Driving Hints and Tips
Sirens and flashing lights
If you’re caught up by an emergency services vehicle with flashing blue lights, your instinct will be to get out of the way as fast as possible, but be careful, your good intentions could land you with a fine as you still need to comply with relevant traffic signs. Perfect examples include entering a bus lane, stopping in a yellow box junction or driving through a red traffic light. When an emergency vehicle approaches, don’t panic just stay alert. Turn off any music and plan your next move. Consider the route it is taking and how to let it pass, even if it’s on the other side of the road. If necessary, pull to the side and stop, but avoid stopping before the brow of a hill, a bend or narrow section of road. Indicators can be used to show you’ve acknowledged the approaching blue lights and intend to move, but don’t use them if it could confuse other drivers. Never mount the kerb or verge and don’t brake harshly on approach to a junction or roundabout, as a following vehicle may not have the same view as you. Again, resist temptation to stop in the middle of the road, this could block the emergency vehicle’s route. The best advice is to keep driving until there’s a suitable place to pull over and use your common sense to avoid coming into conflict with other road users. Always listen for more than one siren and look around before moving off. Remember this advice and you’ll be ready to respond legally and safely the next time you encounter flashing lights.
Cut the risk and clean your car
There’s never been a more important time to keep your car’s interior clean. A recent motoring survey has shown that a quarter of road users admit to only cleaning the inside of their car once every 12 months. This is a worrying response and could put such drivers at risk. During the coronavirus outbreak (and as a general rule), be sure you wipe down all the touchpoints in your car regularly with a virucidal cleaning product or alcohol-based gel. As there aren’t many of these products dedicated to car care, you will be relying mostly on household cleaners, so check they are suitable for use on plastics, upholstery or leather. If you’re unable to get these, then a bottle containing disinfectant, mixed with antibacterial soap and water and kitchen paper will do, but discard the paper immediately after use. To be certain your car is adequately sanitised, make sure you wipe the steering wheel, handbrake, sat nav, interior and exterior door handles, wiper and light stalks and seatbelts – and clean them after every journey. It’s easy to overlook these parts and focus on handwashing, but the expert advice is to clean every car surface you come into contact with just as you would any surfaces known to be high risk. On a day-to-day basis, follow the guidelines and wash your hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use a hand sanitiser with a 60 per cent or higher level of alcohol, and when you fill up with petrol or diesel use gloves.
In the 20mph zone
As London and other cities introduce blanket 20mph speed limits on certain roads, the likelihood that you unintentionally creep over this limit should be considered. Speed is always a personal choice, so don’t take a risk. Fortunately, there are several practical tips to help you remain legal at 20mph. Always leave plenty of time for your journeys and avoid feeling under pressure to ‘press on’. As well as making regular checks of your speedometer, get used to the sound and feel of your car engine at 20mph. Watch out for road signs, so you know when you’re in a 20mph zone. It’s easy to miss them when you’re negotiating busy junctions, so make a positive point of looking for these signs and for further signs that repeat the limit. If you know you tend to drive fast, work out what makes you do it. Are you in a hurry? Do passengers encourage you to speed up? Does your choice of music affect how fast you go? Once you recognise the factors, then you’re more likely to take control and stick to the lower limit.
Handle with care
Scientific data shows that fuel pump handles can be virus carriers and could put motorists at risk. Studies have shown that certain bugs can survive on surfaces for four to five days and fuel pumps which are regularly touched by drivers fly under the radar when it comes to virus transmission. How many of us bother to wear the protective, disposable gloves available on most forecourts when filling up? And how many of us fill up and then head to the cash desk and buy crisps or a sandwich to eat in our vehicle? Habits like these can leave you vulnerable. For this reason, you’re encouraged to keep disinfectant wipes in your car to clean your hands and other surfaces which may have become infected. A survey across major American towns found fuel pumps were the most infectious item regularly used by the public, and more infectious than escalators and cash machine buttons. The best advice: always disinfect your hands after visiting a petrol pump and be sure not to touch your face.
Ready for the forecourt?
One of the first things you’ll need to do as a new driver is fill up your car with petrol or diesel, unless it’s an electric model. Don’t leave this procedure until you’re on the petrol station forecourt to experiment. Instead, check first which side of your car the fuel cap is on because you’ll need to choose the right pump to match up with it. If you forget, look at the pump icon on your dashboard as it will indicate the side your fuel cap is on. Next, check you can open your fuel cap as this varies from car to car and may involve a key or lever. The first time you drive into a petrol station, be aware that you may have to wait for people to move before you can access the pump that matches the side your petrol cap is on. Pull up beside the pump, about half a metre out and with the nose of your car lining up with the end of the pump, this will avoid stretching the pump hose awkwardly. Put your handbrake on, gear into neutral and engine off. Get out taking your keys and money with you, and go to your fuel cap. Open the cap and take a second to focus on which fuel you need, the wrong fuel is an expensive mistake. Diesel is usually labelled in black and petrol in green and marked unleaded.
Next, grab the handle of the fuel dispensing nozzle and lift it upwards, then outwards. This will unhook the nozzle from the pump. Move to your fuel filler inlet and put the nozzle in, then squeeze the handle and fuel will start to flow and the pump will make a filling noise. Keep an eye on the pump’s screen, which tells you how much fuel you’re putting in and the cost. When you reach the amount you want, stop squeezing. Slowly pull out the nozzle and return it to the pump. Now replace your fuel cap and check it’s firmly screwed back on and the covering panel is shut, always check you have done this. If the pump has a card machine and you chose this option you pay before filling up, otherwise you’ll need to note your pump number and head for the cash desk. It may sound obvious but always check you can pay before you fill up. Get back in your car, look for pedestrians and other cars, then pull away slowly. After the first few times, filling up becomes second nature.
Herbal tea caution
We all know that driving with too much alcohol in our system endangers lives as can driving while dehydrated, but there are other surprisingly common things that can affect your driving ability which you may not be aware of. Most of us love a cuppa, but did you realise that some herbal teas can make you feel drowsy? Herbs such as chamomile, lavender and valerian are known to have mild sedative properties to help you relax. While these teas may be good for helping you to nod off at bedtime, they are not recommended if you’re about to get behind the wheel. Those of you who like a brew in the morning before driving off should stick to beverages with caffeine and avoid adding honey. According to the RAC, research has shown that because honey contains glucose, this hinders the production of orexin, a hormone that makes us feel awake and alert.
Dip not dazzle
Your first rule when driving at night is make sure you can stop well within the distance your headlights show to be clear. Bear in mind that a standard set of headlights will provide about 30 metres of visibility when dipped and 100 metres when on full beam. Remember, you should always keep your lights dipped in lit or urban areas. You can use full beam if you’re on a straight unlit road, but when you see another vehicle approaching be considerate and turn your headlights to dip a second after they are able to see you. This shows them that you have gone on to dip, and may remind them to do the same. You should then slow down, as the distance you can see to be clear will be reduced. If no other traffic is approaching, return to full beam once the vehicle has passed you. When driving around corners and over brows, dip early before you encounter and dazzle an on-coming driver.
Keep your distance on ice
As your driving lessons progress, you’ll discover that stopping distances increase depending on your speed and weather conditions, especially on icy roads, but do you know by how much? It can take ten times as long to stop on an icy road as it does on a dry one, so increase the distance between yourself and the car in front by the same amount. A good rule of thumb is to be 20 seconds behind the car ahead if the road is icy. That way, if the car in front has to stop suddenly, you’ll have time to stop or take evasive action. To check you’re far enough away, watch for the car in front to pass an object, for example, a lamp post, bridge or sign. Then count how many seconds go by before you pass the same object. If it’s under 20 seconds, you should back off and allow more space. However, you may encounter drivers ignoring this advice. If you leave a sensible 20-second gap between your car and the one in front, another car or van may try to fill that gap. Be aware of this and be prepared to give way to somebody driving antisocially and unsafely.
Eye of the driver
Driving at night is a skill that needs to be learnt. As a learner, you’re not required to have lessons in driving at night, but for safety’s sake take some when it’s dark. One of the biggest night-time hazards is dazzle from on-coming headlights. Although the Highway Code says, you ‘must not use any lights in a way which would dazzle or cause discomfort to other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders,’ you will notice that some drivers ignore this rule and keep their lights on full beam when they should be dipped. For new drivers, this can be disorientating especially on busy unlit roads. To avoid being dazzled, never look directly at oncoming lights, instead focus your gaze slightly to the left-hand side or painted edge line of the road to stay on course. Try to anticipate when oncoming headlights may reduce your vision and be ready to slow down. You can also be dazzled from behind from light reflected in your interior mirror. To avoid this most cars now have an anti-dazzle setting on the mirror which you can switch to. Remember, your break lights can also dazzle the car behind you so apply your handbrake and don’t keep your foot on the brake pedal if you’re waiting at a junction or queuing in traffic, unless you’re in fog.
Some learners feel they have to carry out manoeuvres perfectly first time. This is nonsense and not the time to be defensive or disheartened. You should expect to do some of the more challenging manoeuvres several times before you get it right and feel confident. Your instructor expects this and will move at your pace. If you’re unsure, just ask. It’s important to remember that during your lessons mistakes should make you, not break you. Try not to get frustrated when you don’t get a manoeuvre right. Your instructor understands perfectly that it’s only through making mistakes that you really learn and progress safely.