line. Look well ahead for these, especially when you are planning to overtake or turn off. If there is a continuous double white line down the centre of the road, this means it would be dangerous to overtake. You are only allowed to cross continuous lines to pass a stationary vehicle, a cyclist, horse or road maintenance vehicle travelling at 10mph or less, and to enter premises or a side road.

Traffic light caution

Every driver knows you must stop at a red light, but did you know you could be fined £100 and gain three penalty points if you stop in the wrong place at a set of traffic lights? To avoid being fined, always stop before an advanced stop line (ASL) and ASL box or cycle reservoir and never encroach into this zone. This is the area ahead of your car which is designated for cyclists so they can be positioned ahead of other traffic and move safely away when the lights turn green. The Highway Code states: ‘Motorists, including motorcyclists, must stop at the first white line reached if the lights are amber or red and should avoid blocking the way or encroaching on the marked area at other times, for example, if the junction ahead is blocked.’ There is one exception to this rule, namely that if the lights change and you are forced to brake quickly, it’s safer to stop in the box, rather than risk braking too suddenly to avoid it. However, if your vehicle enters the box while the lights are on green but is unable to clear the area before they turn to red – no offence has been committed.

Avoid the fluffy dice

While not actually illegal, hanging decorations from your rear-view mirror or using stickers to jazz up your car is not permitted by the Highway Code and Road Traffic Act if it obstructs your view of the road in any way. You could receive an on-the-spot fine of £100 and three penalty points if a dangling air freshener or fluffy dice prevents you from having a full view of the road. It could also affect your insurer paying out if you’re involved in an incident. The Road Traffic Act states ‘no person shall drive a motor vehicle on a road if he is in such a position that he cannot…have a full view of the road and traffic ahead.’ Likewise, ‘Windscreen and windows must be kept clean and free from obstructions to vision.’ The same applies to fans, large sat-navs and even using the navigation on an iPad. Missing something because you had a large air freshener obscuring your view is dangerous. Good driving involves exceptional observation skills and seeing things early allows you to anticipate and plan how to deal with hazards.

Bothersome blind spots

When you’re behind the wheel, you have to pay attention to what other drivers are doing. This is not limited to those in front, you also have to pay attention to drivers behind you and often to either side as well. That’s why automakers include three mirrors on your vehicle – two side view mirrors and a rear-view mirror. However, all cars suffer from blind spots. This is pretty much what the name implies – an area that you can’t see easily from the driver’s seat. A vehicle can ‘hide’ in your blind spot, making it impossible to see what it’s doing. There are two blind spots in the average vehicle, one on either side of the car, extending from roughly the rear of the vehicle back in a triangle. However, different vehicles have varying blind spots – a tractor trailer has enormous blind spots, for instance.

There are several ways to avoid them and enhance your safety. The most important is to adjust your side view mirrors properly. You should not be able to see the side of your car in the side view mirrors, so adjust them outward to provide the widest field of view on both the driver and passenger sides of your vehicle. Just because you are smart enough to check your blind spots, it doesn’t mean everyone else will. The number of drivers who change lanes without looking properly is common, so put the onus on yourself to stay out of trouble. If you notice you’re cruising to the right of and slightly behind another car, there’s a good chance they can’t see you. Either accelerate and pull alongside or in front of them or drop back until you’re sure you can be seen in their mirrors.

Going Dutch

It’s easy to open your car door automatically, without thinking or looking. Even if you do glance in your door mirror, you can still miss a passing cyclist if they’re close and in your mirror’s blind spot. Instead, always open your door using the ‘Dutch Reach.’ Originating in the Netherlands in the 1960s, this method involves opening the driver’s car door with your left hand. This forces your head to look directly to the side and towards the rear of the car, eliminating the blind spot, and allowing full visibility of the immediate area. A good reason to go Dutch.

Motorway qualms

If you feel anxious about driving on a motorway, dual carriageway or other high-speed scenario, there is help at hand. It’s quite normal to feel apprehensive about heading on to a motorway with a 70mph speed limit, especially as there’s no requirement to do so during your lessons or test at present. But increasingly, young and new drivers are taking advantage of the June 2018 law change which allows you to take motorway lessons before passing your test. Providing you’re accompanied by an approved instructor it’s now possible to get a taste for motorways as a learner. You won’t be assessed on your motorway driving skills during your test, but many learners find it helps with overall ability and confidence. Courses like Pass Plus, which we offer, remain a popular option once you’ve passed your test and want accompanied experience on major roads before setting off alone.

Key to confidence

As you take your practical test just remember one thing: stick to what you know. Throughout your lessons, your instructor will have taken you through everything you need to get test-ready. You might not realise it, but your instructor has helped you carefully cultivate a safe driving style. So why would you change it during the test? Driving anxiety and nerves aside, don’t let other road users influence you and don’t change your driving style because you think the examiner might like it. If you need a reminder, bring your instructor on your test so their presence will ground you.

Don’t wing it

Side mirrors, otherwise known as wing mirrors, are crucial to maintaining good visibility around you on the road. Importantly, they inform you of where a cyclist may be in traffic when your rear-view mirror might not have picked them up. Unfortunately, wing mirrors are prone to damage. Should this happen, it may not appear a major priority but legally you need two working mirrors and one must be on the driver’s side. A damaged mirror dramatically reduces your visibility and affects the safety of other road users. Fixing a wing mirror can cost from £15 to £150, so it isn’t worth taking the risk and landing a hefty fine of up to £2,500.

Signal sense

Signalling or indicating when driving is an essential safety and courtesy task, thinking that it’s not important or just forgetting leads to many an incident. For this reason, you should always signal when pulling away, even if it’s only a pedestrian who benefits from seeing your signal. If there’s no one around, then a signal is not necessary, but use caution. If you are ready to move off and notice a vehicle approaching from the rear to pass you, do not indicate off if you intend to wait for them to pass. The effect of this can cause the approaching vehicle to slow down or stop to let you pull away or swerve around you. Wait till the vehicle has passed and if all is clear, signal if necessary.