Driving Hints and Tips

Key to the clearways

In urban areas with heavier traffic, you’ll notice that the authorities use various tools to keep everyone safe, happy and moving. Among these measures are the clearway and urban clearway. Each is slightly different, but both forbid you to stop your vehicle on certain stretches of road, and it’s important to know the difference. There are no road markings with clearways, but this doesn’t mean the rules don’t apply, so you’ll need to pay attention to the road signs. You’re not allowed to stop on a clearway for any reason, and it is denoted by a familiar, but often misunderstood, circular sign showing a red cross on a blue background. Clearway signs are positioned in pairs so you’ll get one at the beginning of a stretch of road designated a clearway, and one at the end of that stretch with the word ‘end’ added in black lettering on a white background under the main circular sign.

To identify an urban clearway, think of it as a clearway with a few more ifs and buts built in. An urban clearway is denoted by circular sign with a single red line diagonally across a blue background, set in a rectangular yellow, black and white sign usually accompanied by extra information on the particular times that the urban clearway rules apply. At the end of the zone, there will be an ‘urban clearway end’ sign to tell you that the rules are no longer in force. Typically, urban clearways are enforced on weekdays, for example between 8am and 9.30am, then again between 4.30pm and 6.30pm. During these hours of enforcement, you can’t stop or park, however, you are allowed to pick-up or drop-off passengers quickly. When the urban clearway is outside its hours of operation, you can stop or park where the normal road markings allow. However, you’re likely to find a pay and display or pay by phone parking system in force as urban clearways are usually in busy areas.

Follow the yellow box rules

Yellow Box Junction

It’s easy to misjudge box junction rules simply because they’re not that common, so unless you encounter them regularly, you may not know how to negotiate them correctly. Road planners insist that yellow box junctions are a crucial tool for preventing gridlock and keeping busy roads moving, and the penalties imposed on rule-breakers are there to deter drivers from selfishly blocking the road and adding to traffic problems. As box junctions are not signposted you’ll need to pay attention to the road surface. It will be outlined on the road ahead by a perimeter containing intersecting yellow lines in a grid pattern usually at crossroads or T-junctions and often controlled by traffic lights. Importantly, you can only enter a box junction when your exit road is clear, it really is that simple. So, whether you’re turning or driving straight on if there’s traffic ahead of you, you must wait to ensure there’s a space for you to clear the box entirely without stopping in it. The only exception to this rule is if you’re turning right and prevented from taking your exit road by oncoming traffic or by another vehicle that’s also waiting to turn right: in these instances, you are allowed to stop and wait in the box. At box junctions controlled by lights, the rules still apply, so if the light goes green and there’s no space ahead to clear the box, you still need to wait. Most box junctions are policed by cameras and if you break the rules you’ll receive a Penalty Charge Notice of between £70-£130. The only plus side is that you don’t get penalty points on your licence if you’re caught out.

Know your red lines

Most learners know what double yellow lines mean, but what about double and single red ones? An increasing number of ‘red routes’ are appearing across the UK, especially in big cities and around busy places such as airports and hospitals to act as a strong deterrent to stopping, even for a second or two. Essentially, they’re a very strict version of double yellow lines and tend to be more heavily enforced with fines if you stop on them. Red routes were first introduced in London during 1991 to form urban clearways and ease traffic hot spots. They now cover five per cent of the Capital and are increasingly popular with local authorities nationwide. Double red lines marked along the left of your inside lane indicate that no stopping, waiting or parking is permitted by any vehicles at any time. A single red line tells you that no vehicle is allowed to stop during the hours of the route’s operation which is clearly displayed on roadside signage. Both double and single red lines mean you can’t drop off or pick up passengers or load or unload goods and apply equally to cars, vans and lorries. The only way you can stop on a red line is if you’re held in traffic or at a red light. Red routes also prohibit U-turns, and in some cases, there may be lane restrictions to watch out for.

Master the U-turn safely

As you become more adept at manoeuvring, you’ll appreciate why a U-turn is a potentially dangerous move. In one complete manoeuvre, you undertake a 180-degree turn in the road so that your car ends up facing in the opposite direction. Don’t confuse this with a three-point turn which involves reversing. But why is it considered dangerous? Although it’s legal to make a U-turn in the UK, there are situations where the manoeuvre is prohibited and here you’ll see a ‘No U-turn’ sign displaying a red outer circle surrounding a black ‘U’ with a line through it. It’s also illegal to make the U-turn if you cross a kerb, cross double white lines in the centre of the road or on a one-way street. It should really be your last resort, for example, if the road ahead is blocked. However, the U-turn is often performed when a driver misses a turn, and often the result of a rushed decision with less thought for road safety. If you’re in doubt, pull up on the side of the road, consider your options, then make an informed decision. Ask yourself: is it safe and legal to make a U-turn here? Will I endanger or inconvenience other road users? Is the road wide enough to complete the manoeuvre in one turn? Is there clear visibility? If you must perform a U-turn it will take a few seconds to complete, so make sure the oncoming traffic is clear before starting the manoeuvre and double check for motorcyclists and cyclists. When it’s safe to do so, check your mirrors, indicate right, check your mirrors again (including any blind spots), then make the turn. Alternatively, just turn left or right at the next junction, following the traffic laws, before joining the road again in the right direction.

How to deal with bad drivers

As your driving skills improve, you’ll start to realise that there are drivers who refuse to play by the rules. This is frustrating as bad driving affects all road users and even if you’re a good driver, another’s actions can still impact on you. Fortunately, you don’t have complete lack of control because how you respond to the mistakes of others makes all the difference. The term ‘bad driving’ covers many sins, but generally splits drivers into two categories: those who are reckless, selfish and don’t care what the rules are, and those who are oblivious that their driving is subpar and think other drivers don’t exist or can read their minds. These drivers tend to make last minute turns, abrupt stops and don’t signal. Encountering a bad driver can make you feel anything from amused to worried, frustrated or furious. However, if you’re mentally prepared when you do come across them, your emotional response should not be as strong. Whatever the scenario, stay calm and don’t over react (avoid the horn and hand gestures), after all, it’s your safety that’s paramount so focus on your own driving. If another driver’s actions have affected your journey, try not to dwell on it, perk up and move on.

Say what you see

Many advanced drivers use a technique called ‘commentary driving’, which involves scanning the road ahead and saying out loud what they see, what they’re planning and what they’re thinking. Emergency services, for example, use this technique while training and in the course of pursuit. Essentially, it trains you to focus and stay alert as your brain is occupied with processing what you’re observing. You may be thinking does it really make much difference whether you’re speaking out loud or just thinking? But as a learner driver you’ll discover that commentary driving cuts off any non-relevant thoughts, including those that make you nervous, and helps you to concentrate on the road. It helps to sharpen your observational skills so that using your eyes properly becomes a natural part of your driving, and it improves your anticipation of what other road users are doing. If your instructor has not suggested this approach, ask if you can try. It is a learning process and takes practice, so start slowly by mentioning significant things and build from there. Even if you don’t like the thought of speaking out loud, give it a go and see how you get on. Initially your instructor will be doing the commentary for you, but as you progress in the learning process you’ll be able to verbally commentate on the driving routines you’ve been taught along with what hazards you see and what course of action you intend to take which all contribute to making you a safer driver.

Too close for comfort

Most drivers have an opinion on how to treat tailgaters. But what is the correct way to deal safely and sensibly with those who follow too close behind? Tailgating is not only annoying, it can be dangerous, so stay calm and don’t speed up under the pressure you may feel. How you shake-off a tailgater depends on whether he or she is of the ‘passive’ or ‘aggressive’ variety. An aggressive tailgater has the clear intention of passing you. They will actively drive up your rear in a fashion that says ‘Get out of my way’. A passive tailgater is different. Normally, they have no real intention of passing you but simply drive too close. This is most likely an unconscious choice as they’re probably not concentrating and thinking about leaving a safe braking distance. Each type requires a different approach. With an aggressive tailgater, keep a constant speed and as soon as it’s safe to do so, pull over to let them pass, that’s it. You may feel this is rewarding bullying behaviour, but it’s not worth risking your safety. With a passive tailgater, always leave plenty of space in front of you. Don’t be tempted to brake sharply. Flashing your brake lights isn’t going make your tailgater back off as it will lose impact. It’s better to just ease off your accelerator, then, if you do need to brake suddenly, the brake light should prompt your tailgater to take evasive action. It may be tempting to put some distance between you and the car behind, but don’t as you’re likely to create the same situation for the car in front. And if they brake suddenly, you could become an unwitting ‘sandwich’. To ensure you never tailgate, always maintain at least 2-3 seconds of distance behind the car in front of you and by doing so, you’ll be able to stop safely if necessary.

Autumn leaves alert

The colours may look majestic, but when leaves fall and accumulate on the road they become wet and extremely slippery making driving conditions similar to driving on black ice, especially on country roads and leafy avenues. Every autumn wet leaves pose a significant traction problem. As they fall, they tend to accumulate near gutters, then get soaked and stick together, effectively blocking drains and preventing water running away. A combination of mushed up leaves and water quickly builds to create a skid area. If the temperature drops below freezing, wet leaves turn icy. Besides reducing your car’s traction, causing skidding, leaves fall covering important painted road markings, making it more difficult to read the road and spot potholes and bumps. When you park always give the leaves a quick kick to check you’re not accidentally on double yellow lines. Also, make sure your windscreen is leaf-free especially the gully where the windscreen meets the bonnet to avoid blockage and remove all fallen leaves from your car to prevent staining and paintwork damage as they decompose. Darker autumn mornings and early evenings will make it harder to spot this sodden hazard. The best advice is to treat leaves with caution and be ready to slow down as you drive through them, especially on bends as you need to be certain what you are driving on.

Be mindful, don’t idle

You could be waiting in your car to pick up a friend or collect children from school and as it’s just for ‘a short while’ be tempted to leave your engine running. According to a study by Renault, a surprising 60 per cent of drivers are unaware that it is illegal to leave your car’s engine idling while you wait, even for a few minutes. Rule 123 of the Highway Code clearly states ‘You must not leave a vehicle’s engine running unnecessarily while that vehicle is stationary on a public road.’ By doing so, and ignoring the detrimental impact this has on emissions, you can receive a fixed penalty of between £20-80. You may want to keep your motor running simply for convenience, for example, if parking is difficult or to keep your heating or air-con on, but by leaving your engine idling for just 10 seconds, you waste more fuel than restarting it. Renault’s study also claims that every minute a car is idling it produces enough emissions to fill 150 balloons. The best advice for all new drivers is be mindful, and steer clear of the idling habit.

Time to go Dutch

Car dooring is a problem which shouldn’t really exist. A quick check before you exit your car should stop you accidentally opening your door on to a passing cyclist, motorcyclist or even pedestrian. If you’re not already familiar with the Dutch Reach, it’s a safety technique designed to quickly become a good habit. It simply involves using the hand furthest from the car door to open it – the left hand if you’re the driver, and the right if you’re a passenger. In doing so, you automatically turn your body, forcing your head to look directly to the side and towards the rear of your vehicle, eliminating the blind spot and giving you full visibility of the immediate area and any cyclist. By using the opposite hand, you’re also less likely to swing the door open widely, further reducing the risk. By adopting this habit, it also means that if you’re in a rush or distracted by conversation, for example, you don’t have to actively remember to check as you’ll automatically be opening your door safely. This useful technique has been Dutch common sense since the 1960s, and today new drivers in the Netherlands are taught the movement as part of the driving test. If you need a further cue, attach a ribbon, sticker or even rubber band near your door handle to remind you.