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Learning to Drive

Chris Kaiser
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After a few years (or decades) of driving you tend to forget all the life-lessons, truisms, and heuristics that have built up into actual motor vehicle competency. Reflecting on the below list had me stepping back and realizing how daunting learning to drive must be for those new to the road. It’s perhaps no wonder Millennials and Gen-Zers are shifting to ridesharing in greater and greater numbers. But what’s to become of these deprived souls? No cruising in your hot-rod down the main drag?! No long road trips in your compact car? Heck, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without those years behind the wheel of my Taurus.

Man happily driving his car

So rather than allow this slow drift away from automotive autonomy to persist unchallenged, I’ve collected the best driving advice from my colleagues here at Daily Driver; all the nuggets for wisdom from dad’s Sunday driving lessons, the sage dictums of our drivers-ed teachers, and all the take-aways from our worst driving experiences.

Hopefully, this list can inform and instill a newfound sense of confidence in those learning to drive for the first time or provide some healthy reminders for those of us in need of a refresher.

Before You Start Your Engine

10 and 2 are Now 9 and 3 (or Even 8 and 4)

By gripping the steering wheel lower than the traditional advice you’ll not only gain a bit of control over vehicles with power-steering, you’ll also avoid having your wrists or thumbs broken by your airbag.

The “Off-road Grip” Tip

Your off-road grip should be without thumbs around the steering wheel as a rough road and obstacles can suddenly (and violently) jerk the steering wheel. On pavement you can nest your thumbs in the spoke/crook of the steering wheel closest to 9 and 3 as possible.

Hands on the steering wheel

Check the Weather

Know what might lay in store miles down the road. There are few worst driving experiences than struggling through an unexpected snowstorm.

Get Comfortable Before You Hit the Gas

Adjust your seat, mirrors, radio, and climate control before taking your vehicle out of park.

Buckle Up!

I can’t emphasize this one enough. The NHTSA finds that nearly half (47%) of all traffic fatalities involved unrestrained occupants. Keep you and yours safe by buckling up, every time.

buckling seatbelt

Keep your Tires Inflated

Replace them promptly based on both age and wear. Note that old tires can become weak and brittle, and therefore dangerous, even if they still have decent tread. I know it’s a pain to remember to check your tires and expensive to replace them but consider the alternative. Make this part of your car maintenance routine.

Regular Maintenance

Speaking of which, maintain your vehicle to guard against roadside breakdowns. Replace clouded headlamps and worn tires, and don’t ignore odd sounds coming from under your hood or your car’s undercarriage.

Don’t Forget the Emergency Kit

Be prepared for emergencies by stocking a first aid kit, checking on your spare tire and practice replacing it, bringing a blanket (or three), a shovel, and jumper cables.

Review Your Route

Read the map before you start driving. By familiarizing yourself with the route you’ll need to rely less on potentially distracting infotainment screens and voice navigation systems.

checking map on phone

On the Road

Both Hands on the Wheel

Driving with your knees on the highway? Trying to eat a French dip in traffic? Just … don’t. Maintain your hold on the wheel with both hands as much as possible. Even when driving a manual, shift and then reposition your hand on the steering wheel.

Monitor Your Blind Spots

In addition to keeping these in mind you can purchase blind spot mirrors or spring for the blind spot detection system when purchasing a new car.

truck in rearview mirror

Slow Down

Some of our favorite advice from dear ol’ dad was to imagine an egg underneath the accelerator. Applying gentle pressure is all you need to get where you’re going. Speed limits are not arbitrary, they’re indicators of a safe range of speed for a given roadway.

Slow Down in Turns.

Many accidents and rollovers are caused by drivers failing to take this somewhat obvious advice.

Never Tailgate

The distance between you and the vehicle in front of you are determined by your speed (and science!). So, again, slow down as you’ll need to factor in not just the actual stopping distance of your car but your natural lag in reaction time, which can as much as double the distance you’ll need to stop safely. Speed to stopping distance (in car lengths) breaks down as follows: 20mph=3 car lengths, 30mph=6, 40mph=9, 50mph=13, 60mph=18, and 70mph will require a full 24 car lengths!

If you’re tailgated, slow down and, if possible, allow the other driver to pass you. Never slam on your breaks. Break checking may leave you in a neck brace.

Drive Rested

Studies continue to show that driving while sleep deprived is on par with driving drunk. If you’re feeling drowsy pull over in a safe area and take a nap.

Drive Sober

There’s really no excuse here. It’s one or the other, never both. So have fun and let someone else do the driving.

Focus on the Road

Never text, eat, place phone calls, or do any other dumb thing while also piloting a 1,000lb+ hunk of metal at speed.

Practice “Situational Awareness”

Keep your head on a swivel. Always know where other vehicles are on the road and what pedestrians are up to on the side of the road.

Assume Everyone is an Idiot

They’ll be less likely to disappoint you. Other drivers might not be taking as much care as you are. That’s why keeping alert to their potential miscues and oversights can save you from an accident.

Use Your Turn Signals

Make sure other drivers are aware of your intentions.

Use Your Head When in Reverse

Don’t just rely on mirrors and the rear-view camera when backing up, turn around to make sure you haven’t missed anything.

woman backing up in convertible

Practice the 3 Ps When Merging

Be patient, polite, and plan ahead. Few road maneuvers have led to more instances of road rage than improper merging. The last “P” is probably the most important of all. Be aware of where you need to be long before you get there and act accordingly.

Keep Your Eyes on the Horizon

Looking far ahead gives you precious seconds to respond to road hazards. Rely on your peripheral vision to alert you to any danger.

Dim your Brights for On-coming Traffic

Also, follow the center line if on-coming traffic fails to dim their brights and you’re having trouble seeing. Also give them a flash of your own brights; many motorists simply forget to turn theirs off. Common curtesy ain’t so common after all, eh folks?

The Passing Lane is for Passing

If you’re being extra cautious and driving slower than surrounding traffic, do not, repeat, DO NOT do so in the passing lane. This is a significant factor in slowing traffic and can cause other motorists to try passing you on the right (another big no-no).

Adverse Conditions

Rain, Sleet, Snow, or Fog

In short, you’ll need your headlights on. Adverse weather conditions inevitably compromise visibility so err on the side of caution and flip ‘em on.

Use Your Headlights After Sundown

Don’t wait until after it’s already dark out. Dusk is when you will have the least natural light, so make sure you can see, and other drivers can see you. Plus, dawn and dusk are when deer are most active. You’ve been warned.

In Snow, Break Before you Turn.

Also allow for at least double the normal stopping distance.

SUV driving in a snowstorm

Avoid Cruise Control on Wet Roads.

Since you’re already at risk of hydroplaning, forego the cruise control’s constant speed on rainy days. This will force you to pay closer attention to how fast you’re going relative to conditions and whether you’re maintaining proper traction.

Don’t Slam the Breaks When Sliding.

In a blowout, sliding on snow, or hydroplaning, resist your instinct to hit the brakes, this can cause your vehicle to fishtail or even rollover. Instead, steer gently into the skid and apply a little gas, once you’ve regained control then you can slow down.

So there you have it, our best advice and tips for drivers new and old. What are some rules of the road you’d pass along to new drivers, or reminders for those who seem in need of them? Let us know in the comments!

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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