Driving Hints and Tips

Key to the highway

If you’re learning to drive or plan to learn, you’ll know that the Highway Code plays an essential part in helping you pass your theory and practical test and become a better and safer driver. There are currently 307 rules listed in the Code which also apply to pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders. Don’t be daunted by the number of rules as they are broken up into manageable sections, for example, traffic signs and signals, waiting and parking, and driving in adverse weather conditions. Much of the information is simply good common sense and you may be surprised how much you know. The Code is available in several formats. Print is still the most popular way to read it and handy to carry about for reference and revision. You can buy a copy at major bookshops or online (for around £3), but whatever format you choose, make sure you have the most recent version as it’s constantly being revised. You can also read, download and print the latest version for free on the GOV.UK website. The Code also has its own Facebook and Twitter pages, where you can keep up-to-date with the latest revisions and ask questions. Alternatively, it’s available in audiobook or you can download the official Highway Code app (around £4) to your smartphone for all the latest rules of the road at your fingertips and a useful ‘test yourself’ facility.

Safe way to stop quickly

Normally, a good driver will not need to carry out an emergency stop as they’ll be vigilant and anticipate potential hazards, so hard braking becomes unnecessary. However, emergencies do happen and you must be able to react fast and stop quickly, safely, and under control, without skidding. While most cars today come with ABS brakes (anti-lock braking system) to help stop your wheels locking up and causing a skid, ABS is not a cure-all. It cannot overcome bad driving techniques, problems of poor contact with the road due to surface water, loose road surfaces, worn tyres, or driving too fast for the road, traffic, and weather conditions. During your practical test, you may be asked to simulate an emergency or controlled stop. As this manoeuvre leaves you no time to look in your mirrors, don’t try, but remember that a good driver always keeps a regular lookout on what’s behind. Again, do not signal as you will need both hands on the steering wheel for maximum control. Your seatbelt should keep you in your seat, and your hands on the wheel will help to brace you and keep the vehicle straight. Squeeze the brake pedal firmly and fully to stop and then press your clutch down to stop the engine stalling or cutting out. Once you have come to a halt and completed the manoeuvre, if there is no more danger, apply the handbrake and select neutral or park. If you’ve stopped in the middle of the road, use all your mirrors and windows, and check both left and right-hand blind spots before safely moving off. To perform a correct emergency stop it’s important to avoid coasting, so don’t apply the clutch before the brake as this will reduce the effectiveness of your braking.

Too close for comfort

You’re driving at the speed limit but someone behind you just can’t bear it. So how do you deal with it? You might assume they’re bullying and impatient, but not every tailgater is making an aggressive move. Many drivers get too close to the car in front because they’re distracted or have developed bad habits over the years. Don’t assume they are angry as this can make you feel intimidated and lead to mistakes. If the driver behind does not maintain a safe distance, don’t be bullied into speeding up as they will probably speed up as well and close the gap again which makes it worse because now you’re than speeding up to 50mph in a 40mph zone because you’re being pressured. You might want to consider P-plates on your car for a year after you pass your test as they can act as a reminder to the driver behind. It’s easy to find yourself looking for too long in your rear-view mirror when the real hazards are in front of you. If you’re feeling bothered pull over safely to let them pass. Tailgating frequently happens in 20 and 30mph zones, precisely the places where speed limits are most important, such as rural roads or school zones. Someone trying to pressure you into driving at an unsafe speed is not worth your worry, so hold steady.

Make your intentions clear

Generally, it’s unnecessary to signal when passing parked cars. Excessive signalling in this situation can confuse other drivers as they may think you’re turning right. However, there are situations where a signal will be of benefit and eliminate confusion. For example, if you’re on a narrow road and have to stop to give way, your road position could look like a parked car. A signal to the right on this occasion will inform the driver behind that your intention is to continue and pass any parked cars once your way is clear. It’s not always parked cars of course. Any object on your side of the road that requires you to give way to oncoming vehicles may require a signal, especially if there’s a vehicle behind you which you think may not be able to see the hazard. This could be small road-works or debris, for example, and a signal will make your intentions clear.

More haste, less speed

As you gain driving experience, you’ll discover that one thing other motorists can’t stand is loitering. A dawdling, indecisive driver who brakes for every kink and panics at every roundabout is guaranteed to annoy. In short, don’t unnecessarily hang around if the road is clear, keep rolling. This is not to encourage breaking the speed limit, rather to keep a moderate sense of haste when necessary. Let’s not forget, learners can fail their practical test for ‘undue hesitation’. If another driver is being over cautious be wary. They are either lost or under stress and either way not likely to be fully concentrating. There’s also a good chance that the driver in front of you may be driving to their own abilities simply to keep their independence. It may be frustrating, but the best advice is to give them some space in case they react unpredictably, and only pass them if it’s safe to do so.

Seat belt sense

Back in the day, public information films constantly told us to ‘clunk-click every trip’ and ‘belt up’ every time we got in a car. Things have moved on since 1970 and we now have inertia-reel seat belts, seat belt pre-tension mechanisms, even seat belt butlers and in-car technology to prompt you when you drive off without wearing one. Buckling-up is one of the safest moves you can do behind the wheel and should be second nature. Not wearing a seat belt is one of the ‘fatal four’ road safety risks, yet it’s the one that gets least attention. The best advice is to take note of the recent data which shows nearly a third of people fatally injured on UK roads were not wearing a seat belt. The fine for not wearing one stands at £100, rising to £500 if the case goes to court. At present, you don’t receive penalty points on your licence for this offence, but this may well change.

Be confident, not complacent

Home, work, friends, supermarket. That’s what most of us use our cars for usually, but no matter how regular these routes never forget that every road is different every day. If no one comes out of that driveway on 364 days of the year, when it does happen, are you ready? ‘He came out of nowhere,’ is no excuse. There’s a fine line between being confident behind the wheel and being complacent and switching off. When you feel like you know exactly where you’re going, the temptation to do other things in the car can creep in, for example, snacking or applying lip gloss. Don’t get complacent with your speedometer because you drive the same road every day. At your usual roundabouts and traffic lights the situation can change in a second. If you get out of your car with no memory of the drive, you’ve been on auto-pilot and not relying on active driving skills – consequently, you’ve been less than hyper-vigilant on the road.

Sirens and flashing lights

If you’re caught up by an emergency services vehicle with flashing blue lights, your instinct will be to get out of the way as fast as possible, but be careful, your good intentions could land you with a fine as you still need to comply with relevant traffic signs. Perfect examples include entering a bus lane, stopping in a yellow box junction or driving through a red traffic light. When an emergency vehicle approaches, don’t panic just stay alert. Turn off any music and plan your next move. Consider the route it is taking and how to let it pass, even if it’s on the other side of the road. If necessary, pull to the side and stop, but avoid stopping before the brow of a hill, a bend or narrow section of road. Indicators can be used to show you’ve acknowledged the approaching blue lights and intend to move, but don’t use them if it could confuse other drivers. Never mount the kerb or verge and don’t brake harshly on approach to a junction or roundabout, as a following vehicle may not have the same view as you. Again, resist temptation to stop in the middle of the road, this could block the emergency vehicle’s route. The best advice is to keep driving until there’s a suitable place to pull over and use your common sense to avoid coming into conflict with other road users. Always listen for more than one siren and look around before moving off. Remember this advice and you’ll be ready to respond legally and safely the next time you encounter flashing lights.

Cut the risk and clean your car

There’s never been a more important time to keep your car’s interior clean. A recent motoring survey has shown that a quarter of road users admit to only cleaning the inside of their car once every 12 months. This is a worrying response and could put such drivers at risk. During the coronavirus outbreak (and as a general rule), be sure you wipe down all the touchpoints in your car regularly with a virucidal cleaning product or alcohol-based gel. As there aren’t many of these products dedicated to car care, you will be relying mostly on household cleaners, so check they are suitable for use on plastics, upholstery or leather. If you’re unable to get these, then a bottle containing disinfectant, mixed with antibacterial soap and water and kitchen paper will do, but discard the paper immediately after use. To be certain your car is adequately sanitised, make sure you wipe the steering wheel, handbrake, sat nav, interior and exterior door handles, wiper and light stalks and seatbelts – and clean them after every journey. It’s easy to overlook these parts and focus on handwashing, but the expert advice is to clean every car surface you come into contact with just as you would any surfaces known to be high risk. On a day-to-day basis, follow the guidelines and wash your hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use a hand sanitiser with a 60 per cent or higher level of alcohol, and when you fill up with petrol or diesel use gloves.

In the 20mph zone

As London and other cities introduce blanket 20mph speed limits on certain roads, the likelihood that you unintentionally creep over this limit should be considered. Speed is always a personal choice, so don’t take a risk. Fortunately, there are several practical tips to help you remain legal at 20mph. Always leave plenty of time for your journeys and avoid feeling under pressure to ‘press on’. As well as making regular checks of your speedometer, get used to the sound and feel of your car engine at 20mph. Watch out for road signs, so you know when you’re in a 20mph zone. It’s easy to miss them when you’re negotiating busy junctions, so make a positive point of looking for these signs and for further signs that repeat the limit. If you know you tend to drive fast, work out what makes you do it. Are you in a hurry? Do passengers encourage you to speed up? Does your choice of music affect how fast you go? Once you recognise the factors, then you’re more likely to take control and stick to the lower limit.