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 acknowledgements, here). We have tried to give effective and, above all, safety-oriented answers to these questions but must draw your attention once again to our disclaimer. If your worries persist it may be wise to consult a suitable professional driving instructor for assistance. As much as we wish to help, we cannot either deal with individual cases or provide advice that is beyond our own 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 yet have the answers you need, please contact us with the questions, and and 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, and then go to a professional instructor for the finishing touches, or should it be the other way round? (DSA)
Many of the answers we give on these pages depend quite strongly on which country you happen to 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, it is important that your family and friends do not try to alter what the instructor has already taught you.
If, however, you live in a country where the driving test is easy, and/or 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 has to be added that if after a reasonable time you are not comfortable with a particular driving instructor, 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 each and 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 a driver who is apprehensive it would be a mistake to move onto busy, multi-lane roads until such time as that driver is comfortable driving on quiet and moderately busy 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 real, 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 (who are, with the greatest of respect, in business primarily to make money) are trying to market their machines as being alternatives to on-the-road lessons.
There is NO substitute for the real thing… period!
A simulator that could factor in the huge 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 a far safer thing for a student/learner driver (or parents) to do.
I Panic. I Don’t Know What To Do.
1. How can I get away from the panic I feel when I drive.
(a) Get as much practice as possible, in quiet areas initially, until you are ready to move up a notch. 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 for it.
(b) Learn routines. One of the most effective and useful of these is the British “M-S-M” (“Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre”)
(c) At all costs avoid practicing with instructors or friends who make you feel worse.
Driving, In General
1. Are multi-lane streets and highways laid out so there can be few accidents? Do the signals really direct people so that there is very little chance to make 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 upon which country you happen to live in.
In more developed or richer countries, the roads, streets and highways tend to be laid out quite well, but the standards can vary dramatically even between such countries.
We would argue that this is a factor that significantly affects the number of crashes and casualties in various countries and in this respect it has to be said that the USA does very poorly by comparison with other other developed nations.
Road signs, pavement markings (i.e. road markings) and road design here in America often leave a great deal to be desired.
Take, for example, “cloverleaf intersections” where vehicles that are accelerating to join a highway have to cross the path of other vehicles that are slowing down to leave it. Clearly this is ludicrously bad 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 actually lies in the question above:
Yes, it is vital to study the driver’s manual (or “highway code”, etc.) to know how to proceed. It is vital to learn what it says in the book. Many people simply read it once or maybe twice until they pass their driving test then never read it again 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 in the world go back to the most basic books periodically, otherwise they would eventually miss or forget something important and loose 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 — and it 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 being the goal but they need to think! Scraping through a driving test that may, in itself, be far too easy (again, unfortunately, the USA stands out as having a very low standard) and certainly does not make anyone into a “good” driver. Is it really worth worrying about a few hundred dollars or pounds spent on proper lessons? The hidden benefit could very easily be the fact that those lessons may make the difference and keep a person alive.
(b) One of the most basic yet most important rules for driving anywhere is: Never drive so fast that you cannot stop comfortably, on your own side of the road, well within the distance you can see to be clear.
(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. If you look at an object (such as a car that has partially pulled out in front of you, 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, it works superbly well. Think of it in a different context; think of a baseball or cricket player who has to catch a fast ball. “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 that are almost alongside me on the highway, but other people say that I should be able to see a little bit of my own car in each of the exterior mirrors. Which is correct?
The latter version — setting the exterior mirrors so that you can just see a tiny bit of your own vehicle — is correct for a whole range of reasons. There are NO good reasons for setting the 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 a real 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. In other countries, such as the USA, proper “advanced driving” courses are extremely hard to find, and the courses that are offered under that heading frequently use techniques that although well-intended actually create more dangers than they cure.
Without doubt, the best source of information on true advanced and defensive driving in the USA and Canada is Advanced Drivers of America, Inc.