Driving Hints and Tips

Steer clear of pavements

It’s an easy mistake but driving on a pavement unless you are turning into a driveway is an offence. Rule 244 of the Highway Code states that you must not park fully or even partly on the pavement unless road signs permit it: in London, it’s an offence to park on the pavement, full stop. This is perhaps one of the most common Highway Code rules broken and, if you’re parked in a way to inconvenience pedestrians, you’re causing a driving offence.

The yellow H sign

Have you noticed yellow signs on the road marked with a big ‘H’? A lot of drivers don’t know what this means and it does not signify a hospital, horses or helipad. Instead the H stands for hydrant plate. At the top of the letter H is a figure, for example 125, this identifies the size of the water main, in this case it would be 125 millimetres. A smaller figure below this number, for example, ‘3’ indicates the number of metres the fire hydrant is away from the plate. Importantly, when you park and see this sign, the fire service asks that you avoid parking over the plate.

Driving in the dark

The drop in visibility at night can lead to things just appearing in view. It’s also harder to judge speed and objects can be closer than they first appear. As a responsible driver, you should be prepared for the unexpected and drive at a speed that allows you to spot such hazards and react accordingly, by being able to brake or manoeuvre without endangering those around you. Not only is the distance you can see at night shortened, it also takes time for your eyes to adjust to the darkness after being in a lit building or driving on a well-lit road. Our eyes become less able to react quickly to changes in light as we get older, creating difficulty with colours and contrasts in poor lighting. Between the ages of 15 and 65, the time it takes to recover from glare increases from one to nine seconds, hence the reason some people find driving at night more demanding. To reduce the effects of eye fatigue at night, keep your eyes moving, scanning all around your field of vision instead of focusing on one area.

Speed and street lights

Bear in mind as you drive around that most road improvements reflect a past collision history, so be alert to what might have caused the hazard in the first place and keep your distance and slow down. As a general rule of thumb, more signs and more paint on the road equate to more hazards. The same applies to more street lights. As highway authorities are not allowed to put repeater 30mph speed limit signs on built-up roads with street lights, the Highway Code states that street lights mean the limit is 30mph unless there are signs showing otherwise – and remember this could be 20mph.

Be clever with hills

Driving up hills will eat into your fuel economy. It may feel good to accelerate up them, but this is disastrous for your mpg. Instead, try to drive them cleverly. If you spot a clear hill ahead, accelerate a little before you reach it, then ease off as you drive up. The extra momentum should be enough to minimise additional consumption.

Watch the cats’ eyes

Cats’ eyes or reflective road studs are everywhere in rural areas and when you get that thud-thud-thud under your wheels as you drive over them you might wonder how much damage you’re doing and do they shorten the life of your tyres? As your tyres clout the cats’ eyes they compress into the road which is how the lens on each one gets cleaned. If you try to step on one you’ll notice they need quite a considerable force to push them into the road, so it’s likely driving over them will cause more wear to your tyres. If you’re focusing properly on the road ahead you should be able to avoid them as you would a pothole, after all, that thudding noise is warning you that you’re straying out of your lane.

Hands on the wheel

With advances in technology, driving with your hands in the ‘ten and two’ positions (if you picture the steering wheel as a clock face) is no longer the advice of driving schools. Keeping your hands at ‘nine and three’ is generally considered better for driving and more comfortable with your arms aligned with your shoulders. This technique also keeps your hands in the proper position to use the push and pull method of turning the steering wheel to the left or right. And, with the vast majority of modern cars having power steering, the extra leverage gained by placing your hands high on the wheel is no longer necessary. There’s also an argument that the ‘ten and two’ position could put your arms in the path of the inflating airbag should an incident occur.

Night parking

There is a good reason why you should not park on the wrong side of the road at night. This is not because you have to drive on the opposite side of the road to enter and leave the space, but because of the risk of dazzling. You’ll dazzle other drivers with your headlights as you park and leave, and your rear light reflectors will not be visible once you’ve left the car. This is a driving offence under rule 248 of the Highway Code and can receive a Penalty Charge Notice.

Tyres talk

Your car is constantly relaying information to you, if you pay attention. For example, your tyres will tell you if one of them needs more air. Try loosening your grip on the wheel a little and if the car pulls to one side more than usual then you might have a slow puncture or a tyre that could do with more air. How your tyres wear also tells you a lot. If they’re worn in the middle of the tread they have been over-inflated for a long period; wear on both shoulders shows they’ve been under-inflated; and wear on just one edge of a tyre shows that your car’s wheel alignment is off.

Tyres will also tell you when they’re losing grip. If your steering starts to feel lighter than it did before, the chances are your tyres aren’t gripping as well as they were. This could be due to a number of factors such as a wet road, spilled diesel or excess speed. No matter what the cause, they’re warning you to slow down.

Tips to cut insurance

Renewing your policy early can be a smart move. With some insurers, you can buy cover 30 days ahead of the renewal date, and this can make a saving compared with buying the day before. This is because some insurers view organised people as more risk averse, and therefore less likely to take a chance behind the wheel – or miss a premium. Note that while paying for your insurance in monthly instalments may help spread the cost, it often works out more expensive than paying in one go upfront as insurers treat your premiums as a high-interest loan.

Again, consider your job title when you apply. You may want to tweak it because job descriptions are important and determine how risky an insurer will view you. An illustrator will often get cheaper car insurance than an artist. The same goes for an editor rather than a journalist and a PA rather than a secretary. Protecting your car from theft by fitting a car alarm or immobiliser can also bring down costs and if possible, try to park in a garage or driveway rather than on the road. Insurers look kindly on this.