Driving Hints and Tips

Cold caution

Be aware that getting behind the wheel with a nasty cold can be as bad as drink-driving. Research by Cardiff University’s Common Cold Centre has found that concentration levels when driving with a bad cold or flu drops by more than 50 per cent. Shockingly, that’s the equivalent of downing more than four double whiskies. The symptoms of a cold, including runny nose, headache, tiredness and eye irritation all tend to reduce awareness. The researchers also found that reaction times dropped significantly and sudden braking became more frequent as drivers with bad colds were less aware of their surroundings and less capable of judging distance.

Sign sense

If you see a roadside pole with a number of signs attached to it then the first hazard you encounter will be positioned at the top, the second will be the next one down, and so on. Knowing this means that you can prepare to deal with each hazard in the order that they are going to occur. Again, it’s worth noting that painting lines on a road is expensive, so if you see lots of paint it’s there for a reason. A general rule is that the more paint you can see, the greater the danger, so slow down and take your time to negotiate whatever hazard it is alerting you to.

Intelligent speed

Don’t allow other drivers to pressure you into going faster. If you are driving at what you feel to be the right speed for the road conditions, be it at or below the speed limit, you are in the right. Just because a speed limit states 60mph, for example, this doesn’t mean it’s always the right speed. Snow, ice or rain can dramatically reduce your car’s braking and handling abilities, and limit visibility. The right top speed for those conditions is that at which you feel safe, in control and able to react in time to anything up ahead. That could be 40mph or 0mph.

Winter sense

When driving, always dress appropriately for the weather. Today’s cars come with climate control, heated seats and powerful windscreen wipers, so it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. But what if your heater suddenly doesn’t work or you break down during chilly weather? You will be caught out and quickly become cold. Plan ahead, make sure you’ve got a hat, scarf and coat plus a rug, a torch, mobile phone charger, and suitable provisions such as water and chocolate in case you get stranded at the roadside or stuck in a lengthy traffic jam. To help yourself and others, also keep a tow rope and shovel in your boot.

Winter wise

When you get home, always clear damp or snowy boots and clothing out of the car – if you leave them in overnight the moisture will evaporate and condense on the inside of all your windows. It’ll take ages to clear and the car will feel damp and miserable for your next drive or so. Even leaving them in the boot will make the windows wet and foggy, so get them indoors where they can dry out properly.

Speed check

Cars are now so powerful and comfortable they give you little sensation of speed, so it’s easy to exceed the limit without realising it. This is particularly true when coming on to a lower speed road after driving on a motorway or dual carriageway. It can feel like a snail’s pace when you reduce to 40mph or 30mph. In reality these are still substantial speeds and the only way to check you have reduced sufficiently is to check the speedometer regularly – never rely on ‘feeling’ your speed. You may be able to improve your judgement by regularly comparing how fast you think you are driving with what the speedometer says.

Country ways

Driving on country roads makes special demands, with speed and lack of uniformity contributing to the challenge. Speed on rural roads can be tricky and posted speed limits deceptive, so it’s best not to see them as a target. Often the national speed limit of 60mph is far too fast for a country road, so keep assessing whether you’re at the right speed for the conditions and whether you feel in control. Rural roads are often interspersed with villages, which usually have strict (and strictly enforced) speed restrictions and traffic calming measures, so drive cautiously and at a moderate speed (most have posted limits of 20 or 30mph). Be aware of sudden changes in speed signage and be especially vigilant around school drop-off and pick-up times. Official signs aren’t the only ones to caution you, skid marks and damaged fences are a good indication that the road is hazardous at that point.

Right of way?

There are going to be times when you come to a junction or other situations where it may be difficult to figure out who has the right of way as there may be no road signs or markings. When this happens do not assume you have priority as other drivers may assume they too have the right to go. It is best to be courteous and let them have the right of way. It may take a few extra seconds to wait, but you will still get where you are going, and you will get there safely.

Dashboard warning lights

You should be aware that the varying colour lights displayed via your dashboard symbols communicate the severity of an issue within the car. There are five colour lights that can appear on your dashboard, namely red, amber, blue, white or green. Red is the most urgent warning and relates to something which must be addressed immediately as it will have serious implications regarding the safety of your car. Certain red warning lights refer to safety issues which can be resolved straight away, such as putting on your seatbelt or shutting a door, but others relate to something significantly more severe, such as an engine fault. Amber lights are advisory, such as the oil being low, and signal a potential problem if not dealt with fairly promptly. Blue, green and white lights usually signify that a system in the car is switched on, such as the air con or your headlights.

Powers of observation

Overwhelmingly the most common cause of an incident on the road is a driver failing to look properly and not being sufficiently observant. Blind spots aside, this is no excuse for SMIDSY or ‘Sorry mate, I didn’t see you’. It is therefore vital to stay alert and avoid any form of distraction such as using or reaching for devices and controls, eating and drinking, being ‘lost in thought’ or simply looking at something outside the car. Remember, before you make any manoeuvre, you need to look not once, but twice. At least.