Important Points About Maneuvers, Reversing, Parking

Most learners dread the two special maneuvers required in the Driving Test - reversing into a limited opening, and turning round in a narrow quiet road ready to go back the other way (the “three-point-turn”). Both are easy with good clutch control, and good steering in reverse which is discussed next.

Beyond the Test, ability to maneuver safely in tight spaces on your own is essential, for example, in a multi-storey car park.

Steering In Reverse

Have in mind to start with, the four corners of your car. Split the car in your mind, down the bonnet, down the centre between the passenger and driver's seat, and out through the rear window.

You are sitting in your half of the car, and your instructor is sitting in the other half. Also draw an imaginary line down through the steering wheel from 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock. Your mind's-eye should have no difficulty seeing which two corners of the car are in your half, and which two are in the other. The thing to remember for reversing, is that your half is controlled by the right half - your half, in fact - of the steering wheel, and the other half- your instructor's half- is controlled by the left half of the steering wheel. Although the same is equally true going forwards, this visualization helps you remember which way the wheel must be turned when going backwards.


Fig. 1. Steering in reverse.

In reverse, if you want the rear nearside (the passenger side) to go further to that side, you begin by pulling down the left half of the steering wheel. In other words, whichever direction you wish a half of the car to go, that is the side - or half - of the steering wheel, which you pull down. It is as simple as that. See fig. 1.

Apart from quick glances to the front and sides to see that no danger is arising, remember that when you are reversing, your first duty must be looking behind!

Always turn yourself well round in your seat and, for reversing, look over your left shoulder. Use the steering wheel in exactly the same way for reverse as you learned for going forwards. However, you can, if turning round far enough for long enough is a problem, modify the basic steering wheel holding position when going straight back more than a few meters. Instead of having your hands between “ten to two” and a “quarter to three”, adopt a hold in which the right hand is comfortably gripping around 12 o'clock and the left maintains a loose grip about 8 o'clock. Small amounts of steering to keep straight are then easier. But remember that you must not let this modified method degenerate into ever crossing your hands on the wheel. That spells Test failure! For the rapid turning of the wheel needed in tight maneuvering, you must still revert to the standard wheel handling method.

What Is A Three- Point-Turn?

Do not regard this as a method of turning round in a major road. I deal with that under the next heading but one. The purpose of the three-point-turn is to demonstrate that you can control a vehicle in a restricted space. A Test examiner cannot afford to risk letting you damage other cars by trying to park in their midst. Therefore, you are taken to a narrow street instead, and asked to turn round between the pavements, using 1st and reverse gears alternately. See fig. 2. If your car wheels strike the pavement during this maneuver, it is obvious that you cannot control the vehicle. You are not supposed to let the car bodywork overhang either pavement, either, unless it is clear of pedestrians. However, unless you do go right up to each pavement during the turn, you will never succeed in doing the neatest turn that is possible. If, doing the best the car's steering will allow, you still have to take five moves rather than only three, the examiner will be satisfied. Nevertheless, he or she is likely to be more impressed by a neat three-point-turn, provided the street is wide enough to allow for it. Most cars can be three-point-turned easily in a street about 7 ½ meters wide; doing the turn in a street wider than that is hardly a test!

The best way to discover how near the curb you are with the front or the back of the car when you are practicing, is to stop between the moves. Set the handbrake, select neutral, and get out and look for yourself.

How To Do The Three-Point-Turn

You have pulled up at the curbside on the left, at the examiner's request; the hand brake is on, and you are in neutral. You have been told that this is where you are to turn the car round between the pavements using forward and reverse gears, when you are ready.

As you are not expected to give signals during the three-point-turn, you must particularly wait 'til all traffic is clear in both directions. Thereafter, what you are doing should be obvious to anyone coming along.

SAFETY, during the three-point-turn, is paramount. You must keep a quick eye out in each direction during the first move forward. Look both ways again, before reversing back. Watch for anyone turning up during that reverse. And look both ways again, before the final forward move. If traffic appears at any stage, you should allow it to pass, by waiting for it to do so between your moves, but do not wave people through. Let them decide. If they clearly want to wait, get on with your turn. Watch out for children all the time especially when reversing; they can be quick to leave a pavement and try to run behind your car.


Fig. 2. Three-point-turn front wheel positions.

So, only begin when the street is clear for a long distance both ways. Starting to move very slowly, with clutch control in 1st gear, whip the steering wheel round rapidly towards the opposite pavement during the first meter, so as to complete a full wheel lock (the wheels turned as much as they can) as soon as possible. (Do not turn the steering wheel before you have begun to move the car. Even though power steering, if you have it, would conceal much of the extra effort required, doing so can strain the steering joints and is bad for the tires.) Keep the car moving extremely slowly across the road, holding the steering wheel on that full lock.

It will be necessary to “slip the clutch” to control your speed at the snail's pace which is essential as you start off, and for the same control as you reach the opposite curb. Snail's pace driving is the secret which allows you the time to make the rapid steering lock change. Remember to steal some glances both ways in case anyone comes along.

Depending on the width of the road, you may be able to release the clutch pedal fully and go a tiny bit faster, as you go across the middle. However, if it is narrow, clutch control of speed may be necessary all the time.

You must have that snail's pace control again for the last 1-2 meters as you reach the opposite curb; so, if the clutch pedal has been fully released during the crossing over stage (which it should be if it is possible), you pop it back down as far as the “slipping” point, in good time. But this may not be enough. If the road dips in towards the pavement edge, or if you have gone faster than you should, you will need the footbrake as well, to trim speed back to a snail's pace for the final meter or so. Because during that last distance you have got to change the steering all the way back to the opposite lock, or as nearly that far as you can. Your objective is to have the steering as prepared for the reverse back as is possible.

Front wheel positions at each point of the turn are shown in fig. 2.

Because of the way the car nearly always tries to roll on into the gutter, you must always reckon to control the exact stopping position - before the wheels hit the pavement - with the footbrake, clutch pedal down by this time, to prevent stalling. Then put on the handbrake.

With skill and much practice, you will now have the steering wheel already turned and in full lock the other way, prior to your reverse to the pavement you started from. Remember (because of the strain on the parts) not to go on steering after you have stopped the car moving. If you have not quite managed full lock, you can turn the wheels the last little bit just as you start off in reverse. However, the best turns are accomplished when the steering lock change is completed just as you stop.

Check for traffic in both directions. Wait, if need be, 'til clear again. Now - looking backwards over your left shoulder - reverse slowly back. (You may. need your best uphill start technique to prevent running forward into the gutter.) There is no need unduly to dawdle across the middle, but when the rear of your car is two meters or a bit less from the curb you started from, you must be back down to snail's pace control. This will enable you to turn the steering rapidly back towards the same lock you started with, during the last meter or so, just before you stop. Be ready with the footbrake, and stop before the back of the car overhangs the curb. Put on your handbrake again. Did you manage quick glances both ways during that reverse…?

You are now ready for a smooth take-off in 1st gear to complete your turn - other traffic permitting, as ever. If you are still not going to clear the opposite curb, then another reverse will be necessary. Swing to the other lock for this in good time, using the same technique explained.

Sometimes, if the road is not very narrow, reversing all the way back to the first curb is unnecessary; half or three-quarters of the way is enough before you know you can easily get clear when you move forward. If so, get back into right hand full lock that much earlier. Never reverse further than necessary.

On completion of your turn, drive on, unless the examiner asks you to pull up in a parked position.

Changing Direction On A Major Road

Suppose you have missed the turning you meant to take off a major road. You need to turn and go back the other way. No examiner would expect you to do this as part of your Test, but you may be asked a question to make sure you are aware of the correct way it should be done.

As emphasized already, a busy major road is not the place for a three-point-turn! Ideally, keep going 'til you can turn off left into a smaller, quieter road; then go along that 'til you reach a suitable empty side road, again, on your left, to use to back into for turning. A less ideal thing, is to use a small road to your left, directly off the major road. But at least you can sometimes spy whether it is empty when you first pass it, which is a great help.

What you do not do, under any circumstances, is to take a left turn and then reverse out into the major road. Nor do you cut across the major road to reverse into a side road on that side.

Having chosen the road you intend to use to reverse into, follow the routine given below for the similar reverse into a limited opening. Only back into the side road as far as necessary to enable you to take up a proper right turn position for reemerging.

Where your major road is very wide, there may be an alternative way to turn around, known as a U-turn. My advice, because it is tricky to do, is only to attempt a U-turn at times when traffic is very light.

Reverse Into A Narrow Or Limited Opening

On Test, so that you can demonstrate skill reversing round a corner into limited space without risk to other vehicles, the examiner will choose a suitable narrow side street leading off a minor road. You will be asked to pull in beyond the turning.

Your examiner will give plenty of advance notice, and it will be up to you to time your pulling in signal, so that no-one might think you were simply turning into the road. Usually, a left hand opening is chosen. If the examiner wants you to reverse round into a right hand corner (which the examiner can, especially if you take your Test in a small van from which it is harder to see out of the back), you will need to cross to the offside before you can pull up beyond the selected turning. In this case, you treat the initial stage just like turning right, taking up a crown of the road position before the final move over. Give way to oncoming traffic if necessary, and be just as careful no-one could misinterpret your signal. If you have to wait at the crown of the road, then doing so a little way past the opening ensures that it will be obvious you are not turning directly into it.

As with the three-point-turn, having reached the starting position, you are not expected to include signals during the exercise itself. However, you are here making a turn (albeit in reverse) off one road into another. I believe it is safer therefore, although you wait for other traffic at all stages, to put on the relevant flashing indicator before you begin. This, extra care should please any examiner.

I begin with the reverse to the left. It is often regarded as more difficult because the width of the car is between the driver and curb. Nonetheless, the right hand reverse has its problems and I come to them separately later. You are expected to know how to cope with either reverse.

Reversing To The "Difficult" Side

You are expected to follow the curb round, keeping to your own side as you enter the limited opening, and reverse back 'til asked to stop reasonably close to your nearside curb.

Let us assume your starting position is several car lengths beyond the turning, pulled in beautifully close to the curb. Your wheels are comfortably within two tire widths of the gutter edge, just as they should be, and your steering is aligned straight ahead.

The ideal distance out for the car to be when you come to round the corner is 3-4 tire widths. In order to gain this gap you need to ease out gently, especially to begin with, as you cover the ground towards the corner; you cannot swing the steering wheel sharply, or your front left wheel simply biffs the curb and may mount it.


Fig. 3. Reversing into a narrow street to the “difficult” side.

As discussed, put on your left flashing indicator before you begin. When you approach the line A-Bas in fig. 3, you must be moving much more slowly than you crawled as a baby! You must maintain control of your speed exactly as you want it by “slipping the clutch”. If a downhill slope is causing the car to run too fast, you must hold your speed back with the footbrake instead, pushing the clutch pedal down for as long as you are needing the brake.

The key to it all as you the travel on between A-B and A-C (fig. 3), is to be going so slowly that you create time - to think, to look all around for danger, and for all the rapid steering and straightening up that will be required.

Look in front and all around you first, to make certain you are safe to begin. Then look backwards over the left shoulder, not the right. This gives you better all round vision. But, just before the turn itself, you will need to revert your glance to look through the front and the driver's side windows for a moment, to check for traffic.

At any time there's a traffic problem either way along the road you are still leaving, it is usually best to stop. Let the others sort out what to do, rather than allowing yourself to be rushed. Remember that in the process of backing round, your offside front wing will swing out and may well cross the centre line of the road you are reversing off: therefore you must be taking account of traffic from both directions along it. Traffic from in front of you, in particular, would have right of way going forwards, and would hardly be expecting your wing suddenly jutting across its path.

Also note that if someone comes up wanting to emerge from the turning you are trying to reverse into, you may have to pull forward, retracing your tracks until he can do so safely; you then wait. But watch both ways before you do that, lest you pull forward into worse trouble! The other thing you have to watch all along, is that there is no-one, especially not a pint-sized person, wandering along any of the pavements adjacent to your maneuver, and who might be about to step into your path.

From the exact moment your rear wheels are level with an imaginary continuation of a line just inside the edge of the pavement of the side street(A-B as in fig. 3), you have to whisk the steering rapidly into full lock to take you round. As already warned, if your speed isn't close to zero, you will never line yourself up properly: you will over- or under-shoot.

As you begin turning, look quickly all around you to take into vision all pavements, pedestrians, children, dogs, everything! Then be looking over your left shoulder again, mainly through the back window, also through the side windows. Be prepared to stop at any stage.

A driver who is reversing must always give way to other road users from any quarter.

Once the rear of the car has begun to enter the turning, you must be ready to straighten up. You must begin to do so at just the right moment, and then do so swiftly, but without over-doing it. The right moment to begin, which will be learned through practice and is nearly always earlier than beginners expect, is when the back wheels of the car first reach line A-C as in fig. 3.

The front wheels need to be straight by the time they reach the line A-C.

On Test, the examiner will expect you to continue your reverse into the side street and to travel on until asked to stop. You may be allowed to stop after you have gone two car lengths from the opening, or four or five lengths, or perhaps more. Keep going 'til you are instructed to stop. The examiner wants to see that you can reverse accurately in a straight line, without wandering too far out from the pavement - or bumping into it. As you reverse on further, keep parallel to the curb the same 3-4 tire widths out as you were (or should have been!) when rounding the curb on the way in.

Your examiner will indicate where you are to pull up by the curb, well before you reach that place. (Perhaps it will be beside a lamp post, a pillar-box, or near to whatever he or she can point out that can brook no question of misunderstanding.) You should ease in towards the curb with the same care you eased away from it at the start of the maneuver. Finish 1-2 tire widths out and without hitting the curb in the process! For your practice, make your objective to end 1 tire width or less out from the edge. Then the Test will be easy! For your personal curbside parking standard after you pass, never consider more than 1 tire width to be good enough!

Reversing To The "Easy" Side

The principles and safety checks for traffic, children, etc., are identical to those explained for the “difficult” side. When to begin turning and when to straighten up are decided in the same way. Obviously it will be the right flashing indicator you use.

A major difference is that - in addition to looking mainly over your left shoulder - you are able to make extra checks as to just where the pavement is, over your right shoulder.

Looking over the right shoulder only, would be wrong, and dangerous because large areas behind and to the left of the car would remain unchecked, invisible. Nor do you merely open your door and lean out to look out of there, as is the naughty habit of lots of van drivers.

Another difference lies in which pavement you are reversing next to, having entered the limited opening. You have rounded the opening close to the right hand curb edge. You now keep next to that edge going back. You do not try to cross to the other side of the road in reverse, before you stop. You are normally only expected to reverse a sufficient distance back, so as then to be able (with normal precautions, signal, etc.) to cross forwards, back to your own left hand side safely, and be in a proper position to emerge from the opening in due course. However, as with the left reverse, your examiner will give clear instructions about where you are to stop.

Golden Rule For Test Reverses

The golden rule for all delicate maneuvers is that there are no medals for speed. The ability to re-capture a clutch-slipping position on the move, forwards or in reverse, is essential. During practice sessions it is well worth stopping the car at different stages during these turns, so that you can get out and inspect just how well or badly you are really doing. On Test, although you wouldn't get out, it is in order, if necessary, to stop, if you see that you are not steering reasonably correctly or that you are about to mount a curb. Then you can pull forward (with care!) again to straighten. You should appreciate that the examiner is more likely to mark it against you if you do hit a curb, than if you sensibly accept your potential mistake, stop, and adjust position to avoid it.

If you do have to straighten up, there is no need to return to the original starting-off point; drive forward the minimum necessary amount. But…make sure there is no traffic first!

Choose lots of different practice venues. Find different street widths, and hilly, as well as level, terrain. Then your Test can spring no surprises! For your three-point-turns, look for spots where there aren't any roadside trees, etc., to hit…

Do remember that there are blind spots caused by the framework of your car at the front, as well as at the back. When reversing, kids or low things like street name posts, may not be visible. In the Highway Code, you are advised to get help whenever reversing, if in any doubt; and to get out first and look, if necessary, especially if it is dark. This is extremely wise, especially if you have been parked for some while. Youngsters have a habit of sneaking up behind when you are not watching.

Safe Parking

On Test, you may be asked what precautions you would take to secure a vehicle if leaving it unattended on a hill. The answer is that you would leave the car close in, with the front wheels turned into the curb the handbrake “on” , and in 1st or reverse gear. Engine compression resistance thus adds its holding effect to the handbrake. With automatic transmission you select the “P” position, which engages a mechanical lock, equating therefore to leaving the car in gear. You would also lock the doors against thieves, or children who might cause the car to “run away“, out of control. The Highway Code carries a special section on Vehicle Security. Follow the tips given there, too.

Normally when you park, it should be on the left with the passenger side next to the curb. (On a one-way street you may just as safely park on the right with your driver's door next to that curb.) Parking in a space between two other cars at the curbside is made easy further below.

You must heed any parking restriction. The Highway Code is effusive about where and how NOT to let your car stand. Many of the places where you are not allowed to park, are ones where you could cause an obstruction, and could be prosecuted for that anyway. Learn them - well. It also illustrates the nightmare variety of locally-sign-posted restrictions you will have to learn to obey. Among the worst offences are to park within the stud defined area around traffic lights and Pelican crossings, or inside a zigzag lined area either side of any pedestrian crossing, or less than 15 meters from any junction; also you must not even stop to set down passengers where any school entrance is marked, or on a clearway.

On motorways later on, once you have passed your Test and can go on them you must remember that (apart from when directed to use the hard shoulder temporarily because of road works, and finding yourself on it in a stop/start queue) the only time you are permitted to stop on a hard shoulder is in emergency or if broken down. Should that happen, make sure your car is as well clear of passing traffic as you can get it; switch on your 4-way hazard warning flashers once stopped. Keep sidelights on at night Only get out of the car via a nearside (left) passenger door. Warn all passengers to stay well off the carriageway. Detail someone to supervise children and/or animals. Make sure nobody stands about behind the car, masking your hazard and/or rear lights from traffic. Place a reflecting triangle, if you have one, on the hard shoulder 150 meters back from the car. Don't leave the car unattended for long. Summon help using the nearest roadside telephone on your own side of the motorway, or use your own car phone.

Parking At The Curbside Between Cars

Essential though this maneuver is, it is not specifically required on Test, for reasons already explained. However, as a skilled driver, you should know how to do it properly.

To park in a small space between two other cars it is always easier to drive alongside the front car, and then reverse into the space. Trying forwards is a mistake, usually making it impossible to get close enough to the pavement. You need at least one and a half meters more than the length of your car, in order to get in.

Look at fig. 4. You are car no. 1. I assume you will have given an arm “I intend to pull in to the nearside curb” signal if need be, and that you will have your left flashing indicator on as you arrive.

1. Stop alongside no. 2, about two thirds of a meter out, when your rear wheels are level with its middle.

2. Look through the rear window, and reverse slowly, slipping the clutch. Snail it Pull the steering wheel slightly left (left hand down) as you ease back. Keep checking for other traffic as you enter, particularly coming up from in front of you. Your front right wing is going to swing out, remember.

3. As the rear moves slowly into the space, increase the left hand steering wheel lock to maximum, so that your inside back wheel is aiming roughly towards the curbstone nearest the middle of the space. Then, and this is a matter of careful judgment, as the rear snails nearer to the edge of the curb, but before it gets there, change swiftly, completely, back onto full right lock, having a look to see that your front left wing (and the bumper) does clear the car in front. This is a quick look because you must still have your main attention behind. Pedestrians often attempt to walk through your space. They assume you have seen them. You may think no-one should be so daft but you would be (rightly) held responsible if you hit someone, or squashed them into the car behind. That is the law. If you have changed locks too early, stop. It's usually best to pull right forward after that and begin again.


Fig. 4. Parking between cars at the curbside.

4. Prior to your stop, pull the steering left again, in order straighten the front wheels. Until highly practiced, you may need several slow forwards and backwards maneuvers now, in order to get your car properly under 1 car tire width from the curb. If car 2 is sticking too far out it can make your whole maneuver very difficult, but that must be no excuse for not finishing neatly the proper distance out from the curb yourself.

5. Lastly, when close in to the edge, move forward or back, so that you occupy the middle of the available space. This leave room to help 2 or 3, or any others who may replace them, to get in and out.

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