Driving Hints and Tips

Kerb your enthusiasm

Sometimes you’ll find the only good parking space available is in front of a dropped kerb where the pavement is angled down to allow vehicles drive easily over it. The reason the space is empty is because it is illegal to park here, even if you block only a small part of the ramp. Ideally, you should park at least 1.5 metres (five feet) clear of any dropped kerb. There are two types of dropped kerb to watch out for, those in front of a driveway or business for vehicle access, and pedestrian kerbs for wheelchairs, powered mobility vehicles, visually impaired people and pushchairs. You can be ticketed with a penalty charge notice (PCN) and fined if you park on any part of these. However, you can park directly opposite a dropped kerb but check you’re not restricting access. If you have one in front of your own driveway it is still illegal to park here. It may seem silly, but this rule exists in case emergency vehicles need to access your house or nearby properties, and possibly use your driveway for an essential manoeuvre. The only time you can ever stop in front of a dropped kerb is when stationary traffic forces you to do so.

Stay safe at the fuel pump

As a driver, it makes perfect sense these days to be careful and wear hand protection when you refuel your car as it’s only too easy to pick up an unwanted virus from a petrol or diesel fuel pump handle. With more than two million motorists refilling their vehicles every day, the risk multiplies. Wearing hand protection before you pick up the fuel nozzle will form an essential barrier between your hand and whatever the driver in front may have left on that surface. Given that you’ll be holding a handle that has been tightly held by hundreds of other drivers for up to three minutes, ‘gloving-up’ is the only way to protect yourself and stop transmission at the pump. You only have to look at how frequently other drivers touch their faces or eat on the go, to know that if they haven’t worn gloves for refuelling viruses like Covid-19 will spread. This one simple act can help to slow down transmission and prevent a virus that sits invisibly on pump handles from leaping miles in a matter of hours, especially if you take a long journey.

‘Show me, tell me’ questions

As a learner driver, apart from mastering the accelerator, brake and clutch, you’ll be expected to understand the basic workings of a car. This involves simple routine maintenance and essential checks to make sure the car you’re driving is reliable, safe and fit for operation on UK roads. Before and during your practical test, you’ll be asked some ‘show me, tell me’ questions by the examiner. It’s essential that you revise these set questions and answers in advance. They are limited in number and easy to find on the gov.uk website. However, the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) changes them from time to time, so you’ll need to study a range of possible answers. You’ll be asked the ‘show me’ question before you start to drive and you must physically show the examiner how and where on the car you would carry out a particular safety check. For example, ‘show me where you would check the oil level for the car’. The examiner will then ask you a ‘tell me’ question while you’re driving and you’ll answer this verbally, such as: ‘tell me how you would check the brakes are working before you set off’. Should you answer one or both questions wrong, you’ll incur one ‘minor’ point but bear in mind you’re allowed 15 minors before failing the test. Useful tips to remember are that the ‘show me’ questions always require you to physically demonstrate how to carry out a particular vehicle safety check. The ‘tell me’ questions require you to talk through what you would do. Some questions can be similarly worded, so make sure you revise all the listed questions and answers. Be as detailed as possible when responding as this shows the examiner you’re confident and know what you’re talking about.

Cold weather tyre pressure

As you get behind the wheel this winter bear in mind that cold weather can affect the pressure in your tyres, and this makes driving in difficult conditions more hazardous. Your tyres feel the cold as much as you do, and when the temperature drops so does the pressure in your tyres. Similarly, if you drive somewhere with high altitude, your tyre pressure will drop faster. As a rule, with every 100C the temperature drops, your tyres lose between one and two pounds per square inch (PSI) or 0.07 to 0.14 bars. You should therefore check them more often during the winter months and it is recommended that you do this fortnightly. You’ll need to do this after your car has been parked for at least three hours as this will give you the correct cold tyre pressure, so don’t check them just after you’ve been driving. By making sure they are properly inflated, your car will have better traction on icy or wet roads. Even if you have a tyre pressure monitoring system in your car, you should still check your tyres. If you’re not sure what your car’s tyre pressure should be, you can find it on the door frame on the driver’s side, your vehicle handbook or on the fuel cap. Keeping your tyres at the correct pressure also helps with your fuel economy ensuring you get the full mileage from each litre of fuel.

How to use your fog lights

When you drive in foggy conditions, it’s vital to know how to keep yourself and other drivers safe. Using your fog lights correctly is important as you can be fined for using them at the wrong time. According to the RAC your fog lights should only be switched on when visibility drops below 100 metres (328 feet) which is roughly the length of a football pitch, however, the organisation also advises that you use your common sense. If the fog is so severe you’re struggling to see other vehicles use them, but don’t keep switching them off and on again as this can confuse other drivers. Rear fog lights are considered the more important, while your front fog lights should only be switched on in severely restricted conditions. Under the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, you are prohibited from using fog lights to dazzle other drivers when visibility is not reduced, or when your vehicle is parked, and never use them in rain or drizzle. All cars are fitted with rear fog lights by law and many now have them both front and back. In case you’re not familiar with the symbol for your front fog lights, it is a lamp pointing to the left with lines pointing diagonally down through a vertical wavy line. The symbol for your rear fog lights is a lamp pointing to the right, with lines pointing horizontally straight through the wavy line. Look out for these on your dashboard, steering wheel stalk or next to the dial you use to control your regular lights. There will be a symbol on your car’s dashboard or on the fog light button itself, which is usually amber for the rear fog lights and green for the front. If you have automatic lights activated by low light levels, remember to check the lights are on as they may not activate automatically in foggy conditions.

One way or another?

While we can all take a wrong turn on occasion, have you considered what you should do if you accidentally drive the wrong way down a one-way street? After realising your error, should you carry on against the flow of traffic or reverse back out of the road? Unfortunately, you could be fined for either option. By reversing back up the road, you could be charged with careless driving which carries an on-the-spot fine and three penalty points as reversing out of the one-way street could be potentially dangerous to passengers, pedestrians or other road users. However, if you continue driving in the wrong direction you could also be fined for failing to comply with a traffic sign or careless driving. According to the AA, if you do enter a one-way street incorrectly you should not reverse back out again. The best advice is to keep calm and pull over on the side of the road as soon as possible and put your hazard lights on. You should then wait for a gap in the traffic so you can turn around and the drive out of the one-way system safely.

Pedestrian splashing is no joke

As you concentrate on the road in wet weather you should be especially aware of pedestrians. While you might think ‘well, it’s raining, of course people will get wet, splashing is normal and unavoidable’, if it’s you that’s soaking pedestrians as you drive past, under the Road Traffic Act 1988 you are driving illegally as it amounts to driving ‘without reasonable consideration for other persons’. Should you splash pedestrians, you can be fined for ‘an act of incompetence, selfishness, impatience or aggressiveness’. On top of a Fixed Penalty Notice, you risk penalty points on your licence making your discourteous driving no joke. This is just one of the hazards of driving in wet weather when road surfaces can be unpredictable. However, it doesn’t have to be raining to splash someone. Large elongated puddles can build up around blocked drains which are clearly visible to the motorist, so there’s no excuse not to slow down and wait to drive around the puddle or drive slowly through it to avoid drenching anyone on the pavement or footpath. Puddle rage can lead to substantial fines. The best advice is always to be extra cautious when there are pedestrians around.

Always expect the unexpected

To develop best practices and become a better and more proactive driver, there are some useful defensive tactics you can follow. After all, there’s only one driver whose skills you can truly predict and that’s you, all other drivers have the potential do to the unexpected, so it’s important you’re prepared to react. For example, as you drive always think about where you could move to quickly should you need to avoid the actions of another motorist, this could be the hard shoulder or a different lane. Constantly planning and being aware of your ‘escape route’ should become an automatic part of your normal scan of the road. To be safe, assume that the other driver could do the wrong thing, after all they may suddenly change lanes, develop a tyre problem, pull out or make a turn without looking. As you gain experience, you’ll realise defensive driving is all about forward planning and being ready to react when something unexpected happens. The best approach is to assume a head-on-a-swivel, ready-for-anything mentality and, in this way, you’ll reduce the chances of another driver’s actions or mistakes affecting you and your car. A good starting point is to keep a healthy distance between your car and the vehicle in front, this way you’ll have plenty of time to react should they do something without warning.

Why antifreeze is important

While it’s pretty obvious what it means, do you know what the clever stuff actually does? Essentially, it’s a liquid that stops the water in your car engine’s cooling system from freezing and keeps your engine running smoothly. It’s usually pink/red, blue or green in colour and added to the water in your engine’s cooling system to lower the freezing point in winter to prevent damaging your radiator and other components. Antifreeze can come in concentrated form which needs diluting or bought ready mixed. The ready mixed version is also referred to as engine coolant and can be used straightaway for top-ups and replacement. Cleverly, its coolant properties work to prevent the engine from overheating when it is running. However, when you switch the engine off and the coolant stops flowing, temperatures drop down and this is where the antifreeze comes into play, preventing the water in the mixture from freezing and expanding. It also protects your engine from corrosion, aids heat transfer, and prevents scale from building up. As antifreeze goes right to the heart of your car’s engine, choosing the right one is important as it’s vehicle specific. Cars manufactured after 1998 usually need antifreeze that uses silicate-free, organic acid technology (OAT). Cars dating pre-1998 require antifreeze that is not OAT-based and contains silicate. The best way to check which type is correct for your car is to refer to the owners’ handbook or ask your local dealer, or garage. To be effective, most fluids in your car should be drained and replaced regularly, usually every two to five years. The same applies to antifreeze which should be checked at least twice a year, before the summer heat and before the winter cold.

Are you a rat runner?

Have you ever driven down a side street that runs parallel to a congested main road, or nipped through a car park to avoid a traffic jam, traffic lights or a speed camera? Or perhaps you’ve followed Google Maps advice and taken an alternative route through a residential area to make your journey quicker? On paper these sound like fairly sensible manoeuvres, and if you can answer ‘yes’ then you’ve been rat running. While some people think it’s just a common tactic to keep moving, beat queues and possibly save on time, especially if you’re familiar with the local geography, others think it is irresponsible and possibly dangerous. The concern is that rat running increases the likelihood of accidents as motorists often drive at speeds suited to main roads not residential ones. Rat running can also create traffic congestion, noise and pollution in otherwise quiet residential areas. This situation often leads to ‘house price fears’ and safety concerns given the narrower residential streets and likely presence of children. With the exception of ‘access only’ streets, rat running is legal, but it is a divisive issue as there’s a fine line between deliberate rat running and genuinely trying to make your journey shorter. With more drivers using smart phones to navigate, why wouldn’t you select the one that gets you there faster? It’s not a failsafe method, however, as rat running can lead to tailbacks and congestion in areas not designed for that volume of traffic, and sometimes it’s better to stay on your main route. In the absence of regulation, some areas have introduced speed bumps, planters, barriers, road narrowing and low neighbourhood schemes (where only residents, deliveries and services should have access) to discourage rat running. The question is how do you feel about it? Are you a proud time saver or do you worry about additional traffic coming through an otherwise quiet street, possibly yours?