It’s an exciting time when you finally get your driving license and you are free and independent to hit the road and go wherever you want. Is there a better feeling than getting behind the wheel, starting the engine up, and hitting the open road?
That’s a great sensation, for sure, but it’s crucial that as a new driver you remember this key lesson passed down from generations past: passing your test and getting your license is only the beginning of your driver education. In today’s blog, we’ll be sharing our best nuggets of advice for beginner drivers who are either still learning or have just got their hands on their full license.
Part 1: Those Still Learning
Let’s say you’ve had some lessons and you’ve got the most fundamental basic driving skills down. You can make the car go, send it around corners, and put it into a parking space. Here are our 10 car driving tips:
1. Start with Your Car’s Controls
It doesn’t matter if it’s an instructor’s car, another family member’s car, or your own car that you’re learning in. You should always spend time getting to know the main controls of your car, where they are, and what they do. Here are some essential controls and features you should immediately get familiar with in a car:
- How to adjust the driver’s seat to offer you maximum visibility through the windshield, and the most comfortable seating position between you, the steering wheel and the pedals. You shouldn’t have to extend your leg all the way to floor a pedal, for example.
- How to adjust the steering wheel column to the right height and distance from you for easy and comfortable access to all controls.
- How to turn on the heating fans and set them to defog your windshield. You’ll need to do that before you set off, because trying to fiddle with it while you’re on the road is dangerous.
- How to adjust the rear-view mirror and side-mirrors to give you the best-possible view behind your car.
- How to switch your lights on, and move them from dipped headlights to full beams. If you have a very modern car, it might do that automatically, but many cars still require manual input.
- How to activate the windshield wipers, turn signals and hazard lights.
2. Practice Every Day
If you’re learning to drive, you’ll get better faster if you take the car out every day, even if it’s just for 15-20 minutes of practice. Try to have an established “minimum” routine every time you go out, for example every drive out must include parking practice, driving in traffic, driving at speed, etc. Try to ensure that you do as much as possible on every drive, or over the course of a single week. Daily practice of driving and related skills will help you grow quickly in both confidence and competence.
3. Vary Your Driving Conditions
In the previous point, we mentioned covering different driving skills on each drive that you do. You should also try to vary your driving conditions and routes when you go out practicing on the road. If you stick to the same route and same times of day, then you will master those particular conditions, but immediately feel less confident when things are different.
For instance, make sure your practice includes driving in the rain, different routes on the road, different parking conditions. A good habit to have is that the learner driver in the family becomes responsible for driving the car when the family is going somewhere the learner driver hasn’t driven before.
4. Don’t Let Mistakes Hold You Back
Finally, it’s very easy when learning to drive for mistakes to rattle your confidence. You might feel embarrassed, or that you’re just a hopeless driver. Though it’s easy to feel this way, you should strive to keep going and not let these negative experiences hold you back. You’ll make a lot of mistakes when you’re learning to drive, and even after you get your license. It’s important to learn how to grow from them, and not let them cower you into giving up driving.
Part 2: Just Got Your License
Next, we turn to the period of time after you get your license. It’s a dangerous period for some because they become over-confident having passed their test and obtained their license, thinking that they can now do no wrong; that they know everything they need to for life on the road. Here are some tips that all new drivers from which all new drivers will greatly benefit.
5. Follow the Rules
The first instinct some drivers have once they’ve obtained their license is to eschew the rules and practices they have been mastering as a learner and “become their own driver.” Rules of the road start to be interpreted in different ways; speed limits become “advisory,” and bad driving habits start to take hold.
All of these things are dangerous to any driver, but they are especially so for those who have recently got their licenses and lack experience driving solo on the road. The rules are there not just for learners, but for all drivers and it’s crucial that you follow them. Not only will you keep yourself and your passengers safe, you’ll ensure other road users are safer, and what’s more you’ll avoid receiving punitive tickets from the police!
6. Avoid Distracted Driving
Distracted driving remains one of the top killers on the world’s roads. The plague of distracted driving started to get worse with the advent of cell phones and texting, with people finding it impossible to resist the urge to text and drive, read text messages while driving, and so on. Hands-free technology helped somewhat to make this technology safer for use in the car, but the fact remains that your smartphone, tablet, and other digital devices remain a constant and dangerous source of distraction that you have to shake off.
When you’re driving, you should set rules and stick to them regarding your smartphone. The first would be to never physically pick up your phone while you are driving, even when you are stopped in traffic. You can set the phone down to charge, or sit in a storage compartment, or even connect it to your car via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to allow you to answer calls safely and easily, but the phone handset should never be in your hands.
7. Take More Experienced Drivers with You
On occasion, such as when you are driving somewhere that you have never been before, it might be best to bring along someone who is a bit more experienced on the road to help out. Public roads have all kinds of individual locations that can be tricky for new drivers. It could be a new roundabout that was installed that you’ve not practiced with, or a particular intersection or other junction that’s tricky to navigate. A more experienced driver can be a great help getting you through your first time in certain places.
The same applies when you’re driving to a new city. Someone with more experience of driving to new places can really help keep things calm and measured if and when you find yourself unsure of what to do next. It can be intimidating on the road alone.
8. Keep Your Distance
Maintaining a safe distance is the right policy for all drivers, of course. The “3-second rule” is a good policy, which is where you observe a car in front passing an easily visible landmark up ahead. When it passes, you start counting. If it takes you 3 seconds or more to pass the same landmark, then you are at a safe distance.
As a new driver, the 3 second rule is good, but you might extend it to 4 or 5 seconds on days when the weather is bad or when you’re in a new place and have to also keep your eyes open for highway exits and other indicators for your final destination. In addition, you shouldn’t become too dependent on your car’s ADAS features to maintain distance as a new driver. Even if your car has smart cruise control, you should first get good at maintaining distances the old-fashioned way. It builds better driving habits and makes you more aware of your on-road surroundings.
9. Be Ready for Anything
Does your car have the supplies and other things it might need in case you run into trouble? First of all, do you have your proper documents in the car to prove your ownership, insurance and a valid vehicle registration. These documents or valid copies are essential to keep in the vehicle in case you ever get pulled over and you need to show them to law enforcement.
Second, you should keep a first-aid kit in your car, as well as some emergency supplies like additional warm clothes, blankets, water, a flashlight, a snow shovel (if the winter in your area demands it), and a tire puncture repair kit. It’s always better to have these things in your car and not need them for years than the other way around.
10. Learn About Car Maintenance
Finally, a great idea for new drivers is to learn as much as possible about how their vehicle is properly maintained. You can start in the owner’s manual by looking at the maintenance schedule and see how often the OEM recommends that you change the oil, check on the brake fluid, transmission fluid, etc. You can also get key details on proper tire inflation, how often you need servicing, when components need checking or replacing, etc.
If you have the inclination, you should also look into learning how to perform at least some of this maintenance yourself. At the very least, you should learn about simple things like checking the condition of engine oil or transmission fluid, as well as how to inflate tires properly.
The more you know, the better a driver you will ultimately become, and the best time to start learning is when you are learning and/or when you’ve acquired your first license.