Many of the questions on this page have been sent to us by people who are apprehensive as drivers or have an oppressive fear of driving (see acknowledgments here). We have tried to give adequate and safety-oriented answers to these questions but must again draw your attention to our disclaimer. If your worries persist, it may be wise to consult a suitable professional driving instructor. Unfortunately, as much as we wish to help, we cannot deal with individual cases or provide advice beyond our fields of expertise.

Even though many aspects of driving overlap — such as “observations” with virtually all other tasks, for example — we have tried to group the questions logically, but do check all possible sections to find the answers you need.

If we don’t have the answers you need, please contact us with the questions; they will be added as soon as possible (anonymously if you wish).

Finally, please be aware that we use terminology from various countries, so we will refer to both “backing up” and “reversing,” for example, or to both “passing” and “overtaking.”

Learning To Drive

1. Should I practice driving with my parents or friends first, then go to a professional instructor for the finishing touches, or should it be the other way around? (DSA)

Many of the answers we give on these pages depend pretty strongly on which country you live in, and this is one of them.
If you live in a country where the standard of the driving test (and therefore almost inevitably the standard of the driving instructors themselves) is high, then we would advise that all of the initial training sessions should be with a professional instructor until the instructor is confident that you have mastered the basics and can now go out and practice under the supervision of other individuals.

In such cases, your family and friends mustn’t try to alter what the instructor has already taught you.

If you live in a country where the driving test is easy and becoming a driving instructor does not require a person to undertake rigorous examinations for ability and suitability, you may want to take a different approach.

In all cases, it must be added that if you are not comfortable with a particular driving instructor after a reasonable time, move on; get another!

2. How can you best get the “feel” of your vehicle so that you feel confident you are in control of it? (LS)

 Practice! — No, we are not trying to be flippant or offensive by stating that because it is true.

The important thing, however, is that if you are nervous or apprehensive about driving, you should continue to practice the absolute basics for as long as it takes you to get comfortable with every stage.

In general, your instructor or supervisor should not push you into moving on to the next step until you have mastered the one you are on.

For example, for an apprehensive driver, moving onto busy, multi-lane roads would be a mistake until that driver is comfortable driving on quiet and moderately active roads.

3. Do driving simulators help?

There may be occasions when simulators can be helpful, but in our opinion, these are very limited.

In particular, they should never be used as an alternative to actual, on-the-road driving practice. That sounds like a contradiction in terms, and to some extent, it is meant to be.

At DSA, we are concerned that some makers of driving simulators (with the greatest of respect, in business primarily to make money) are trying to market their machines as alternatives to on-the-road lessons.

There is NO substitute for the real thing… period!
A simulator that could factor in the vast range of problems that can beset a driver on a busy road, and handle all variations appropriately, would cost millions.

Finding a good driving instructor would be far safer for a student/learner driver (or parents).

I Panic. I Don’t Know What To Do.

1. How can I escape the panic I feel when driving?

(a) Get as much practice as possible in quiet areas initially until you are ready to move up a notch. Please do this for as long as it takes. Unless a professional instructor is gently trying to build your confidence, try not to let well-meaning family or friends push you into anything before you are ready.

(b) Learn routines. One of the most influential and valuable of these is the British “M-S-M” (“Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre”)

(c) Avoid practicing with instructors or friends who make you feel worse at all costs.

Driving, In General

1. Are multi-lane streets and highways laid out so there can be few accidents? Do the signals direct people so there is little chance of making a mistake? They look complicated! Is it best to study the driver’s manual to know how to proceed? (LS)

This is effectively three questions in one, but one factor binds them together, and that takes us back to our earlier comments about answers depending on which country you live in.

The roads, streets, and highways tend to be laid out quite well in more developed or prosperous countries, but the standards can vary dramatically between such countries.

We would argue that this is a factor that significantly affects the number of crashes and casualties in various countries; in this respect, it has to be said that the USA does very poorly compared to other developed nations.

Road signs, pavement markings (i.e., road markings), and road design in America often leave much to be desired.

Take, for example, “cloverleaf intersections,” where vehicles accelerating to join a highway have to cross the path of other cars slowing down to leave it. This is a ludicrously lousy design and makes the road less safe, not safer.

Such factors, however, can only be changed very slowly as new and better techniques come into play. So the answer to this aspect lies in the question above:

Studying the driver’s manual (or “highway code,” etc.) is vital to know how to proceed. It is crucial to learn what it says in the book. Unfortunately, many people read it once or maybe twice until they pass their driving test, then never reread it as long as they live, even after many years have passed and many rules have changed. And those people are simply asking to be hurt in a crash.

Read the book…. every few months. Even the highest qualified road drivers return to the essential books periodically. Otherwise, they would miss or forget something important and lose their standards.

2. How do you best avoid hitting someone or something, and what are the best actions to take when this is unavoidable? (LS) 

Wow… the six-million-dollar question has a whole host of answers. The key factors are:

     (a)  Learn to drive with a reliable, professional instructor. Many student/learner drivers, and even their parents, see “passing the test” as the goal, but they need to think! Scraping through a driving test that may be far too easy (again, unfortunately, the USA stands out as having a deficient standard) certainly does not make anyone a “good” driver. Is it worth worrying about a few hundred dollars or pounds spent on proper lessons? The hidden benefit could very quickly be that those lessons may make a difference and keep a person alive.

     (b)  One of the most basic yet most important rules for driving anywhere is:  Never go so fast that you cannot stop comfortably, on your side of the road, well within the distance you can see, to be precise.

     (c)  If something unexpected happens and you cannot stop before reaching the problem, the most important thing you can do is use “eye control.” If the road ahead is suddenly obstructed by a vehicle, a pedestrian, etc., look instantly at where you want your vehicle to go — look for a safe gap and keep looking at it. Suppose you look at an object (such as a car partially pulled out in front of you, and you WILL hit it. And — hey presto — if you look at a gap through which you want your vehicle to go, you WILL “hit” it. Many people are skeptical about this advice, but not only does it work, but it also works superbly well. Think of it in a different context; think of a baseball or cricket player who has to catch a fastball. “Keep your eyes on the ball (otherwise you’ll miss it)” is the oldest advice known, and for a driver to look at a “safety gap” is an exact and even more vital equivalent. It works!

3. Some people tell me that I should angle the exterior mirrors on my car outwards, at a wide angle, so that I can see cars almost alongside me on the highway. Still, other people say I should be able to see a little bit of my vehicle in each exterior mirror. Which is correct? 

The latter version — setting the exterior mirrors so you can see a tiny bit of your vehicle — is correct for many reasons. However, there are NO good reasons for selecting exterior mirrors at a wide angle; it is laziness and unsafe.


Extra Driving Courses

1. Should I do an “advanced driving course”? 

Unfortunately, this question opens an actual can of worms!
The problem comes from the fact that in some countries, “advanced driving” is precisely what the name says — a very high level of skill, specifically in safety techniques. However, in other countries, such as the USA, proper “advanced driving” courses are tough to find, and the methods offered under that frequently heading use well-intended techniques that create more dangers than they cure.

Advanced Drivers of America, Inc is the best source of information on accurate advanced and defensive driving in the USA and Canada.