If you’re taking driving lessons and approaching your test, you’ve probably heard your driving instructor, your family and recently passed friends continuously tell you how the real test starts when you pass and get on the roads independently. Gone are the days where you have the reassurance of your instructor’s dual controls, it’s all down to you now, which although sounds daunting, doesn’t have to be a worry. What a lot of newly passed drivers forget is, if they were not a good driver and couldn’t be trusted behind the wheel alone, they wouldn’t have passed. Examiners have strict guidelines they must stick to and can only give you your eagerly awaited pink licence if you meet all of the safety requirements.
Think of driving alone for the first time as an exciting thought rather than intimidating, enjoy your freshly gained freedom. To give you a starting point, here are some top tips to help you on your first journey!
6 Tips For Driving Alone For The First Time
So, you’ve passed your test, invested in your first car and arranged all of the important, although kind of tedious, legal documentation required to get on the roads such as insurance and tax. Now it’s time to take a leap into the unknown and drive alone for the first time without your instructor beside you, where do you start?
1. Get Comfortable
First things first, sit in your car stationary and make yourself comfortable. It’s more than likely you’re going to use your new licence to your advantage and drive just about anywhere you have the opportunity to, so comfort is key. Both your seat positioning and mirrors will need to be altered to suit you, every driver is of different heights and builds, so this may take a little experimentation to find what suits you best.
Interior and exterior mirrors need to be angled to allow you to see as much of your surroundings as possible. Unfortunately, as you would have been taught during lessons, there are a few blind spots here and there that are simply unavoidable. If this proves a worry, there are additional investments such as blind spot mirrors that will solve the problem for you. The interior mirror must be angled, so it allows you to see the whole scene in your rear window. Both exterior side mirrors must be positioned, so you are only able to see a small percentage of the side of your car. The horizon, which is the point at which the road disappears into the distance should be at the centre of your side mirrors. For a full guide on mirror positioning, head over to this Driving Test Tips guide.
Adjusting your seat may take a few attempts, so aim to do this with the engine off because you want to test pressing down each pedal one by one in different seating positions. Sit up straight and move your seat forward and backwards until you can comfortably push pedals to the ground without having to move your body, just through bending and extending your legs. Your heal should always be on the floor, and only the ball of your feet used to press pedals.
2. P Plates
Don’t be afraid to make it clear that you have just passed your test, especially if it is your first journey alone. Although there are no legal obligations to display a P Plate once you’ve passed, it does give you a little more leeway with other drivers, it will also take the pressure off and put you at ease. Displaying a P Plate basically says to other drivers, look I’ve just passed, I’m not as experienced on the roads so please be patient if I make a mistake. Drivers will be more understanding, they will know the reason behind slight errors and are less likely to lose their temper.
The great thing about P Plates is that you can keep them on your car for as long as you feel as if they are needed until you gain more confidence. You also are not limited to only displaying P Plates as soon as you’ve passed, if you get a few weeks in and your nerves are not calming down, you can choose to start displaying them further down the line.
3. Don’t Take Your Friends Out Straight Away
As tempting as it is to pick up all of your friends and go on a road trip the moment you pass, we hate to break it to you, but it may not be the most sensible idea. Having your friends as your first passengers on your first journey alone will put a lot of pressure on you, as the driver, to avoid any mistakes. Especially if you are the first member of your friendship group to pass, you may feel as if you need to prove yourself and show off your skills.
Instead, take it upon yourself to jump in the car and go for a small journey alone. Most new drivers go around the block a few times or practice in a carpark or quiet industrial estate before embarking on their first trip on busy main roads. Particularly if you know you will need to drive to school, college or work in the morning, spend an hour or so the evening before slowly navigating yourself around your estate to get used to your car.
4. Pick Off-Peak Times
If you are going to take your car for a test drive independantly before your first journey as mentioned in our previous point, opt for off-peak times. Driving during rush hour will require heavy stopping and starting meaning that accurate clutch control is vital. Unless your first car is of the same make and model as the vehicle you took lessons in, the bite point is likely to be slightly different meaning there will be the constant worry of stalling. Even if you decide to go around the block or to a car park, there will be considerably more other cars around than there would be in off-peak hours such as during the day on weekdays or in the evenings.
5. Avoid All Distractions
Everyone looks forward to passing and being able to drive blaring their favourite songs and take a visit to the McDonald’s drive-through. Although nothing is stopping you doing this, it’s recommended to leave both until you feel a little more comfortable behind the wheel.
When you step into a car you’re unfamiliar with, one of the primary ways of understanding where to find the correct bite point and when you need to change gears is through sound. You can often hear a juddering-type sound when your clutch is too high, and your engine becomes incredibly louder when an increase in gears is required. Loud music will mask all tell-tale signs that will help you out a lot as a new driver. When you do start to feel more comfortable as a driver and begin to listen to music, use a hands-free device, invest in a mobile phone holder and remember the laws regarding using the phone while driving, even if it is just to skip songs. If you are caught using your phone while driving, you will be faced with a hefty 6 points on your licence, which as a driver in your first year, is enough to lose your licence.
In just the past year we’ve had two recently passed pupils, one who was taking driving lessons in Oxford and another taking driving lessons in Luton, both come to us in a panic because they were caught either texting or change song while driving with the “I only took my eye off the road for a couple of seconds” line. Moral of the story is, would you rather listen to a song you’re not as keen on for 3 minutes or switch and lose your licence before you even had a chance to enjoy it?
Although there are not necessarily any laws regarding eating or drinking while driving, you can still face the consequences if it affects your driving. If, for example, you do take a trip to McDonald’s and decide to take a sip of your drink or steal a few chips from the bag while driving, then this causes you to swerve, you can be pulled over by the police. Swerving is classed as lousy lane discipline which comes under the careless driving category. For full information on the latest consequences of careless driving, take a look at our previous article.
6. Don’t Let Others Intimidate You
Lastly, and most importantly, don’t let other drivers intimidate you. There is always going to be that one over-confident driver to thinks they own the road, will try to tailgate you and threaten you into either driving faster or cutting out at a roundabout or junction. The best piece of advice is, ignore them. Let them do their thing, you are sticking to the rules and remaining a safe driver, they just need to deal with it, and if they really do have a problem, they can overtake you. There is a 99% chance you will never see that driver again, so don’t them anger or intimidate you.
We hope our top tips were helpful, good luck on your first trip driving alone!