So honestly, how good are your driving skills?
In a recent survey, almost half of motorists (44%) admitted that they picked up bad driving habits during lockdown.
Worse still, according to the research by dash cam maker Nextbase, 14% of the 1,500 motorists quizzed said they had “completely forgotten how to drive their car”.
If you think you might have picked up some bad driving habits - during lockdown or just in general - then there’s no better time to have a refresh. Having a quick recap of the good habits could not just help your driving, but minimise the risk of being involved in a road accident.
Besides, couldn’t everyone do with brushing up on their driving skills now and then?
Here’s 10 tips to refresh your memory:
1. Stay calm
Even the calmest of individuals can get surprisingly irate when behind the wheel and that’s no good for anyone.
Research published in 2019 looked at what makes Brits feel cross, and driving had a lot to answer for: failing to indicate was found to be the biggest source of irritation for people surveyed.
Driving on busy town or city streets can be particularly stressful. So, it’s really worth taking a mindful approach to keeping yourself calm. For example, you could play some soothing music in your car or just allow yourself more time for your journey. Having that extra leeway might mean that busy traffic or any other unexpected occurrence might not increase your stress levels so much.
Ultimately, the roads would be a better place if everyone stayed calmer and showed courtesy to their fellow drivers.
2. Keep both hands on the steering wheel
In Nextbase’s post-lockdown survey, more than one in five people (22%) said that they frequently steer with just one hand on the steering wheel. It’s really easy to fall into this bad habit and you might not even notice you’re doing it. But as your driving instructor will have told you, perhaps many years ago now, driving with just one hand on the wheel gives you far less control of your car in the event of an emergency. So take a minute to check yourself and try to get back to two hands if you can.
3. Remove distractions
In Nextbase’s survey, 12% of drivers confessed they can easily get distracted.
From satnavs, mobile phones and the radio, to other passengers, there are lots of potential distractions for drivers. All drivers know that an accident can happen in a split second, so any distraction can be disastrous.
Next time you get behind the wheel, try to take a fresh look at your surroundings and consider whether there are any distractions you can remove. For example, if you use your phone as a satnav, put it on a setting where you won’t get alerts about messages you’ve received. Or if you’re driving with someone whose chatting distracts you, politely tell them to wait until you can give them your full attention.
4. Don’t be over-confident
Drivers tend to be blind to their own failings. Most people simply think they’re great drivers.
But this sort of complacency can be dangerous. Driving is a skill like any other, that needs to be continuously refined, in order to improve. Overconfidence in your abilities could lead to risky driving and serious accidents, this is especially true if it means you overestimate your ability to drive when tired or in bad conditions.
So, try and recognise your weak points. For example, while you might be great at parallel parking, perhaps you sometimes forget to indicate before turning off. Or vice versa. Once you’ve identified your weak points, you can make a conscious effort to improve them. After all none of us are perfect on the road.
5. Make space
In slow-moving traffic, it’s easy to get packed in like sardines. But be sure to leave a sizable gap from the car in front, in order to reduce the risk of a collision if you stall, if they slip back on an incline, or if you are hit from behind.
The same is true when you’re on the faster roads. The Highway Code says you should “allow at least a two second gap between you and the vehicle in front on roads carrying faster moving traffic”. In wet conditions, you need to at least double that gap.
6. Use the Dutch Reach
It may sound strange, but the ‘Dutch Reach’ is a safer way to open your car door so that it doesn’t collide with oncoming traffic, or a cyclist.
Rather than using your hand closest to the door to open it, you use your far hand. This means you swivel round and get a continuous view of oncoming traffic as you do so.
It’s a small change that could make a huge difference.
7. Take breaks
People often feel pressure to keep driving even if they are tired. Whether it’s for work, or if you’re just rushed off your feet trying to fit everything into a busy day, it can be easy to submit to the pressure of driving when tired.
Instead, try and split up long stretches of driving by taking breaks. Don’t rely on coffee, as it’s just a quick fix and not a substitute for a good night’s sleep.
8. Get your vision checked
Having good eyesight is essential for safe driving. But, according to research published in September by the DVLA, less than half of motorists know they must be able to read a number plate from 20 metres away to drive safely.
The DVLA is calling on drivers to ensure they take the 20-metre number plate test, a distance equivalent to five car lengths, or the width of eight parking bays. It is also reminding drivers that they should have their eyes tested at least every two years or as soon as they notice any changes to their vision.
So, if you have any concerns about your eyesight, it’s best to visit an optician for an eye test.
9. Slow down
Fifteen percent of people quizzed by Nextbase admitted that they now drive “far too quickly”.
Speeding is dangerous, costs more in fuel and is against the law, meaning you could face a fine and points on your licence.
If you want to improve your driving, then reducing your speed is one of the best places to start.
10. Drive defensively
Defensive driving involves a range of techniques to keep you and others around you safe on the road.
As well as minimising the risk of being involved in an accident, it can help you save money by reducing your fuel consumption.
It’s mainly about being more aware of other road users and what’s happening around you, to effectively anticipate hazards.
There are courses available in defensive driving to take your skills to the next level, so if you fancy really improving your driving skills it’s definitely worth a look.
For more driving tips and advice, see go to our Rias tips and guides hub