When I first passed my driving test, I was overjoyed. My instructor had turned to me and said “Right, you’ve passed. Now learn how to drive.” I thought his comment was a little strange at first. However, it didn’t take me long to find out exactly what he meant! Your driving test is only the tip of the iceberg. After that, the real education begins. There are all kinds of unwritten conventions on the road we need to understand. If you feel like your driving skills are still a little shaky, then this post is just for you. Here’s a guide to becoming a better driver.
The first thing you should look at improving is your attitude to driving. In a lot of cases, a driver’s poor performance is down to their mindset, and not incompetence. One of the most common mistakes in attitude is assuming that other drivers know what they’re doing! While most cars out there are operated by experienced drivers, there’s no real way of telling how competent they are. If you’ve passed your test, you’ll know that the bar isn’t exactly that high. With a few basic skills, anyone could pass a driving test. My point here is that you should start assuming the worst about other drivers. That is, that they’re blithering idiots! You might be the worst driver on the road, but you’ll be that much better when you suspect incompetence. When you’re a little more skittish about the cars around you, you’ll naturally drive more defensively.
For example, let’s say you’re coming up to some lights at an intersection and they turn green. Look around for anyone who might try to run the red. Watch for drivers on the motorway who change lanes abruptly and cut people off. Give way to drivers when you think it will make the situation safer, even when it’s your right of way. I know that you might feel your pride being bruised. However, it will be far more pleasant than a collision! Finally, don’t be afraid to use your horn. These are part of a car for a reason. I know what your instructor told you about the use of your horn, but don’t be scared of it. If someone’s made a dangerous manoeuvre, make sure they realise it was dangerous!
As part of this new attitude, you should make a conscious effort to scan the whole perimeter of your car. When you’re learning to drive, you know you’ll fail if you’re not doing your checks with every little manoeuvre. After you’ve passed though, the habit can easily fade, and you may end up simply looking ahead of you all the time you’re driving. Try not to let your mind drift off. Instead, look around all the time. Anticipate what other cars are about to do, be aware of signage, and any potential hazards.
When it comes to road rage, you need to behave like a nun. There are rude people out there, and a lot of them own cars. You’ll be cut off, flipped off and tailgated by various other drivers. I understand that naturally, you’ll want to react in a similar fashion. However, to be the best driver you can be, you need to make sure these people don’t get under your skin. Whenever another driver’s showing no courtesy, don’t provoke them. This may only serve to exacerbate the situation, and could end up with a collision. If you can keep a cool head, every aspect of your driving will improve. Even when you have an accident, it’s important to stay calm and not get angry. The consequences could harm your legal position later in the process. Here’s an extensive FAQ resource for someone that’s been injured in a car accident.
As you make a conscious effort to change your attitude to driving, try and pay attention to your natural habits. Over time, you’ll begin to get a feel for what your strengths and weaknesses as a driver are. Perhaps you take too long to merge, or you don’t leave enough space between you and the driver in front. Similarly, there’ll be certain manoeuvres which you’ll be able to pull off without even thinking. Get into the habit of working on your weaknesses, and finding out exactly what it is you’re doing wrong. As you become more and more focussed on where you’re messing up, improvement will come more naturally.
For most people, putting a little work in to improve your driving is more than enough. However, you might want to take even more steps towards perfecting yourself as a driver. One thing you might want to try is learning to drive a manual car. Not a lot of people in this country know how to do this, but I assure you the experience would be very valuable. With a gear stick, there’ll be an extra factor to think about, directly linked to what you’re doing with the rest of your body. You won’t be an expert straight away, true. However, once you get used to the feel of a manual drive, you’ll have a much better understanding of how different parts of the car work together. Having a go in a manual is also a good way to force yourself into a more careful attitude, too. Although you won’t drive like a complete beginner, you’ll find that you’re set back a few places. This will encourage you to drive more carefully, and constantly keep an eye on your surroundings.
If you’re not too proud, you might want to go to a driver’s education course. You may think that the price of these is a little steep, and you wouldn’t be alone! However, once you’re on the track, you’ll agree that there’s a lot of merit in these courses. You’ll be driving around with a professional teacher. They’ll observe your basic skills, and point out where you’re going wrong. This second opinion can be extremely valuable if you’re struggling to improve your driving by yourself. If you’re fairly confident, but you still want to be even better, then look into performance driving days. These courses are similar, but more focussed on race-style driving. You may feel like you’re being thrown in the deep end here. However, with the guidance of a professional instructor, you’ll be able to pick up some really useful habits.
Some people go in for a single performance driving day, and after that they’re hooked! If you get bitten by the same bug, then another thing you might be interested in is a “rally school” day. As you can imagine, this is like a performance driving day, with one distinct difference. You’re learning on dirt! Through these courses, you’ll be taught how to control the car when you’ve sacrificed nearly all the traction. You’ll be able to take this home, and apply certain points to driving in less-than-perfect conditions. Even if the day doesn’t improve your driving at all, it can be extremely fun! Autocross is another extra measure you could take. This doesn’t involve any teaching, but allows you to really push the limits of your car in a safe environment. It’s also a much cheaper alternative to track days.
Being a good driver is mostly what you actually do on the road, but it certainly doesn’t stop there. You need to make sure you’re doing enough maintenance and checks to keep you and other drivers safe. I’m not suggesting you attempt every single fix yourself. However, some precautions can go a long way. Faulty electrics can easily cause you to stall, or make the car operate in an unsafe, unstable way. Whenever you’re under the hood, check the wiring for any cracks, and make sure there isn’t any corrosion on your battery terminals. Be sure to keep an eye on your wiper blades too. These will wear out over time, and impair your vision. Tires are another important part of your car you should be checking regularly. Rain, snow, and other conditions can make driving a matter of life and death. The tires on your car are your main defence against these factors, so don’t neglect them. You need to be keenly aware of anything which could cause a blowout, or otherwise make you lose control of your vehicle. You should also check all the fluids in your car as regularly as possible. Power steering, transmission, oil brake fluids and so on are extremely important to your car’s performance. You should also be aware of the condition of your brake pads, and check regularly for burnt-out bulbs in your head or brake lights. When the most integral parts of your car are in good working order, you’ll have far less to worry about.
I hope this guide has helped you to become a better driver. Some people are naturally better drivers than others. However, with a little work and attention, you can improve every aspect of your motoring skills. Most importantly, always stay focussed on the road, both on what other drivers are doing and the consequences of your own habits.