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Driving Along For Learners

It would be reckless to start driving before you can recognize all the important road signs, signals and markings. Test yourself with friends. The additional H.M.S.O. booklet, “Know Your Traffic Signs” is indispensable. Get one! As you progress beyond the very quietest roads, extend your experience at a sensible rate. It is unsafe to hurl yourself into the rush hour on day one! Doing so is also very selfish; until you can keep up with traffic, you are only going to create unnecessary queues behind you.

Look Out!

Above all, look where you are going. Search ahead constantly, both near and far watching for potential danger ahead and at either side. There is scarcely a moment in driving when the changing scene in front does not call for anticipation or reaction by you, to what is there. The examiner will notice what you miss … He or she is looking for first class anticipation, and awareness of what anyone else on foot or on wheels is going to do next.

You must prove your skill by acting upon what you see, adjusting speed, position or whatever, always in good time. This skill must include knowing what is behind you, not just when you are about to overtake or change lane, slow, turn, or stop - when a confirming check in the mirrors has to be routine - but by oft-repeated glances in the mirrors that keep you in touch.

The only exception to keeping your eyes all around the road is when you check your speedometer or warning instruments. Choose safe moments; they need but a tiny fraction of your attention.

FIGURE 1:

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The Ideal Travelling Position

The rule of the road in the U.K. is you drive on the left. Moving off from the nearside curb, there is no need to pull out fully at once unless the road is obstructed. Keep well to the left until you have gathered speed. When pulling out from behind another parked vehicle (which needs much practice … ), allow yourself plenty of extra time for snail's-pace control until you are clear of that vehicle. The examiner will ensure that this comes up on your Test. Take extra account of any traffic coming the other way. As you must pull out so much more than normal, and initially at a sharp angle across the road, your front offside wing can place them in danger, not to mention yourself! Besides that, the Highway Code rule that you must ” … give way to vehicles coming towards you before you pass parked vehicles … ”, counts the same here as anywhere else.

Provided overall width allows for it well inside your own half of the road, it is best to drive around half-a-meter away from the nearside curb. On very wide roads it could be a little more. See fig. 1. This should be no problem on wide urban roads and the big roads out of town, but be careful not to “hog” that part of your lane nearest the middle of the road, like “B” in fig. 1. Doing that, can make it supremely difficult, or impossible, for anyone to see past you in order to overtake safely. On country routes or narrow town streets you often have to stay closer in, with speeds reduced accordingly. Only maniacs speed on in narrow places, or “charge” through small gaps in the face of oncoming traffic.

Whenever you go past a parked vehicle, or a line of them, you must leave sufficient clearance - a minimum of one door's opening width - and control your speed accordingly; someone may fling open a door; a hidden pedestrian could step out.

On the bigger roads you must watch out for white lane arrows on the road. These are common at the approach to traffic lights, roundabouts, and some other junctions. Their purpose is to speed the traffic-flow, but it does not work if motorists ignore them despite the fact that they are obligatory. Approaching any junction where there are lane arrows, look for the one which shows which lane to take for the direction you are going.

This is particularly important in heavy traffic. If you make a mistake you may find, for example, that you are then in the wrong lane, holding up the traffic-flow at a green filter arrow on a traffic light. You must not remain there causing an obstruction when the green arrow light, lights up. You must move on in the direction it shows if it applies to your lane. Re-adjust your route later. Otherwise you can expect angry hooting from behind, despite the Highway Code command that the horn should not be used as a rebuke.

Lane divisions on your own side of the road may also be marked on stretches between junctions, wherever the road is wide enough. Dual carriageway sections, if any, are sure to be so marked. Queuing or slow moving heavy traffic often spontaneously divides into lanes even where none are set out for the less busy times. The good drivers “think in lanes”, helping each other and the traffic-flow. (Hordes of dodderers - of all ages – still do not!)

Which lane to choose when, and how to change lanes are discussed elsewhere. For the moment, take notice that the examiner watches to see that you normally keep to the middle of marked lanes when there are several on your side, and that you never straddle a lane line without good reason. Causing an unnecessary blockage for the next door lane can be marked against you, whether you are moving or stopped. So can chopping from one lane to another merely for temporary advantage.

Speed

You must keep within speed limits. You must also let your instructor guide you at all times, so that you never exceed a speed matched to your capabilities or to the road conditions. However, by the time of your Test, you are expected to be able to keep up with typical (law abiding) traffic, so that you don't create unnecessary queues behind you. On Test, all you need be is an average-speed driver. Let the speed-merchants pass you by.

Bends In The Road

As an “L”, your instructor should keep you well under that safe maximum.

At a blind bend you must also be slow enough to stop half-way round the comer, if you have to. Amongst the myriad of possibilities for danger, suppose you come across a walker or a cyclist, etc., on your own side, and no room to pass because of a lorry coming the other way. Or, that that lorry suddenly appears on your side because it's trying to pass a small road works or something similar. In either event, unless you have controlled your speed so as to be able to stop in an instant, you are in grave trouble.

Positioning on approach to a left hander, keep well into your own side of the road. In addition, force yourself to adjust speed on the presumption of troubles of the sort just described. It is best not to get too close in, however, because anyone coming in the other direction who is cutting the comer dangerously, doesn't then see you 'til a fraction later than he or she would otherwise; you also reduce your own room for maneuver. A balance has to be struck between all potential factors but you must always stick to your own side of the road. For a right hander, a course well in to your left greatly improves your vision into the bend.

Steering Through Slow Congested Traffic

This depends on judgment of gaps between vehicles, and competence must come by experience. During your first lesson or two it is well worth getting some old cardboard cartons and setting them up atop each other on an open space. Then drive SLOWLY past, as near to them as you can, both with the cartons on your own side of the car and then with them on the passenger side. (You can stop whilst alongside to spy through the window just how near you have got.) Next, drive up to them, both forwards and in reverse, and stop close. See how near you can get without hitting them. Get out of the car to look and check your skill. Then set up pairs of cartons barely wider apart than the width of your car and drive through the gap. By doing this sort of thing you will learn to judge the width of your car without the possibility of damage. That will stand you in good stead when you start driving amongst traffic and wherever the road width has been narrowed by badly parked vehicles.

There is little more annoying than the driver who does not know the width of his car, and who therefore stops and holds up a line of traffic instead of going through a perfectly adequate space.

Use Of The Horn

Your car has a horn so that you can tell other road users that you are there. It is a warning instrument, not a means of aggression. Normally you hardly ever need it, and certainly you should never drive “on the horn”. Nevertheless, a hoot can save life so never flinch from giving one if circumstances demand it. While passing through crowded shopping areas and other dangerous places, It is always worth holding a finger at the ready to sound your horn. Build this safety technique in during early days, it will serve you well.

Headlight Flashing

The Highway Code decrees that headlights being flashed should be regarded as having the same meaning as the sounding of a horn, i.e. to signify the presence of the vehicle. You should neither interpret nor use headlight flashing as a signal of intention or of instruction. Despite the Code, some drivers flash lights to mean “please come/go through”, while others do the SAME to mean “get out of the way - I am coming through FAST”. Therefore you must make no assumptions when headlight-flashers are about. Always hold back until you are certain of their purpose. Beware also, of someone else suddenly acting upon a signal you may have thought was intended for you.

Headlights In Bad Daytime Visibility

The law states that you must put on headlights when visibility is seriously reduced - whenever you cannot see beyond 100 meters. Whenever it is difficult to see, or be seen, because of bad light, fog, snow, blizzard, hail, cloud or pelting rain switch them on. Use dipped beam.

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