Driving Hints and Tips

Space travel

Maintaining a safety bubble around your car in the form of a safe space at the rear, side and in front of you goes a long way to keeping you safe on the road. Ensuring there’s always an adequate space in front of you is the easiest one to control as you can simply adjust the gap
between yourself and the vehicle in front by varying your speed. If you regularly get a close- up view of large vehicles (or slow vehicles) you’ll need to improve the skill of maintaining a safe gap. However, you also need to consider the gap in front of you when you’re in stationary traffic. Ask yourself what if the car in front rolls back, or breaks down? What if your foot slips off the clutch? To be safe, you should leave enough room to steer around the
vehicle in front. Ideally, the gap should be around two metres and big enough for any eventuality. An easy way to measure this yourself is to use the ‘tyres and tarmac’ rule. When stopped behind another vehicle you should always be able to see its rear tyres and some of the road surface behind them.

Why tyre pressure matters

Tyre pressure and the overall health of your car tyres affects your driving, so maintaining correct tyre pressure is vital for your vehicle handling, overall performance, good fuel efficiency and load carrying capabilities. Many newer cars have a helpful tyre pressure monitoring system to alert you when your tyre pressure is too low, but you should still be aware of the warning signs and ready to top-up your air. Under-inflated tyres will take more engine power – and more fuel – to get the same amount of mileage. So, if you’re having to refuel more often, or sooner than you’d usually do, it’s time to check your tyre pressure. You won’t be able to see from a visual glance, but tyres under-inflated by 15 PSI can use 6% more fuel, that’s the difference between averaging 40mpg and 42mpg. If you feel that your vehicle is swaying into turns, taking too long to turn compared to normal, or just feels a bit off when it comes to steering and manoeuvring, low tyre pressure could be to blame. Again, if your car is taking longer than usual to come to a complete stop, it could be the pressure as tyres can’t grip the road as well when they’re under-inflated. In case you don’t already know, your vehicle handbook will tell you what your correct pressure should be. Alternatively, you may find a small sticker with the tyre pressure inside the fuel filler flap or on the drivers’ door edge. This will give you a figure in pounds per square inch (PSI) or BAR pressure which is a metric unit of atmospheric pressure equal to 14.50 pounds per square inch. It’s worth noting pressures are given for cold tyres that haven’t been driven for at least two hours, so make sure when you check yours that your car has been stationary for a while. Ideally you should do this every week, and definitely once a month.

Are you a dawdler?

If the driver behind you is looking to overtake, perhaps by following too closely behind you, allow them to pass as soon as it’s safe. Sometimes we all enjoy a pleasant drive and might even dip below the speed limit to take in the scenery or perhaps find an address. And while that in itself is perfectly fine, we also have to accept that some people have places to be and people to see, and therefore don’t have time to dawdle. So, if you’re the dawdler and can see there’s someone itching to get past you, don’t ignore them. Slow down or move over when it’s safe and allow them to pass so that they can get on with their day and you with yours. In fact, letting ‘faster’ traffic pass is explicitly encouraged by Highway Code Rule 168 which states: ‘If a driver is trying to overtake you, maintain a steady course and speed, slowing down if necessary to let the vehicle pass. Never obstruct drivers who wish to pass.’ Rule 169 also urges you not to hold up a long queue of traffic and to check your mirrors frequently. After all, a good driver should be aware of what is going on behind them and if you’re holding up other traffic, don’t get stressed, simply pull over when it’s safe and let them pass.

Do you pass the eye test?

It may seem obvious, but before you get behind the wheel, do you know what the basic eyesight requirements are and do you meet them? Have you taken the ‘number plate test’ to see how your eyesight performs? By law, motorists are required to meet the minimum eyesight standard at all times when driving. One of these requirements is the ability to read a number plate from 20 metres away. A line of five cars or eight parking bays is a quick and easy way to measure this distance and test whether you can read the number plate clearly. If you can’t, go straight to the optician. You must wear glasses or contact lenses every time you drive if you need them to meet the standards of vision for driving. If you’re planning to drive a bus or HGV, these standards are even higher. When you take the practical driving test, the very first thing the examiner will do is to ask you to read the number plate of a car parked in front of you. You’ll be sitting 20 metres behind it and must be able to read the number precisely – wearing glasses or contact lenses if necessary is fine. If you can’t read the plate, you’ll fail the test there and then, and your provisional licence will be revoked. When you apply for your licence again, the DVLA will ask you to have an eyesight test carried out by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), which will be done at the driving test centre. If you pass, you still have to take and pass the number plate reading test on your next driving test. Once you have your licence, it’s your responsibility to ensure that you can pass the 20-metre driving eye test at all times. It’s not just being a bit short sighted that can be a problem; field of vision, night vision, contrast sensitivity and other visual functions can all compromise safe driving. As a result, there are three main points at which your eyesight will be tested for driving: when you take your driving test, a police roadside eye test should you be stopped, and at your optician. After all, changes in vision can creep up gradually. Early signs are often experiencing eye strain and difficulty seeing at night or in changing light. Even if you don’t have concerns, it’s important to have regular optician checks to be a safe driver.

Safe ways to deal with sirens

Sirens or flashing blue lights can worry even experienced drivers. We all know we should move over for emergency services vehicles, but not everyone knows the best way how. By making the wrong choice, you could create unnecessary delay. Emergency service drivers are exempt from the speed limit in an emergency, and can pass on the wrong side of a ‘keep left’ sign, and treat a red traffic light as a ‘give way’ sign. The most important message for you is not to panic and slam on your brakes, but assess where you are. For example, do not pull over on a sharp bend or at the brow of a hill. Limited vision here could make it dangerous for an emergency vehicle to pass you. Instead, keep going until the visibility improves, then move over. You should also avoid taking to the kerb and stopping in bus lanes. If you’re at a roundabout or busy junction, check which direction the vehicle is coming from before you move off. Be aware of traffic islands, and avoid blocking the road by stopping near them. Should an emergency vehicle end up behind you on a section of road with solid white lines, they are likely to turn off the lights and sirens until the solid lines end. Meanwhile, you should keep driving safely and obeying the speed limit, and when the solid white lines end, slow down and let them pass. If you’re at a junction with a red light, stay where you are and allow the emergency services to find a route through. It may sound obvious, but modern fire engines and ambulances are substantially larger than the average car. Try to take this into account when moving out of their way so you don’t obstruct them.

Parent and child parking

You would assume that parent and child parking spaces would make life easier for drivers with young families as they’re usually close to shop entrances. However, these handy bays, can prove costly and complex to use if you don’t follow the rules. Parent and child parking spaces are often in privately run car parks which are required to clearly display their rules and the potential penalty if you break them. But take note, each store has its own rules and the terms of condition will vary. Some car parks will require you to take children out of the car and with you to be eligible, while others state kids must be using a booster seat if you want to park in the space. Most have an age limit of 12-years-old, while others are only reserved for parents with babies and toddlers. The number one piece of advice if you’re considering using one of these spaces is to take your child with you into the store. Don’t leave them in the car. Private firms can issue you with a Parking Charge Notice of £100 for misusing a parent and child space. As this is essentially a breach of contract dispute, you may choose to dispute the fine, but this can take time and still cost you for the incident. If you’re not sure of the rules in a particular location and your child is capable of walking slightly further across the car park, then parking in an alternative space is your best course of action.

Your powers of observation

Many professional drivers believe that you can avoid just about any incident so long as your vision and anticipation of the road are good enough. This doesn’t mean driving with your eyes out on stalks or your chin welded to the steering wheel. Rather it means being fully aware of what’s going on around you at all times. Not just in front of you but behind, to the sides, in your mirrors, using your ears as well as your eyes to remove as many surprises from your driving as possible. The reality is that there are almost endless potential hazards to be aware of, and to calmly avoid, whether you’re driving at 20mph in a busy town or 50mph on a quiet back road. It’s worth remembering that you are potentially one of these hazards unless you are driving well. So, keep your distance not just from other drivers, but cyclists and pedestrians, work out where the surprises could spring from, and anticipate how to deal with them before they happen. Do this and even the most everyday journey through the rush-hour or along a country lane can be compelling and enjoyable.

Steering wheel check

As you perform your cockpit drill, remember it’s not only your seat that can be adjusted for the best driving position. Most vehicles today now have telescopic steering wheels that can be adjusted to your preferred height and reach. Ideally, your steering wheel should be as low as possible without obstructing your view of the driving instruments. It should be pointed at your chest, rather than your face. For safety, it’s best that your chest is at least 25cm (around 10 inches) from the steering wheel. If you’re any closer, you could be risking injury should the airbag deploy. If you extend your arms fully, the heels of your hands should sit on the top of the steering wheel. This means that when your hands are at the correct hand position for driving, either the classic ‘ten to two’ or the more contemporary ‘quarter to three’, your arms should be slightly bent but giving you full control of your car.

Double life of a street light

While we all take street lights for granted, as a driver, they play a doubly important role. Did you know that they also indicate the speed limit when no other signs are visible? Any road that has a series of street lights every 200 yards (182 metres) or less is classed as a 30mph zone unless there are signs saying otherwise. In some places, the lights may only be on one side of the road, so don’t get caught out and think the speed limit does not apply. Again, on some roads the speed limit could drop from 60 or 70mph to 30mph without any signs being present, other than the distance between street lights becoming closer. If you notice the gap between the street lights narrowing, this is an immediate signal to lower your speed. Street lights can be as close as 32 yards (30 metres) apart where there are multiple hazards such as junctions, tight corners, roundabouts or pedestrian crossings. If you get caught out, claiming that there were no speed limit signs won’t help. The Highway Code makes it your responsibility to know the rules and the onus is on you to be aware of the spacing between street lights.

Slip road courtesy

As you become familiar with motorway driving, you are likely to see gantries displaying the phrase ‘stay left unless overtaking’. However, some drivers take this too literally especially around motorway slip roads. All too often, you will observe drivers who remain planted in the inside lane and don’t move over, when they can, to allow other drivers to merge from a slip road. It’s courteous and often safest to move across to the next lane, briefly, and allow this traffic to merge. While vehicles already on the motorway have the right of way, a competent driver will note the signs for a slip road ahead, anticipate there will be joining traffic, and be ready to help it merge safely with a short lane change. If moving to the middle lane isn’t an option, just slowing slightly and increasing your following gap will give joining traffic enough space to merge easily. This basic motorway etiquette is often overlooked. Anything we can do to work together and smooth the flow will help keep things moving safely.