Driving Hints and Tips

Always think ‘motorcyclist’

It sounds straightforward when you’re told to ‘make allowances’ for motorcyclists, but it’s not always that easy. Why? Well, motorcycles are simply not that common on our roads. While you might be expecting to see the usual cars, lorries and vans, it’s easy to overlook the less evident and much smaller motorcycle. This phenomenon is commonly known as ‘inattentional blindness’ and usually happens when you’re fully engaged in a task, in this case driving, and you fail to see something that’s clearly visible, but unexpected. The key to spotting motorcyclists is therefore to use your hazard perception and scanning skills at all times. Whenever you approach situations where motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable, such as at junctions or when vehicles are turning right, consciously think ‘motorcyclist’ as they can be concealed behind other traffic, road signs, trees and lamp posts. Again, look carefully when you’re changing lanes or moving out to overtake slower-moving or parked vehicles and check your mirrors properly before you begin the manoeuvre. By doing so you’ll be making make busy roads safer and could make all the difference to the next motorcyclist you encounter.

How to manage your speed

Speed in itself is not a bad thing, after all, we all want to get about quickly but inappropriate or illegal speeds are a problem. You’ll quickly learn that managing your speed requires focus and in road safety terms, the speed that your car is travelling makes a huge difference. The safest solution is to drive at a speed appropriate for your road conditions. For example, if you’re on a road with a speed limit of 40mph, you will need to consider the course of the road and ask yourself: are there bends, junctions, dips, bumps or other road infrastructure that might make it more difficult to see an approaching hazard or stop quickly? What is on either side of the road? Are there any clues to suggest children and pedestrians are likely to cross? What’s the volume of traffic and what are the weather conditions? Wet weather, for instance, has the effect of increasing your stopping distances and spray from other vehicles can reduce visibility. Again, is there mud on the road or any warning signs that suggest that there might be slow-moving agricultural vehicles ahead? If any of these factors apply, then driving at or near 40mph may not be appropriate or safe. Whatever the speed limit on your road, the golden rule is to take account of the conditions. Remember, the speed limit is not a target, all it shows is the maximum speed allowed on that stretch of road.

Clear signals at all times

As you gain experience, you’ll appreciate the importance of using your indicators clearly to inform other road users of your intentions, especially when turning. While some drivers ignore the importance of doing so, especially when there are no other cars on the road, it is best practice to use your indicators at all times, even if there are no other vehicles around. After all, there could be an unsuspecting pedestrian or cyclist who finds themselves in harm’s way through your lack of a signal. The Highway Code states that: ‘Signals warn and inform other road users, including pedestrians, of your intended actions.’ If a pedestrian is already halfway across a road into which you are turning, they have priority and you must give way to them. Your failure to indicate could lead to a charge of driving without due care and attention. By signalling correctly, you keep yourself and everyone else on the road safe. On the other hand, excessive indicating such as flashing your lights, indicating that it’s OK for another driver to make a manoeuvre, forgetting to cancel your signal after a turn, or simply signalling too late can cause confusion. For this reason, the Highway Code states you should ‘Watch out for signals given by other road users and proceed only when you are satisfied that it is safe.’ While other drivers may display bad signalling habits, don’t follow their example. The one thing motorists find most infuriating is other drivers not indicating clearly before making a manoeuvre.

Time for careful handling

While you should bear weather conditions in mind no matter what time of year, safe driving in winter requires special consideration. Snowy and icy conditions are some of the most dangerous because the risk of losing your grip on the road is much higher. The best and easiest way to avoid an unwelcome incident in winter snow, ice or rain is simply to slow down. When grip is reduced, all your actions need to be slower, smoother and gradual to give you extra time to react as any sudden inputs with the accelerator, brakes or steering can cause your tyres to lose grip on the road. Again, a larger gap to the car in front (at least twice as far) will give you more time to react to hazards ahead and allow you to brake more gradually. In snow and ice, your braking distance should also be multiplied by 10. This means it could take you the length of seven football pitches to stop from 70mph in the unlikely event you’re travelling that fast. If you’re driving a manual car, it’s advisable to change down through the gears to help slow the car, rather than relying solely on your brakes. Also, try driving in higher gears than usual because less pulling power reaches the wheels and this makes them less likely to spin, so pull away in second gear instead of first. On a practical note, as your car gets dirtier in winter, remember to carry a good cloth to ensure your windows, headlights and number plates aren’t covered in grime as this is an offence. You may also want to give your door sills a wipe, as there’s nothing worse than getting in or out of the car to find a smear of mud on your trouser leg or skirt.

Fog factor

Fog and mist can take you by surprise. Make sure you know how to operate your front and rear fog lights and don’t confuse these with your ‘full-beam’ setting.

Your headlights should be dipped at all times and don’t attempt to navigate using the car in front’s tail lights. Instead, follow the ‘two-second rule’ to leave sufficient space between you and the car in front.

If visibility is very limited, wind down your windows at junctions and crossroads to listen out for approaching traffic.

Along for the ride

When it comes to driving safely, the focus tends to be on what the driver should or shouldn’t be doing. But what about putting the responsibilities of the passenger in the driving seat? When you get into someone’s car, the expectation is that they’ll be competent enough to drive safely. But what should you be doing as a passenger to help stay safe? A vow of silence as soon as you hit the road is not required, but make yourself aware of the extent of the driver’s workload. Whether you’re just nipping to the high street or on a longer journey, your driver has to juggle complex junctions plus other drivers, as well as keeping an eye out for all signs or turnings; even the most skilled of multi-taskers will need their full attention. It’s smart to be considerate with your conversation. Try to wait for quieter stretches of road, or when you’re waiting in traffic before serious chatting and avoid debates. If you have children in the car, you don’t need to be Julie Andrews, but let them focus on you not the person behind the wheel. If you’ve been out socialising, it’s important to respect your designated driver, so don’t offer them a bite of your kebab on the bypass. The best advice is try to be useful and cut driver distractions, at least offer to operate the satnav, playlist or radio, keep watch for diversions and read the road signs. Above all be tactful, keeping a watchful eye is one thing, but criticising every move your driver makes will only annoy them.

The art of de-icing your car

How to de-ice your car isn’t something you’re likely to cover in your driving lessons, especially if you learn in the summer. Fortunately, there are plenty of handy tips for the first time that Jack Frost appears. If you prefer not to use chemicals, the old-fashioned way is to lay a dry towel or blanket over your car’s windscreen at night (tucked in under the wipers) to prevent ice forming. In the morning, if you find your door locks are frozen, just slather your keys in hand sanitising gel as this will de-ice the locks and de-germ your keys. If you don’t have any hand gel, you can gently heat your keys up over a lighter instead. If you’re really unlucky, you might find your door handles and seals frozen over. If you can’t loosen them gently by hand, try spraying de-icer on the stuck areas or spread some hand gel around. Alternatively, you can carefully pour warm water on the icy bits but never use boiling water, and wipe off any excess to ensure it doesn’t refreeze. Driving off with limited vision from snow, ice or misting is dangerous and you can be fined with points on your licence, so make sure all your windows are completely clear. Removing ice from your windscreen is a regular winter chore and using anything other than a car ice scraper is likely to damage your windscreen. If you don’t want to invest in de-icer spray, there are some clever DIY solutions with low freezing points to make quick work of the frost. A solution using water and a teaspoon of salt in a misting spray bottle on the windscreen then wiped down with an old towel is one option, but don’t spray it on your body work as salt corrodes metal. Again, one part water to three parts vinegar works and you can use it the night before as a preventative measure. A mixture of two parts alcohol or surgical spirit to one part water is also effective. You can also soak a towel in the salt water solution and place it on your windscreen and windows overnight for frost-free results.

Winter-wise driving

It not only gets bitterly cold in the winter but wet, foggy and icy too. In the same way that you adjust your clothing according to the weather, you should think about tweaking the way you drive and the precautions you take to stay safe on the road. In the first instance, it’s important to choose the right roads, stick to the busier ones and avoid back roads or areas that will be particularly weather beaten. It might seem obvious, but looking ahead is the easiest way to stay safe and in control on winter roads. Don’t just concentrate on the end of your bonnet or the car in front, instead look as far ahead as you can and then work back to the front of your car. Doing this will allow you to prepare your speed and steering well in advance and avoid late, dangerous movements on potentially hazardous road surfaces. In normal dry road conditions, the two-second rule to the car in front should always apply to give you enough braking time, but in wet winter weather this should be exaggerated and doubled to four seconds, and in icy conditions this should be 10 times greater. While extended separation distances are crucial in poor and slippery conditions, it’s not just your grip on the road that can alter in winter, your visibility can be affected too, especially in fog or heavy rain. You’ll see obstacles much later and this impacts on your ability to assess how to respond. The best advice is match your speed to visibility: the less you see, the slower you need to drive.

Think about the lorry driver

You may not like driving behind or overtaking large lorries, but have you considered that the way you drive might be causing the lorry driver problems? You could be driving dangerously and not know it. For example, it’s dangerous to pull out of a junction at the last minute in front of a lorry as this makes it difficult for the driver of a 44-metre long vehicle to slow down in time. Due to the weight of the lorry, even though it’s braking, the momentum of the load pushes the vehicle forward. As a car driver, you might not have considered the logic of how a lorry stops and should bear this in mind the next time you pull out of a junction late or at a roundabout. Again, think about the implications of pulling in too quickly after you overtake a lorry. Your action will force the lorry driver to brake, causing problems for the lorry and drivers behind and makes it taxing for the lorry to get back up to speed due to loss of momentum. Next time you overtake a lorry make sure there’s plenty of room ahead of you, and only pull in when you’re well beyond it. At roundabouts, don’t try to speed through just as a lorry pulls out, and always indicate clearly. If a lorry starts to pull out because you’ve not indicated or indicate late, it’s hard for it to stop again and this will back up traffic. Double parking or thoughtless parking on narrow roads is another gripe as this prevents deliveries and also blocks fire engines, so be aware. And while it’s frustrating to be stuck behind a large vehicle on a country lane, trying to overtake when you can’t see clearly past it or see the on-coming traffic compromises everyone’s safety.

Quick steps to demisting

In colder months, misty car windows can be irritating and a safety hazard, so demisting your windscreen before driving off is essential. Not doing so impedes your vision and then you’ll be driving illegally. When the temperature drops, your windscreen mostly mists up due to the water vapour in the atmosphere that occurs when your body heats the air inside the car, as does your breath, and when it comes into contact with the cold windscreen glass, condenses forming a mist. The most effective way to clear the windscreen is to start your car heater on cold and slowly increase the temperature letting the air dry out, rather than overloading the cabin with hot ‘wet’ air. Make sure your heater’s blast is directed at the windscreen and the windows as the warmer air dries the glass and heats it up to stop water vapour condensing on it again. It will take a few minutes so don’t set off until all your windows are completely clear. If you have air conditioning make sure it’s switched on and use it in conjunction with the heater to help dry the cabin atmosphere. Alternatively, if you have a clever climate control system, use the demisting setting. If you don’t have climate control, roll your windows down as the dry, cold air from outside reduces the water vapour inside your car and stops the misting. Once your windows are clear then warm the car to a comfortable temperature. Should your windows start to mist up again during driving roll the windows down once more. Remember, keeping your windscreen clean in winter goes a long way to stopping it misting up. A handy tip is to clean your windscreen inside with shaving foam. Although this protective barrier needs to be repeated regularly, it’s a trick ice hockey players use to stop their facemasks steaming up on the ice. Certain items in your car can also help to increase misting. These include dog blankets, umbrellas and coats, so it’s a good idea to remove these whenever you’re not driving.