The car has become a central feature of our lives, granting us unparalleled personal mobility through broader access to jobs, leisure and other facilities. Learning to drive gives you the ability and freedom to drive. But learning to drive and driving comes with its own responsibilities. We owe it to ourselves, our families, pedestrians and fellow drivers to drive responsibly.
95% of all road accidents involve some human error, and, in 76% of cases, humans are solely to blame. Most road accidents could be prevented with care and simple common sense actions. In addition, while improved vehicle and fuel technologies have minimized the car’s environmental impact, car travel is still the fastest-growing source of carbon dioxide emissions in the world. Road transport accounts for around 20% of all emissions, and how we drive can make a surprising difference to local air quality.
This article suggests various techniques for safer driving and gives some ideas on minimizing the impact of our travel choices on the environment.
Use less fuel
By learning a few fundamental driving techniques, you can reduce your vehicle’s fuel consumption, save money and do your bit to help the environment.
Use your gears wisely
Driving in the highest gear you can, without laboring the engine, is a more fuel-efficient way of driving. For example, it is estimated that a vehicle traveling at a speed of 37mph in third gear uses 25% more fuel than when at the same speed in the fifth gear.
Drive more smoothly
Think ahead and, by applying light throttle and avoiding heavy braking, you will reduce your vehicle’s overall fuel use and at the same time reduce wear and tear on the vehicle. Research suggests that driving techniques can influence fuel efficiency by as much as 30%.
Switch off your engine
Whenever it is safe to do so, switch off your engine, especially when stuck in traffic for more than a few minutes. If you have air conditioning, think before you use it. Not using it will reduce fuel consumption and ultimately save you money.
Drive off as soon as you can
Don’t leave your engine running when you first startup. Instead, drive off straight away if you can but drive gently until the engine has reached its normal operating temperature.
Lighten your load
Think carefully about what you are taking on a journey. If you do not need something, do not pack it. For example, remove roof racks if they are not necessary for your journey. The lighter the load, the lower the fuel consumption and emissions.
Examine your travel choices
Make fewer car trips
83% of motorists think that traffic congestion in towns and cities is a major problem. There is no “quick fix” solution to this challenge, as for many trips, the car is viewed as an absolute necessity. However, for short or simple journeys, you may be able to walk, cycle, or take public transport.
Research shows that 20% of all current car trips could be easily switched to alternative means. For journeys to work or for longer leisure trips, car sharing may be possible. You may want to consider the train for longer journeys. This will help to reduce emissions and cut your petrol bill.
Improve your driving style
Accidents involving experienced drivers have little to do with technique but with attitude, behavior and risk perception. 24% of motorists think that the overall standard of driving in the UK is bad or very bad, and the overwhelming majority of motorists want action to improve driving standards.
Regardless of how good a driver you are, you can always to learn to become a better driver. However, the following tips may help.
Always drive with caution
All road users can make mistakes, so adjust your driving behavior. Avoid taking any risks yourself. Never rush but, if you know you are going to be late, stop to let someone know. If tired: do not drive: take regular breaks (for at least 15 minutes once every two hours) on a long car journey.
Look well ahead
Observation and attention to detail are the essence of safer driving, allowing you to plan and act in good time. The more time you have, the more options you have.
Move your eyes
However good your eyesight may be, your eyes are only capable of seeing objects clearly in a narrow cone of central vision. By moving your eyes and your head, you can see more in your peripheral vision.
See and be seen
Being seen is our means of communication with other road users. You cannot necessarily expect others to see you. Clear communication with other traffic is essential; we need to know what the other road users are doing or are about to do. Make eye contact, avoid driving in blind spots and connect with other road users. In conditions of poor visibility, use the appropriate lights.
Spot the problems
The better you are at spotting problems, either before or as they develop, the more time you have to take steps to reduce the risk of an accident. Unfortunately, many accidents happen either because a driver fails to spot a problem or because it is too late to react by the time it is spotted.
As you drive, you need to achieve two goals that contradict each other: keeping pace with traffic while keeping space from traffic. Space around your car gives you time to look, think, spot the risk, and react.
Observe the speed limits
One in two motorists on occasion breaks the speed limits on town roads7. Lower speed limits indicate hazards ahead. At a lower speed limit, you will have time to react. At 20mph, any pedestrian you hit stands a 90% chance of surviving. At 40mph, they stand only a 10% chance. Drive well within the speed limits on all roads. And remember, cars traveling at or above 70mph can use up to 25% more fuel than those traveling at 50mph.
Take care around schools
In towns and on urban roads, beware of pedestrians. Children around schools may rush out into the road.
Using your mobile phone
Drivers should avoid using handheld mobile phones while on the move. If possible, switch your mobile phone off during your journey and use its message facility instead. If you leave a phone switched on and receive a call, advise the caller that you are driving and keep the call brief. Concentrate on the road at all times when using a hands-free phone and display similar caution when using other in-vehicle systems.
Avoid unnecessary hassle
Plan your route before you depart
A little planning can save you time and reduce stress. Work out the best route to travel and always try to take familiar roads. Be prepared to travel off-peak, if possible, to reduce congestion and local pollution. Mobile apps can help you with an interactive route planner updated with local travel information.
Traffic information service is available on various apps available on your cell phone.
Service your vehicle regularly
Regular maintenance is likely to save you time, aggravation and money in the long term. 50% of roadside breakdowns are the result of poor maintenance. Poorly maintained cars of any age will pollute the environment significantly. Research suggests that 50% of pollution from cars is caused by just 10%-20% of them9.
Carry out regular checks yourself
Read your owner’s handbook for advice on how to maintain your vehicle. Then, check oil and water levels. Check your tire condition for pressure and depth. These simple checks will ensure that you drive safely and, ultimately, save fuel.
Learning to drive in winter
Not preparing a car for winter driving could increase the risk of getting stuck on the side of the road while learning to drive. With this in mind, this article has been compiled to help you prepare your vehicle for the cold winter months.
Preparing your car for winter driving
The most important items to look at when learning to drive during winter are:
- Check your vehicle is regularly serviced by consulting your service book. It can be all too easy to overlook the correct service date. Consider visiting your local dealer for a winter service.
- Check the operation of all exterior lights to ensure they comply with any legal requirements. All headlights and indicator lenses must be free from damage such as cracks or missing glass or plastic. Remember to keep the lights clean.
- Check front and rear wiper blades for wear or splitting. Check windshield washers to make sure that they are adjusted correctly. Screenwash additive should be added to prevent freezing in winter.
- Ensure all dashboard warning lights operate correctly. If not, consult your owner’s handbook or call your local dealer.
- Check oil and water levels. Ensure they are topped up correctly. Pay particular attention to the antifreeze content of the air conditioning system. Check your owner’s manual for information on the recommended antifreeze to use.
- Inspect your battery electrolyte level topping this up with distilled water if necessary. Do check the battery connections ensuring that they are tight and free from any corrosion. Do not forget that battery acid is highly corrosive to skin and paintwork.
- Make sure the fan belt is set to the correct tension and in good condition. Remove, adjust or replace as required. Ensure the ignition key is removed from the vehicle before checking.
- Tire condition should be checked (including the spare tire) for tire pressure and legal tread depth. Check with your state for the current minimum legal tread depth for cars and light commercial trucks. Note, it is generally acknowledged that the greater the tread depth, the more efficient the tire is of clearing water in its path, making learning to drive in poor conditions safer.
- Inspect the jack and wheel brace. Make sure that they are in good order. If locking wheel nuts are fitted, ensure the locking key is safely stored in the car. It may be useful to learn how to change the wheel. You should read the instructions in the owner’s handbook.
- Inspect car keys for wear and condition, replacing if necessary. Remember, a worn key will quickly wear out a lock barrel causing the lock to jam. Make sure you have a spare set of keys for your car in a safe place. This also applies to alarm fobs. It is worth noting that batteries in the fob will also require replacement at least twice a year, to maintain operating performance.
- Consider the option of air conditioning when buying a new car. This can be useful in winter as in summer to help demist your vehicle quickly and reduce condensation.
Note: If you are in any doubt about these tips, consult your owner’s handbook or your local dealer.
Tips to learn to drive as safe as possible in winter:
- In poor visibility and weather conditions, only make necessary trips.
- Make sure there is enough fuel for your journey. Generally, drivers use more fuel when driving in heavy traffic and stop or start conditions.
- Before setting out, use a windshield de-icer or a scraper to remove ice from your car. Do not use warm water from a kettle. The resulting problems may include a cracked windshield. In winter, it’s best to carry a key de-icer with you to clear your lock.
- Do not drive with a small hole cleared your windshield. The traffic rules state that it is illegal to drive with poor visibility. Check to make sure all windows and mirrors are completely demisted and cleared of ice.
- Whenever possible, use major routes, which may have been gritted or salted. Side roads that tend not to be treated may be blocked. It will be much harder to call for help and assistance to get to you in a breakdown situation.
- If you take any medication, make sure you have extra supplies if needed.
- Take a cell phone if you have one. Check to make sure the phone is fully charged.
- Use your headlights in heavy rain or snow. Use your fog lights if conditions are poor but remember to turn them off, especially rear fog lights.
- In severe conditions, consider telling someone of your departure time, route, destination and estimated time of arrival.
- Take some high-energy food, such as chocolate, boiled sweets etc.
- Carrying a thermos flask filled with hot soup is recommended on longer journeys. If traveling with small babies, ensure they have some of their food.
- Wrap up warm and take a blanket, waterproof clothing and sensible footwear.
- Remember to allow more time to decelerate and accelerate. Next, leave more room between you and the driver in front, and finally, try to be patient.
Advisable equipment to carry when learning to drive in poor conditions
- Heavy-duty jump leads – Take care to follow any instructions issued with the leads. Note: On vehicles using electronic modules to control the ignition, incorrect usage of the jump leads could result in the modules being damaged.
- A legal tow bar – Ensure any towing hooks that some vehicles now use are in the car and that you also know how to remove the plastic cover (often located in the bumper) where the hook screws in. (see owner’s handbook for details)
- A good first aid kit.
- A high-quality torch – Preferably with long life or spare batteries.
- A first-aid pack, especially a warning triangle.
- A fire extinguisher.
- Snow chains – Are for use when traveling in an area that experiences prolonged heavy snowfall. Chains only to be used in deep snow.
- A spare fuel can.
- A light bulb kit and fuse range.
- Cell phone for emergencies.
- A good can of de-icer and a windshield scraper.