Driving Hints and Tips
Unwritten rules of the road
As you gain driving experience you will discover there are conduct and etiquette conventions
followed by many motorists that won’t be found in any rulebook or guide. The question is, are
you flouting the Highway Code and could you get into trouble by following these unwritten
rules? Warning others of speed traps is a commonplace example. Often hidden and difficult to
avoid, speed cameras are located in most parts of the country. Some drivers see it as their
duty to warn others, especially if it’s a mobile manned speed trap, with a quick flash to alert
oncoming cars to slow down. While this ‘all for one, one for all’ attitude might be appreciated
in the driving community, it’s actually illegal. Deemed as ‘wilfully obstructing a constable in the
execution of his/her duty’, warning other drivers could land you with a £1,000 fine for breaking
section 89 of the Police Act 1996. A driver prosecuted for this is likely to receive a higher
penalty than the errant motorist they warned. The Highway Code is also clear: ‘Only flash
your headlights to let other road users know that you are there,’ and not to attempt ‘to convey
any other message’. It’s unlikely that a justification of ‘you did it to slow traffic down for safety’
will wash as a defence. This is one unwritten rule that’s not worth the risk.
Rules for stand-in tuition
As a learner driver, you’re encouraged to practice your new skills between the lessons with your qualified instructor or before starting an intensive course. This usually involves supervision by a friend of family member, but have you checked that your stand-in instructor meets the required rules to accompany you? They must be over the age of 21 and qualified to drive the type of vehicle being driven by you. For example, they must hold a manual driving licence if they’re supervising you in a manual car. In addition, they must have held a full licence for three years from the UK, the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein. Importantly, your supervisor must have valid insurance if they’re supervising in your car. This could be as a named driver/instructor on your learner driver’s policy. Whether you are learning in your car or your supervisor’s, you must both be insured to drive it. Some insurance companies require the person supervising you to be over 25. Take note that you can’t pay your stand-in instructor, and as they’re legally in charge of the vehicle while you are driving, can be prosecuted for using a mobile phone. Although it is legal to carry passengers, it’s best to avoid distractions at this stage. As a learner, your car must display L plates on the front and rear, and you must hold a provisional driving licence for Great Britain or Northern Ireland and be 17. While you might be tempted to practice on a motorway, don’t as you can only do this with your approved driving instructor in a car fitted with dual controls.
Steer clear of futile gestures
If a driver pulls out in front of you at a junction, causing you to brake suddenly, your natural reaction will be to admonish them for inconsiderate or dangerous driving, but don’t, keep calm and don’t retaliate. If you were looking far enough ahead and anticipating traffic, you would have seen this was a possibility and have had more time to react. Don’t be tempted to use your horn either as it should only be used to alert other drivers to your presence, not reprimand them. Again, you might be sorely tempted to make a rude hand gesture, but don’t as this is classified as ‘disorderly conduct’, and carries a criminal penalty under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, so think twice before you react. Hand gestures can also be interpreted in another way. You could be fined for ‘not being in full control of a vehicle’ if you take your hand off your wheel to gesture and this carries a £1,000 fine and three points on your licence. Remember, road users have a duty of care to each other, so take the high road and keep your cool by remaining focused with your hands firmly on the wheel and your eyes on the road. If you’re really upset by another driver’s thoughtless action, find a safe place to stop and wait until you’ve calmed down before driving off again.
Know where you are going
We generally fall into two categories: those who plan and those who don’t and this includes drivers. If you’re a planner and driving somewhere unfamiliar, then you are likely to research the route and have a clear sense of where you’re going before setting off. On the other hand, if you leave everything to chance, you’ll be battling unfamiliar road layouts, worrying if you’ve overshot your exit, searching for a place to turn around and wishing you’d planned better. The reality, however, is that we get away with poor planning most of the time, fail to prepare, and deal with the fallout when we get lost. This is significant from a road safety point of view because getting lost can affect the quality of your driving. The chances are you’ll be anxious about where you’re going and being late. Being distracted like this could mean you miss important safety-related information such as a speed limit or other regulatory signs, and more likely to speed if you lose your way. A driver worrying about something other than controlling their car poses a higher incident risk than one completely focused on the task in hand. In short, you’re less likely to perceive hazards that would be clear if you were calmer. All of this makes a strong case for you to plan an unfamiliar route. In this era of navigational technology, it’s the easiest driver error to fix. Even if you don’t use a satnav, you can find your route on the internet and print directions. Whether you’re an instinctive planner or prefer to get by on a wing and a prayer, the next time you take a new route, remember, there’s more to responsible driving than simply avoiding incidents.
First time driving alone
No matter how confidently you pass your driving test, your first drive alone without your instructor can feel unnerving and this is perfectly normal. Even if he or she never needed to intervene, that comfort blanket was there telling you where to go and what to do. So how do you overcome your nerves and progress? Firstly, don’t go it alone straight away. Try to arrange a more experienced driver such as a family member or friend to join you on some short journeys. They won’t have dual control, but just having someone beside you can be soothing if you feel nervous. ‘P’ plates can also help as they flag up that you’re inexperienced and encourage other drivers to be more considerate. Keep your first journeys simple and stick to easy routes that you know well, this will help you focus on driving the car and observing other traffic rather than worrying about a new route. Pick quieter, off-peak times for your first solo drives such as late morning or early afternoon, then gradually increase the pressure and choose busier times of day. If you live in a busy area, this might not be a great place to start, so again ask a friend or family member to drive you in your own car to a quieter location to practice. Try to drive in decent weather conditions. This is not the time to experience a dual carriage way with buffeting winds, experience will give you the skills to drive in such conditions, so don’t dent your confidence at this early stage. Remember, being a safe and confident driver simply comes with practice.
Think T and T in traffic
During your practical test, if the examiner asks you to park on the left behind a specific vehicle, remember the tyres and tarmac rule, often referred to as ‘T and T’. This means you should be able to see the back tyres of the vehicle in front and around a metre of tarmac at all times, hence the saying ‘tyres on tarmac – plus a bit’, usually one small car space. If you can’t see the back tyres of the car in front, you’re too close and put yourself at a disadvantage. There are good reasons to follow this rule, especially in slow moving traffic. For instance, you reduce the risk of running into the car in front should you be hit from behind. Again, if the car in front breaks down and you keep to the T and T rule, you’ll have space to manoeuvre around it and carry on. Alternatively, if you’re on an incline and the vehicle ahead has poor clutch control, they could roll back into you. If you’ve maintained a T and T gap, you can warn them with your horn and cut the risk. Another reason for maintaining this gap is cyclists and motorcyclists who can momentarily tuck in from other traffic. Don’t begrudge them this space and make yourself a better driver in the process. By keeping to the rule you’ll see more of the road, especially if there’s a large vehicle in front. While not a precise science, T and T offers you a useful technique to gauge a safe stopping distance in traffic.
Be smart about smartphones
As we come to rely increasingly on digital communication, the temptation to answer calls, respond to texts or stay connected through our phone or other mobile device, even when behind the wheel, is a lethal distraction we all know is illegal. After all, you wouldn’t pick up your phone with a police officer watching and you wouldn’t do it on your driving test. The risk does not disappear when you think there’s no one watching. By ensuring your focus is 100% on the road at all times, you’ll give yourself the best chance of anticipating hazards and keeping yourself and others safe. The current penalty for mobile phone use while driving is a £200 fine and six penalty points, and you’ll lose your licence if you passed your driving test in the last two years. The best way to deal with your mobile is to make a resolute decision to keep it out of reach every journey and cut the temptation to pick it up when you’re stationary at traffic lights or queuing in traffic. While legal, hands-free does not remove the risk of distraction for which you can still be prosecuted. Simply take a few minutes before a journey to make important calls or check voice messages and emails, and for peace of mind, build in breaks to longer trips to check calls and messages safely. Work together with friends, family and work contacts to lower the expectation that you should be available all the time when you’re driving. If you do use your phone in the car, make sure you are safely parked, with the engine switched off and the handbrake on.
Parking with precision
Be aware that if you park your car more than 50cm away from the kerb or pavement, you could receive an on-the-spot fine which is currently £70. This 50cm space leaves you a tight margin for error, so it’s important to focus as it could turn into a double-parking charge if no part of your car is within 50cm from the edge of the carriageway. This can easily happen if you try to force yourself too tightly into a space which doesn’t allow you room to manoeuvre properly. To check you are correctly parked, 50cm equates to just half a metre or the width of a standard household wheelie bin. Rule 242 of the Highway Code states ‘you must not leave your vehicle (or a trailer) in a position where it may cause a danger or an unnecessary road obstruction’. This is backed up by Section 22 of the Road Traffic Act and councils across the UK already implement this policy as a way of maintaining local parking standards. To stay within the 50cm limit, make it an automatic reflex to check your distance from the kerb every time you park.
Park the right way at night
It may seem a small point, but if you forget to change the direction your car is parked as it gets dark, you could face a hefty fine. This is because all vehicles parked on the side of a street at night must be positioned in the same direction traffic is travelling if you’re not in a marked bay. This rule does not apply during the day when you can position your car in any direction you like as long as you’re parked safely. However, come the evening you’ll need to move your car to point the same way the traffic flows. Rule 248 of the Highway code says: ‘You must not park on a road at night facing against the direction of traffic flow unless in a recognised parking space’. This law is for your safety as cars parked the correct way are more visible to road users because they are illuminated by headlights bouncing off the rear reflector. Cars parked in the wrong direction are not as easily seen and should they be parked sticking out slightly create a road hazard.
Always signal your intent
As you will discover, drivers who display less than courteous behaviour on the road are deemed more than annoying by other road users. It’s not surprising therefore that lack of signals is the nation’s second most-disliked motoring habit, behind tailgating. When it comes to failing to indicate, it’s easy to forget that it’s not only drivers who are affected. How many times have pedestrians stood, waiting at the kerb for a car that wasn’t indicating, not knowing whether it’s safe to cross or not? One reason this misdemeanour tops the chart of bad driving habits is the inconsideration and laziness of the driver who doesn’t bother to indicate. While there’s no specific motoring offence of ‘failing to indicate’, any breach of the Highway Code can be seen as committing the offence of careless driving. In this instance, ‘indicating’ is covered by Rules 103-106 of the Code which reminds you that signals warn and inform other road users, including pedestrians, of your intended actions. The rules state that you should always give clear signals in plenty of time, having checked it is not misleading to signal at that time, and to use your signals to advise other road users before you change course or direction, stop or move off.