Learning to drive is a process of progression, of mastering new skills and then building on them. You obtain your learner’s permit and begin studying your driver’s license manual. Somewhat tentatively, you start driving in an empty parking lot. When your confidence increases, you graduate to highway driving. Pretty soon you start to feel that you’ve got this driving thing down. Your confidence soars – maybe too much. By the time you get your driver’s license you’re swaggering around, thinking your God’s gift to drivers. But in the back of your mind, a little voice nags: Have I really learned enough to be a responsible driver?
Most likely, that voice is warning you that you lack experience dealing with critical car-handling situations in the real world. To round out your driver education, make sure you understand the following scenarios. Then go out and practice them in a controlled situation.
- Weather conditions – rain, fog, snow, ice, and glare – make a huge difference in how you drive and how your vehicle handles. Practice driving, under controlled conditions, in all types of weather, day and night.
- Turn your headlights on when driving in the rain. You’ll be more visible, and, in many states, it’s the law.
- Slow down during or just after a heavy rain. Besides the reduced visibility, hydroplaning is a real danger. Even a light rain causes oil and grease on the road surface to become suspended and contribute to lack of traction.
- If your vehicle starts to hydroplane, immediately take your foot off the gas. Don’t brake. This could cause you to go into an uncontrolled skid. Instead, steer straight and keep a firm grip on the wheel. Most times you’ll coast free of the hydroplane effect and regain control.
- To safely practice controlled skids and recovering from them, take a defensive driving course. Some racetracks promote these courses, which include time on the track and on the “skid pan”, a circular area that, when wet, enables drivers to practice recovering from spin-outs. Call your area racing organizations to see what’s available near you.
- Too much sun causes its own problems. Topping a hill and staring into low sun can cause glare that could result in loss of control and an accident. Use your visor and sunglasses, but also remember to slow down in situations where glare may be a factor. Glare can temporarily blind you, making it impossible to see what’s ahead. Slow immediately, and steer by the white line on the side of the road if you need to. This is the “fog line”, and is meant to be used when driving in bad visibility conditions.
- Fog can be a killer. Gradually slow down before entering dense fog. Slow well ahead of the fog bank, but not so much that you’re barely moving. Make sure your headlights are on dim. Don’t rely on your fog lights. Be very alert to cars that have slowed to a crawl or completely stopped ahead of you, and keep a constant watch on what’s happening to your rear. Leave space between you and the car ahead, and try to make sure you have an escape route. Multiple car pile-ups have occurred because people drove too fast in dense fog.
2) Night Driving
- You should have a good grounding in basic driving skills before your first night drive. Definitely, spend some time driving at night before you get your license and take your first solo evening cruise around town. Things look different at night, and the many different types of lights (red, yellow, white, and flashing) can be disorienting.
- Dim your lights when meeting an oncoming car. It’s easy to be blinded by someone’s bright lights and run off the road.
- Never flick your bright lights on as you meet an oncoming car, even if his are glaring in your face. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and a sudden flood of blinding light may make him lose control. Besides, it’s the law.
- Drive at or below the speed limit at night. If you drive too fast, you run the risk of over-running the safe stopping distance of your illumination. You’ll be too late to stop if your lights suddenly pick up an obstruction in your path. And keep alert for pedestrians walking at night. Sometimes they wear dark clothing and can be hard to spot.
- Truck traffic can be intimidating. Spend some time driving among the long haulers, especially at night. Experience earned is anxiety alleviated.
3) Running Off the Road
- If your car should run off the road, take your foot from the gas and gradually steer the car back onto the pavement. Avoid sharp jerks of the wheel that could cause you to lose control when the tires suddenly grip the pavement again. If you practice this situation, do so in a controlled environment with a professional driving instructor present.
4) Urban Driving
- Take your car into an urban area. Drive around downtown. This gets you used to dealing with heavy stop-and-go traffic, stop lights at every intersection, yield signs, one-way streets, and the many distractions of city life. Be especially alert to pedestrians – they don’t always cross at the crosswalks.
5) Interstate Driving
- Spend time on the interstate. Driving on the “big road” is nothing like driving on rural roads. You must spend time driving in heavy traffic conditions. Practice merging with traffic, leaving the highway, changing lanes, and navigating by road sign.
- Move one lane left when you spot another driver entering a freeway. He must increase or maintain his speed to merge safely, and many times (in heavy traffic especially) he may not be able to do so if the right lane is clogged with traffic.
- When changing lanes, be sure to check your rear view mirror and your side mirrors. Glance over your shoulder and out your left side rear window and your near window to make sure there are no other vehicles riding in your “blind spot”. That’s the spot just to your left and rear where it’s not always possible to see an oncoming automobile from your mirrors. Make sure your signal is on, and gradually merge into the other lane if it’s open.
Practicing and learning to handle the critical driving scenarios above will take you a long way towards driving competency, and you’ll get there faster. More importantly, you’ll be better able to react with confidence when such situations occur. And that just might make the difference between a close call and an accident.