The Essentials

Cars come in all shapes and sizes with varying degrees of added extras, home comforts and flexibility.

All have seats and mirrors that move and need to be positioned, along with other items that need to be considered and tailored for your use. 

Work your way through the menu to learn about the things that are your responsibility once you get behind the wheel.

Getting in & out

One of the common developing hazards on the Hazard Perception theory test is car doors opening without warning, or people walking out from between cars.

Opening your car door without looking (particularly if stopped at the side of the road) can seriously hurt a person walking past or a cyclist passing by. But, for some people, it seems considering other road users is not high on their priority list! 

Remember: It’s your responsibility to look and check before you open the door and exit your vehicle. The ‘Dutch Reach’ (point 2 below) is a highly effective technique for ensuring the safety of everyone.

So, keep these six simple steps in mind each time:

  1. Always take a look to observe what’s happening around you
  2. When inside the car, open the door using the hand furthest from the door. This forces your body to swivel so you are better able to see approaching traffic and cyclists
  3. Slow and steady is better – this way if there are other road users you haven’t seen in step 1, it allows them time to react
  4. Give your passengers plenty of warning that you’re stopping and ask them to stay inside until you tell them all is safe
  5. Be aware of the available distance when parking – the closer you are to another car, the higher the possibility of neighbouring car doors damaging yours when they open
  6. When choosing a parking slot, slow down. Asses the width (as point 5) and ensure you have enough space to enter the space safely and can open all doors on each side

In summary:

From whichever direction you approach your car you need to observe – be mindful of how your actions will affect others.

Choosing to delay opening your door until other vehicles have passed is more considerate and safer than opening the door and creating a smaller gap through which others must pass. Using the Dutch Reach is a very effective technique to learn and employ.

When parked between vehicles or close to obstructions you also need to be careful about how fast and wide you open your door as it could hit the vehicle next to you. My previous car had a lovely little dent where someone had done this!

Doors

All doors on the vehicle need to be closed before you move off.

In many cars, there is a warning symbol to alert the driver if any of the car doors (including the boot) are open.

However, if you don’t have such a system (and perhaps even if you do!) you’ll need to check that all doors are closed before moving off.

You should be able to SEE that they are flush with the bodywork, and you will HEAR them close properly.

If you’re travelling with youngsters it’s also a great idea to engage child safety locks to ensure they cannot be opened again during the journey.

Setting the seat

Seats can be wonderfully adjustable!

Very often you can change the height, the distance from the pedals, the angle of the seatback, the head restraint height – and sometimes the angle of the head restraint.

Some seats even have adjustable lumbar support and heating!

So, if the options are there, use whatever flexibility the seat has to your advantage.

Position it so that it provides you with enough support that you are seated comfortably as being uncomfortable will be a distraction from driving tasks. You need to be able to reach all the controls – pedals and hand controls – and operate them with a high degree of control. If you’re stretching to reach the pedal then you will not be able to control its degree of movement sensitively enough.

In many cars, you can also adjust the angle of the steering column.

video (poss from KIA garage or youTube) to show adjustment of steering column and lumber support

Setting mirrors

The purpose of the mirrors in your car is to extend your visibility without requiring you to physically move around, this means that as you drive you will be able to keep up to date with what is happening in the areas around your car.

The mirrors do not allow a 360-degree view around your vehicle though – there are blind spots (areas which you cannot see unless you physically turn and look).

It’s essential you are familiar with where these blind spots are and conscious of the times when it is necessary to check these areas.

When you’re starting out on your Learn to Drive journey, the basic level of information you must know is how to position them and to do so on entering the car.

You are also expected to know when to use them and which ones to check.

You must have the mirrors in the correct place for you – they are for your use. They are tools that help you gather the information that you need in order to make good decisions.

Because good decisions are what will keep you and those around you safe.

Using your mirrors

In the centre mirror, you should be able to see all of the rear window. Think of it as the rear window being framed by the centre mirror. 

The centre mirror is made of flat glass and so will give an accurate picture with regard to distance. The two side mirrors are made of curved glass that allows you to see a wider field of vision –  but this will make the objects in the mirror seem further away than they really are.

 It’s therefore important to check the centre mirror first to see how far away things are, but also check the side mirrors to see as much of the view as possible.

 In the side mirrors, you should be able to see part of the car – this is so that you can determine what is happening in relation to the car.

  Most of the mirror though needs to be positioned so you can see what is at the side of your vehicle. The horizon should be approximately halfway up the mirror

Seatbelts

The highway code says that unless you are exempt you must wear a seatbelt if there is one. And, today, there are not many cars that aren’t fitted with seatbelts. So, it’s safe for me to assume most of you reading this will be wearing your seatbelt when driving.

Very few people are exempt from this ruling; here are some examples:

You don’t need to wear a seat belt if you’re:

a driver who is reversing, or supervising a learner driver who is reversing
in a vehicle being used for police, fire and rescue services
a passenger in a trade vehicle and you’re investigating a fault
driving a goods vehicle on deliveries that is travelling no more than 50 metres between stops
a licensed taxi driver who is ‘plying for hire’ or carrying passengers
Please note there is nothing preventing the above people from wearing a seatbelt if they choose to. After all, seatbelts are there for your safety and protection in the event of a crash. And the statistics of drivers/passengers who are wearing a seatbelt surviving a crash with lesser injuries speak for themselves.

The seat belt functions by keeping the occupant as static as possible despite a sudden stop or change in momentum. A car moves with inertia, which is an object’s tendency to move until something works against the motion of that object. When the vehicle hits or has been hit by something, that inertia changes. Without the seat belt, occupants can be thrown into various parts of the interior, or even out of, the car. Wearing a seatbelt can prevent this from happening.

And again, most cars now have a warning light to tell you if you haven’t yet put your seatbelt on. If you drive off without wearing a seatbelt it will also give an audible warning.

For some, however, seatbelts bring discomfort and annoyance. If you fall into that category and find the seatbelt uncomfortable you have various options to improve the situation. For example, in most cars, the seat belt point can be raised or lowered to reduce the chances of it “cutting into your neck”.

You can also buy seatbelt covers that provide some protection and comfort from a seatbelt that rubs. You can even get devices that help keep you sitting in the correct position so that the belt is more effective and you have less back pain.

There are a few necessary steps to take to ensure you wear your seatbelts correctly:

Ensure it clicks in
Make sure it goes over hip and shoulder
The seatbelt should lie flat and must not be twisted
As with all car parts, seatbelts can break or malfunction. The most common difficulty is often that they get tangled when they’re not pulled out or allowed to spool back properly.

The solution to this seat belt problem is sometimes a simple fix: unspool the seat belt completely, untangling as you go, and then slowly feed it back.

However, if the seat belt is off the track, or if there appears to be an issue with the spool or the retractor box then the only option is to take it into your local garage/car dealer. This applies also if the belt is frayed or the connection is worn.

In summary:

It’s the law to wear a fully functioning seatbelt for good reason.

NEVER risk your/your passengers’ lives or break the law by ignoring a faulty seatbelt. And, if your seatbelt is uncomfortable, this can be addressed quite easily.

Preparing To Drive

Before you set off, along with checking all the elements of your car are working, you need to check a few other essentials too!

Vision and medical conditions

You must be able to read  a vehicle number plate from a distance of 20.5metres in good daylight. This can be with glasses or contact lenses if you wear them.

You must be medically fit to drive. Always check any medicines as some should not be used if you’re intending to drive.

You must notify the DVLA if your health is liable to affect your ability to drive, either now, or because of a worsening condition, in the future.

Documentation

For the category of vehicle you intend to drive, you must have one of the following:

a signed, valid provisional licence;

a signed, valid full driving licence;

a signed, valid International Driving Permit (IDP)

a full driving licence issued outside the UK ( the last two only apply in certain circumstances).

You must be at least 17 years old to drive a car. However, if you receive Disability Living

Allowance you’re allowed to start driving at 16.

You must display L-plates (conforming to legal specifications) which are clearly visible from in front and behind the vehicle.

Your accompanying driver must have held/and still hold a full EC licence for at least three years for the kind of vehicle you’re driving, and be at least 21 years old.

Provisional car and motorcycle licence holders are not normally allowed to drive on a motorway.

If you change your name or address you must inform the DVLA.

Third-party insurance cover is the legal minimum with which you can drive. However, be aware that this will not cover any damage to your vehicle or injury to yourself.

It is an offence not to notify the DVLA of a change of vehicle keeper.

The owners or operators of all road vehicles (unless exempt) must pay the vehicle excise duty. This is now managed electronically and it’s not necessary to display a disc on the windscreen of your car.

Driver Attitude

Tolerance & Consideration: Everyone is entitled to use the road. This may mean making allowances for other road users from time to time. Don’t dominate the road (avoid cutting across the path of other vehicles, rush through traffic, change your mind at the last minute, use aggressive language or gestures. Your actions affect the actions of other road users so be mindful and considerate at all times.

Patience: You shouldn’t let bad driving behaviour by other motorists lead to conflict. Be prepared to make allowances for someone else’s mistakes.

Don’t ever drive in a spirit of retaliation or competition; use aggressive language or gestures; try to teach other road users a lesson, even if they have caused you inconvenience.

Do keep calm; show restraint; use sound judgement.

Confidence: This is closely related to skill, judgement and experience. Avoid being overconfident (taking risks causes accidents). Many younger drivers wrongly believe that fast reactions and the ability to handle their vehicle will make them a good and safe driver. They fail to recognise that driving skills alone will not prevent accidents. Having the right attitude of mind and sound knowledge of defensive driving techniques is essential.

Don’t let familiarity with your home area and surroundings lead you to start taking risks simply because you know every detail. Remember that strangers won’t have the benefit of local knowledge and so might drive more cautiously than you think they should.

When driving: Relax and give yourself plenty of time, make yourself comfortable and keep your mind on your driving. The better you feel, the easier your journey will be. And we recommend planning your route before you set off as getting lost can lead to frustration and loss of concentration that will negatively affect your driving ability.

Responsibilities

An annual MOT test is compulsory for all motor vehicles three years old and over.

Seatbelts are compulsory and unless you are exempt you must wear one if available.

Comfortable shoes are particularly important when driving – high heels and slippery soles can be dangerous on the pedals. Shoes that are too wide or that easily fall off are also very dangerous.

 If you’re transporting animals: keep them under control, don’t allow them to be loose in the vehicle, don’t leave the animals in the vehicle for any length of time (particularly in hot weather), never let animals loose on the public road to cause accidents.

As you get older, be responsible and; have your eyesight checked regularly (including night vision); don’t drive if you feel unwell, and take care when judging the speed of oncoming traffic at junctions.

Don’t make hasty manoeuvres. If in doubt, wait. Look, assess, and decide before you act. Always concentrate on your driving; find a safe place to stop and rest if you feel tired; keep up to date with changes in rules and regulations; take extra care – your reactions might not be as quick as they used to be. Above all recognise your own limitations.

 

Whatever your age, be concerned for the safety of yourself and your passengers, all other road users. Particularly the vulnerable; children, the elderly, people with disabilities, cyclists, motorcyclists, and people in charge of animals.

Recognise the limitations of yourself and others.

Look and plan your actions well ahead to avoid causing danger or inconvenience. Avoid the temptation to act hastily as it can have dire consequences. Act promptly to deal with any changes going on around you and continually question the action of other road users.

Plan ahead and try to anticipate the actions of others. If you can; avoid being taken by surprise, prevent some hazards developing and take early evasive action for those hazards that do develop.

You must ensure that the vehicle you intend to drive is legally roadworthy, has a current MOT certificate (where necessary), is properly licensed and taxed.

It is your responsibility as a driver to ensure that your vehicle is not overloaded. You must ensure that any load is fastened securely and does not stick out dangerously.

Handheld phones are illegal when driving; unless the call is to 999 and a genuine emergency. And, although it’s not breaking the law to do so, we suggest it’s also safer not to use a built-in carphone while driving too.

Do not drive under the influence of alcohol. if your breath alcohol level is higher than 35μg/100ml (equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 80mg/100ml) you are breaking the law. Driving with any alcohol in your system is extremely dangerous and if over the limit it carries severe penalties. Remember if you drink in the evening you might still be over the limit and unfit to drive the following morning.

You must not take any drugs that are generally accepted as ‘banned substances’ while driving or before you intend to drive.

 

You must concentrate 100% on your driving. If your mind wanders, the risk of making a mistake dramatically increases and this can lead to accidents. Avoid driving if you are feeling tired or unwell, thinking about something else, upset or annoyed or suffering from stress of any kind. If you HAVE to drive you must give yourself more time to react.

Concentration is helped by good vision, hearing, health and self-discipline.

Although none of the following is against the law, avoiding them while driving will make you a safer driver:

Participating in distracting conversations; listening to loud music or using headphones that might mask other sounds; looking at road maps or navigational devices; tuning the radio or changing CD’s etc; eating and drinking; smoking; driving for too long without a break.

And finally, don’t stick non-essential stickers on the front or rear screens or hang objects as they can distract or restrict your view. This is especially important at night.