Driving Hints and Tips

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.

Lessons learned

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.

Reversing made easy

When you drive forward you don’t look at the steering wheel because you’re looking where you want your car to go. With practice, your brain automatically works out how much steering to do and when to steer because your hands on the wheel will follow your eyes. It’s the same with reversing, so your main focus should be out of the back window. For this reason, the Highway Code allows you to take off your seatbelt for any manoeuvre involving reversing, so you can move more freely in your seat and see clearly out of the back window. As you look out of the back window, try pointing the way you want the back of the car to go and steer the way you are pointing. If you want the back of your car to go left, steer left, and if you want it to go right, steer right. It’s tempting to simply use your interior mirror to reverse, but this makes the whole task more exacting. After all, what do mirrors do? They reverse images, making it more difficult to work out your steering.

Slow driver alert

Driving too slowly is rarely the direct cause of an incident but driving like a snail can be as dangerous as driving like a cheetah. Learner drivers aside, driving behind someone who is going too slowly creates frustration for other motorists and provokes dangerous behaviours. This can lead to tailgating, abrupt braking, over-ambitious overtakes, undertaking on the motorway, tailbacks and road rage. While punishments are normally associated with speeding, if you do drive too slowly you could be charged with driving without reasonable consideration for other road users or driving without due care and attention, and face a £100 fine and three points on your licence. There are a number of reasons why people drive too slowly. They may lack confidence on the road, have health-related issues like bad eyesight, poor reactions or anxiety, or think they’re conserving fuel, but getting frustrated because of somebody else’s bad driving is pointless. Better to laugh it off and see the funny side of getting riled at a complete stranger who you’ll never see again. To make sure you are driving at the right speed, use common sense, courtesy and the maximum speed limits as a guideline. If you don’t stray too far below the speed limit, you won’t put others at risk or break the law. Remember, if you do feel pressurised by cars behind you, then simply find a safe place to pull over and allow following traffic to pass. It will be less stressful and less frustrating for everyone.

Salt and grit alert

While roads need to be treated in winter with grit and salt to ensure your car doesn’t lose grip, road salt turns ice back into water creating a corrosive substance that can damage your car’s bodywork and the components underneath. You may think that driving on salt and grit once or twice a year can be ignored, but corrosive substances build up. The best advice is to apply wax protection to your car this winter to minimise damage and hose off the underside of your car after every trip in ice or snow. Should you come across a road gritter, allow plenty of space as they can throw small chips across your bonnet creating scratches that are irritating and costly to repair.

Petrol station etiquette

Feathers are easily ruffled at petrol stations when an inconsiderate driver stops to fill-up and obstructs two fuel pumps or blocks in other vehicles. Petrol stations can be tight areas and you should take extra caution to avoid doing this as most people want to fill up and go. It’s also annoying if someone forgets which side their fuel cap is on and others have to wait while they stretch the nozzle over their car to reach the other side. While fuel nozzles can be slippery or greasy, it’s also irritating to wait while a driver makes a meal of putting on and taking off disposable gloves. Again, someone who has to reach a precise amount of fuel and spends time squeezing an extra five pence worth is unlikely to add miles to a journey and delays fellow motorists. Waiting for a driver to leisurely stock up on snacks or sit on the phone is also no fun, especially as mobiles are not designed for use in explosive atmospheres. Although the risk is low, don’t use your mobile near petrol pumps.

Steer clear of alcohol

Before you head out for the evening, make sure you know how you’ll get home. Preparing in advance removes the temptation to get behind the wheel after a drink or two. Punishments for drink-driving offences are severe and usually include a mandatory 12-month driving ban, a fine up to £2,500 and a criminal record. This will harm your chances of employment in industries where driving is required, and your car insurance is likely to increase as insurers will classify you as a higher road risk. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the drink-drive alcohol limit is 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. This can also be measured as 107mg of alcohol per 100ml of urine or 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100ml of breath. However, every human is different and there is no safe way to calculate how many units you can consume to stay below the legal limit. Although food may slow down the process of intoxication, it will not remove the amount of alcohol already in your system. Again, coffee may help you feel more alert, but you’ll still have the same amount of alcohol in your system when the police stop you.