Driving Hints and Tips

Know your double white lines

If you drive regularly on single-lane roads you’ll eventually need to overtake a slower vehicle, but before you do check the road markings ahead of you. These frequently appear as variations on double white lines. You’ll need to note if the white line nearest to you is broken or solid, or if both are solid. If the double white line nearest to you is broken, Rule 128 of the Highway Code says you may cross these lines to overtake if it’s safe, and you can complete the manoeuvre before reaching a solid white line on your side. You may also see white direction arrows on the road indicating that you need to get back on to your side of the road. Should the nearest double white line to you be solid, Rule 129 of the Highway Code says you must not cross or straddle these lines unless it is safe and you need to enter adjoining premises or a side road. There is one exception, you may cross a solid white line to pass a stationary vehicle, or overtake a cyclist, horse or road maintenance vehicle, if they are travelling at 10mph or less. So, if you’re sat behind a tractor doing 15mph, overtaking it would be breaking the law. Where both double white lines are solid, you must never cross these or overtake as they occur where visibility is restricted and overtaking hazardous.

Passing parked cars

Navigating your way past parked vehicles will become second nature, however, you’ll always need to double check that you have sufficient space length-ways and width-ways to do this safely. For this reason, avoid pulling-out to pass a parked car at the last moment, instead leave plenty of room between you and the obstacle ahead as you overtake. This way you won’t come face-to-face with an oncoming vehicle, and you’ll have enough space to move back in behind it if you need to. You’ll also need to be mindful that someone inside one of these parked vehicles could suddenly open their door, so always make sure you leave a clearance gap of at least one metre as you drive past. Again, you’ll need to decide whether two-way traffic can pass as you overtake. Rather than using the white centre line as a guide, get used to looking at the available road space. That’s the area you’ve actually got to play with. If you and an oncoming vehicle can fit in that space, you don’t need to wait for them to go first. Otherwise, sit tight until there’s a lull in the traffic. Sometimes, it’s not possible to give parked cars as much space as you’d like, and this is where speed comes in. Slowing down will give you more control. If you’re squeezing through a gap with less room, reduce your speed accordingly. The less space, the lower your speed.

Share and share alike

There’s no doubt it can feel frustrating trailing behind a cyclist and forced to slow down as the road is too narrow to overtake or heads uphill. The point to remember here is that no one is king of the road and you have to share the space with a range of vehicles, so accept it gracefully and adjust your driving accordingly. When you do encounter cyclists, observation and quick decision-making are key. Should you try to overtake or keep a safe distance back? The answer is both. To help maintain a steady flow of traffic, you should aim to overtake cyclists as soon as it’s safe to do so. If you’re on a winding country road with blind bends, this safe widow may never appear so remain at least two or three car lengths behind them. However, if you have a clear view of the road ahead, plenty of space and no oncoming traffic, you should be good to overtake. Check your mirrors and blind spots, indicate and carefully drive around them, but don’t speed up to pass only to slow down directly in front of them as they can be travelling at speed, especially downhill. As you overtake, be sure to leave a space of at least a car’s width or a minimum of 1.5 metres at speeds of 20-30mph, and even more space at higher speeds and in poor weather. There are good reasons for this. Imagine what it’s like to stand too close to the platform edge when a fast train passes through a station. That’s how it can feel on a bike when a vehicle overtakes at 60mph without leaving sufficient room. Passing too close reduces the margin for error should the cyclist need to move suddenly to avoid potholes or puddles. It can also make them nervous and more likely to become unbalanced. In fact, cyclists are advised to keep out of the gutter and ride further from the kerb than you might think, which is why on narrow roads they move towards the middle to prevent drivers passing too closely. As the number of bike riders grow, it’s essential you adapt to their needs and respect their safety.

Don’t dilly dally on the way

Though you might not think it, there is such a thing as being too cautious on the road. After all, there’s a clear difference between taking your time to ensure it’s safe to move and being indecisive. During your practical test, your examiner will be watching to see if you drive at an appropriate speed for the road and that you make good progress. If your examiner feels you’re being overly hesitant, they may think you lack the confidence to drive unsupervised. A prime example of dithering is taking too long to emerge from a junction if there are gaps in the oncoming traffic into which you can emerge safely, yet you wait. Again, not moving off in adequate time if you’ve been signalling to do so and then don’t despite the gaps in traffic, or taking too long to move off from a green traffic light. One of the main reasons for undue hesitation is a lack of observations which prevent you from planning smoothly ahead. For instance, if you’re not paying attention on the approach to a crossroads or roundabout, you’re going to take longer to figure out what you need to do next. You need to watch the road ahead for clues. If you’re heading to an open junction you’ll be able to spot traffic from early on and if the road is clear, simply keep on going. To avoid undue hesitation, don’t try the opposite extreme. Your examiner doesn’t want to see you speeding from junctions. They just want to see that you’re able to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. Make your observations, evaluate whether or not it’s safe, then emerge and make good progress.

Why what you wear matters

We’ve all heard of people running late in the morning for the school run or other errands who hop in the car wearing pyjamas to save time. But before you follow their example, think about suitable clothing behind the wheel. While it’s not illegal to drive in pyjamas, and Rule 97 of the Highway Code states that before setting off ‘you should ensure clothing and footwear do not prevent you using the controls in the correct manner’, you can still face a penalty if your driving is considered unsafe due to what you’re wearing. This includes your footwear, so think again if you’re wearing slippers. A simple pair of moccasins is fine, but footwear resembling life-size swans could hinder your ability to control the pedals safely. The same applies to long skirts and dresses or very baggy jeans as this type of clothing can obstruct your use of the pedals or get caught underneath them. However, as long as your pyjamas don’t prevent you pressing the pedals, changing gears or holding the steering wheel, you’re not breaking any laws. But there are practical reasons why it’s not a good idea. If you break down or are involved in an incident, you could be embarrassed awaiting rescue and will certainly receive odd looks. If you’ve recently passed your test, stick to practical clothes and shoes. If you’re on your way to an event which calls for inappropriate clothes for driving, for example a fancy-dress charity run, get changed on arrival and have sensible shoes in your car so nothing can stop you from reaching the pedals.

Why rules of the road matter

Most things are a challenge until you learn to do them well, and driving is no exception. As a learner, it’s good to know that there are practical steps to making driving easier. For starters, if you don’t understand the rules of the road, then you will certainly find driving ten times more difficult. After all, you’ve got to know what you’re supposed to be doing in order to do it. While no learner is going to know every single rule in the Highway Code, the more you do know about road signs, road markings and traffic signals the better. The onus is therefore on you to study as there’s no shortcut to learning your theory. Fortunately, there are plenty of apps, quizzes and information to help you. It’s easy to think of your theory as a separate component to actually driving, but everything you learn is detail that you need to know when you’re behind the wheel. If you’re one of those people who learns best by rote, that’s fine, but make sure you can apply your knowledge to real-life road scenarios. And even after you’ve passed your theory test, keep revising it, learning new things and checking you’re up-to-date with the rules of the road. You’ll find driving so much easier as a result.

Say no to hand-held mobiles

We all know smart phones make life convenient, but if you have nomophobia or ‘no mobile phone phobia’, your phone can cause more problems than it solves. If your anxiety of being without it means you can’t put your phone away while you’re driving, you are a danger to yourself and to others on the road. A mobile phone addiction clouds your better judgement once inside the car. Otherwise responsible drivers, who would never drink and drive, feel they can justify their compulsion and will use a red traffic light or traffic jam as an ideal opportunity to text or check social media updates, and then find it hard to resist continuing once the car starts to move again. According to the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory, people who text and drive have worse reaction times than people who drink and drive. It seems we’re so busy catching up and not missing out, we’ve forgotten how complex a task it is to drive a car safely. You may excuse yourself by claiming you’re a more experienced driver, or better multi-tasker but be clear, using a hand-held mobile while driving is as dangerous as drink-driving. It doesn’t happen by accident, it happens by choice, so the next time you get in the car, switch your mobile off unless you have a correctly set-up hands-free device. Remember, if you’re a newly qualified driver a single mobile phone offence means an automatic loss of your licence and you must re-take the theory and practical test again as a provisional licence holder.

Up and downhill in snow

When snow is a factor, a different set of driving rules come into play. You should be extra cautious and give other drivers plenty of space. It’s extremely important to plan ahead and take it slowly. In these conditions, on a level road, always accelerate gently, and change up to higher gears as quickly as possible. This will help you to gain more traction and control of your car. You can also reduce wheel slip by moving off in second gear if you drive a manual or your car doesn’t have a winter mode. As stopping distances increase tenfold in snow and ice, you’ll need to think about how to approach driving up or down a hill. If conditions are really treacherous, take this one step further by waiting at the bottom of the hill until it’s clear of other traffic. Then drive up at a constant speed keeping your foot on the accelerator, and in a low enough gear so you don’t have to change gears while ascending. If you’re driving downhill, slow down as you approach the incline, select a low gear and stay in that gear while you descend, letting your engine do the braking. Try to avoid using the brakes if possible, or touch the brake pedal only gently if you really need to use it. You need to remember that in snow and ice, you can’t brake as you normally would, otherwise, you’ll likely skid or put yourself and others in harm’s way.

Mini-roundabout know-how

While it may be tempting to drive straight over a painted mini-roundabout, especially if there are no other cars around, don’t. Although this is a common misdemeanour on local roads, it’s not acceptable practice. The Highway Code states: ‘It is important to remember that all vehicles must pass round the central markings, except large vehicles which are physically incapable of doing so’, otherwise you could be fined. You might notice some drivers tend to falter at a mini-roundabout unsure who should enter the roundabout first, but it’s not complicated. Just treat them as you would their big brothers, which means you should slow down and be prepared to give way to traffic entering the roundabout from the right. However, because mini-roundabouts are so much smaller, before you enter one, make sure that any vehicles already using it are preparing to leave it. As there’s less space to manoeuvre and less time to signal, always try to give a clear indication of your intentions to other drivers. You might query if you should give way to a driver opposite you at the 12 o’clock position. You need to assess this carefully (ask yourself have they started turning before me?), and, if you have any doubt, let them enter the roundabout before you. Should you come across a double mini-roundabout, treat each roundabout separately and give way to traffic from the right.

Steer clear of fire hydrants

 H 

Once you know what to look for fire hydrants are easy to spot. They’re commonly identified by a yellow plastic indicator plate with a black ‘H’ symbol, usually fixed to a nearby lamp post or other street furniture. They can also appear as a yellow concrete marker post, secured in the ground close to the hydrant itself which has a metal cover on the ground embossed with the initials ‘FH’ and painted yellow along with any adjoining kerb where available. In an emergency, firefighters connect to this outlet for an instant water supply. Parking over a hydrant means that you’ve blocked the emergency supply preventing fire crews from responding quickly. You may want to park outside your home but steer clear of a hydrant if there’s one nearby. Under the Fire and Rescue Services Act Section 42 it’s illegal to obstruct a fire hydrant. This includes parking over or too close to one. Anyone found to be obstructing a hydrant can be convicted and fined. After all, there’s a big difference between being bad at parking and being recklessly careless where you leave your car. We’ve all seen someone hogging two spaces in a supermarket car park or parked dangerously on a bend, so think carefully where you park your car and make sure fire crews can do their job.