Driving is a huge part of our lives. The average motorist in the United States drives 13,000 miles per year. If they drove at an average of 45 miles per hour, they’d be spending nearly 300 hours in their cars each year!
The roads are always full of weird things going on and the better and more confident of a driver you are, the safer you will be on the roads, and the more comfortable your drives will be.
Here are 14 driving tips – you can implement any of them today and become a better, more confident driver.
Utilize all of your car’s mirrors to eliminate blind spots
When you are driving, you have three(sometimes more) mirrors that you can use for making sure you are aware of as much of your surroundings as possible.
Your rear view mirror is useful for showing you what’s going on directly behind you, and if you position your side view mirrors properly, you can get a very wide view of both sides of your car.
The exact positioning of the mirror will vary, but you can adjust your mirrors this way:
- Adjust your rear view mirror so you can get a view of what is directly behind you. You should be able to see the same thing in your mirror as you would if you turned your head completely.
- Lean your head until it touches the driver side window, and adjust the mirror until you can barely see the side of your car.
- Now straighten your head, then tilt it a little to the middle of the car, and adjust the other side mirror until you can barely see the side of your car. You should only be able to see the side of your car when your head is tilted, not when it is straight.
To make sure the mirrors are adjusted correctly, you can follow a car through your mirrors as it comes from behind you to pass you. As soon as the car disappears from your rear view mirror, it should appear in your side mirror, and as soon as it disappears from your side mirror, you should be able to see it from the corners of your eyes.
Plan your route ahead and never get lost
Any time you go somewhere new or unfamiliar, you always want to plan your route in advance, even if you have GPS.
Sometimes we can become so dependent on turn-by-turn navigation that we forget how we used to get around just 15-20 years ago.
Here’s what you can do:
Open up your browser and head over to Google Maps.
Enter your starting and ending points to bring up the directions Google provides.
You can also click on alternate routes and see those, too.
Along with the route, Google also provides detailed directions – how far you have to go on each road, where you have to turn, where you have to merge, and where you have to stay on the highway.
Studying the route beforehand will help you navigate better when you are on the road. Chances will be less that you’ll miss a turn because you were going very fast!
It also doesn’t hurt to have a printout of the directions with you, too. My father-in-law, for example, always prints the Google Map directions out and keeps them in the car.
Paper can be a huge lifesaver if your phone or GPS battery dies on you.
Use tapered braking to come to a smooth stop
When you are driving on regular city roads – not the highway/freeway – you (hopefully) won’t be going very fast, and neither will the other cars on the road.
So when you decide to bring your car to a stop, start braking a little earlier than you normally would, and brake a little softer.
The way I taper my braking is I brake a little, then slightly let up on the pedal, then brake a little again, then slightly let up, then brake a little again.
You don’t want to completely take your foot off of the pedal because that’ll cause your brake lights to go out and confuse the driver behind you.
Even when the car is nearly stopped, I’ll taper my braking in such a way that I’ll barely feel my car coming to a stop.
Normally, thanks to inertia, you’ll feel a little jerk when the car stops – the idea with tapered braking is that you won’t feel a jerk at all.
You won’t lose any time because of this, since you were going to come to a full stop anyway, and until the signal changes, you are not going to move – so your slower speed will not make any difference.
Remember that this method is only for regular situations! If there is an emergency and you have to brake hard, then brake hard!
Always remain calm
Driving, especially during rush hour, can really get us riled up. We’re cranky from just getting up, stressed about getting to work on time, and the car trying to cut into your lane is not helping.
In these situations, it’s easy to overreact and fall subject to road rage.
The most important thing to realize is that the other driver’s actions are not personal. The other driver is not singling you out among all the cars on the road. If you weren’t there, it would be someone else.
Keeping this in mind will help you not retaliate and worsen the problem.
If you see someone driving crazily, just let them pass.
These are some things you can do to calm down when your nerves get really riled up:
- Breathe deeply. Making a conscious effort to take deep breath will help calm you down and prevent you from getting stressed out.
- Turn on some soothing music.
- Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If they are in a hurry, maybe there is a genuine reason for it. Perhaps they’re rushing to a hospital to see a loved one!
Speeding won’t get you there any faster!
In 2014, 28% of all car accident fatalities were caused by speeding. Speeding really won’t get you to your destination any faster, either, and you may also end up with a speeding ticket.
I’ll relate an experience of mine. On road trips, I enjoy watching the estimated arrival time on the GPS go down since I’m a little faster than the speed limit.
Well once, I was going considerably faster(nearly 30 miles over the limit, 90 in a 60 zone) on an open road, and I managed to shave off around 10 minutes from the arrival time – it was nearly a 300 mile journey.
I was feeling pretty smug, but that was quickly wiped away by flashing blue and red lights in my rear view mirror. The result? A $350 ticket and 15 minutes added to the estimated time!
Two years later, the same thing happened – except this time, I was doing 75 in a 55 zone, and I was pulled over again. Another $350 ticket.
$700 later, I’ve decided to just stick to the speed limit. I asked the officer who pulled me over on the second instance how much wiggle room there is, and he told me – unofficially of course – that it was about 5-10 miles, depending on where you were.
Of course, even one mile above the limit is enough to get you pulled over if your luck is bad enough.
This post on LifeHacker analyzed travel times and the time saved by speeding. The analysis revealed that on shorter trips, the time saved was pretty negligible. On a 50 mile journey, the most time you could save was 12 minutes – but consider that a 50 mile trip is already an hour long.
Image source: Lifehacker.com
The lesson to be learned? Don’t speed!
Master the left hand turn
The left hand turn takes a little time to master, and is one of the harder maneuvers in driving. It took me quite a while before I became very comfortable doing them.
Note: This is if you live in a place where you drive on the right side of the road. If you drive on the left, the tips will still apply, but it’ll be for a right hand turn.
Left hand turns require lots of judgment if there is no dedicated turn signal light. After I just got my license, I would always hesitate in the middle of the intersection.
The worst thing you can do is hesitate, because you’ll screw up even more.
Generally, you want to keep a safe distance between the upcoming car and yourself – there should be enough room for you to comfortably complete the turn.
The easiest way to do the left turn, however, is wait in the middle of the intersection until the light turns yellow, and as the approaching cars slow down, make your turn before the light turns red.
Of course, you can’t hold up a whole intersection if there are cars behind you waiting to turn too, so if you have enough room, make the turn.
The most important thing to remember is to not hesitate. Use your good judgment, and if you have enough room, make the turn.
You can use your gears to slow down, too
The technique of using your gears to slow down is sometimes called engine braking. Knowing this technique can be life-saving, especially in situations where your brakes fail.
If you want to slow down without using your brakes, you can shift from a higher gear into a lower gear and your car with automatically slow down.
This is very easy to do if you are driving a manual.
However, even if you drive an automatic car, you may be able to do this, if your car has a tiptronic transmission system.
If it does, you’ll be able to move the gear from the D position to the side and move it up or down. Tiptronic gears look like this:
At a higher speed, just start shifting down using manual transmission if you have it or tiptronic transmission if you have it.
You don’t want to shift too fast, though. Your shifting should be as gradual as possible so your car slows down enough between each shifting of the gears.
Putting your car in lower gears is also useful for going up and down steep slopes. The lower gear will help the car have more traction.
Keep a good distance between you and the car in front
We are all taught this in driving school, but it is a lesson we often forget!
Consider this: if you were traveling at 55 miles per hour and you saw a sudden obstacle that leads you to hit the brakes, by the time you start applying the brakes(the time it takes you to react), your car would have already traveled 121 feet!
So keeping a generous distance between your car and the car in front of you is a very good idea.
As you saw above, speeding won’t necessarily get you there any faster, so going a couple of miles slower won’t be an issue.
To get an idea of how much distance you should keep between yourself and the car in front of you, use the “3 second rule”.
For speeds between 35-55 mph, there should be a gap of 3 seconds between you and the car in front.
To figure this out, look at a stationary object on the side of the road and as soon as the car in front of you passes it, start counting seconds. If you count three seconds between the front car passing the object and you passing the object, you are three seconds behind it.
In heavy traffic, wet roads, or speeds of 55-75 mph, the rule is now 4 seconds, and if roads are icy or there is snow, the rule is now 7-8 seconds.
This was just the distance between you and the car in front of you – if you are being tailgated by someone, just switch lanes and let them pass!
Don’t drive if you are drowsy or tired
Driving when drowsy or tired not only puts you at risk, but also the passengers in your car and everyone you share the road with.
To ensure you are always fresh when you drive, make sure you get enough sleep! If you are driving home and it’s late, pull over and take a quick nap before continuing onwards.
If possible, keep at least two drivers on long journeys. This way, you can switch around whenever you feel tired.
Some people also get a quick boost of energy from caffeine. If that’s you, have some strong coffee or an energy drink.
Fatigued driving is very dangerous! Here are some of its effects:
- Slower reaction time
- Problems processing information
- Decreased performance and motivation
- Increased moodiness or aggressiveness
Stay safe by giving larger vehicles more room
If you analyze the physics of cars and driving, if a car weighing 1000 kilograms(2200 pounds) accelerating at a speed of 36 kilometers(22 miles) per hour crashed into something, it would exert a force of 10,000 Newtons – nearly 3 times the force of a professional boxer’s punch.
That’s bad, but you wouldn’t think that would be fatal.
However, if you switch the small 1000 kg car with a bus weighing 13000 kg, the force exerted will be 13 times greater – 130,000 Newtons, or 40 times the force of a boxer’s punch!
So the speed of the vehicle is the same, but since the mass is so much greater, the damage it can do would be so much greater, too.
Even if you are on a small inner-road, a large vehicle can do some serious damage – so you are much safer and better off by giving large vehicles like trucks and buses enough room.
This may be a little difficult to do on highways, but I generally either accelerate ahead of buses and trucks, or slow down a little to stay behind them.
Let crazy drivers do what they want
Yield signs are stop signs in disguise
Watch out for bikes!
Get comfortable with cardinal directions
In the olden days(really old), we’d pretty much rely on the cardinal directions to figure out where we were heading.
You’d head North, South, East, West, or a combination of those directions.
Modern roads are designed around pretty much the same idea. You probably have seen this on highways and freeways – they’ll either be denoted as North, South, East, or West.
Most local roads are also North/South and East/West.
So if you know where your destination is relative to you, you can navigate there pretty easily.
The easiest way to become familiar with cardinal directions is by studying a map, and investing in a compass.
Many cars have compasses built in, but even if your car doesn’t have one built-in, you can buy a suction-cup mounted compass for your dashboard for less than $7.
When you are aware of the direction you are heading in, it’s much harder to get lost.
If you really want to go all “Man vs. Wild”, you can learn how to tell the directions by looking at the Sun or the stars, too!
Don’t rely solely on signals and signs
When a Dutch city replaced 20 four-way intersections(that had signs) with 20 sign-free roundabouts, accidents decreased at one intersection from 2-4 fatalities every year to no accidents for 6 years!
What happened in reality was that by removing signs, drivers were forced to actually observe what other cars were doing.
We are all guilty of this – if the light is green, we probably don’t look to the left or right before plowing through an intersection.
If there is no stop sign for us, we probably drive straight through – which means we sometimes become too dependent on signs and signals to tell us what to do.
When the Dutch city forced drivers to see what the other cars were doing, then continue driving, the number of accidents automatically decreased because drivers were automatically becoming more aware of their surroundings.
So when you are driving, don’t blindly rely on signage – make sure you look around and see what the other cars are doing, too.
Change your steering grip
The steering wheel is the main source of control you have on the car, so the way you grip it is very important!
For the longest time, the 10-and-2 position was taught as the proper way to grip a steering wheel.
This is the way I was taught, too.
However, since the advent of airbags, the 10-and-2 position is no longer recommended and can actually be quite dangerous.
There are plenty of wrong ways to hold a steering wheel!
Some people do the 10-and-2 we just mentioned.
When making a turn, some people grip the steering wheel at the top of the wheel from behind the wheel with their fingers facing themselves.
Some people(myself included) use the heel of their palms to turn the wheel.
Some people(myself included) keep one hand on the gear and one hand on the wheel.
The correct way to hold a steering wheel is the 9-and-3 position. In this position, your arms are comfortable, and you have full control over the steering wheel – enough to turn it over 90 degrees in each direction very easily.
Some newer cars even have grooves in the steering wheel around the 9-and-3 position so that you can rest your hands there.
Be nice to other drivers and pedestrians!
The most important thing that all drivers can do to make life on the road really, really easy is to just be nice to everyone else.
If you see a car trying to merge into your lane(they probably need to make a turn), let them merge into your lane! If you don’t they’ll eventually be forced to cut into your lane, or they may miss their turn and be late for something very important!
If you see a pedestrian trying to cross the road, let them cross! How many times have we crossed the road and the nice folks driving on the street have let us pass?
Remember, you don’t have to do each and every thing today – start small, by implementing one step and a time. And remember – practice makes perfect!