Having put so much energy and effort into learning to drive and then passing your practical test, it feels amazing to have the freedom to get behind the wheel of your very own car. For many newly qualified drivers, it can also feel a little scary at the same time. Here are some top tips for young drivers just starting out.
1. Get to know your car
Things can happen in a split second out there on the open road, so familiarise yourself with your car’s controls before you go for your first solo drive. You’ll probably already feel comfortable with the main controls, but don’t forget things like fog lights, hazard warning lights and demister controls. Get clued up on how to open your fuel filler cap, too.
2. Straight after passing your test
The AA and other organisations often recommend that a learner driver who has just passed their practical test shouldn’t drive themselves home, as the excitement can cause distractions and, in turn, accidents. If you took the test in a driving school car and not your own, maybe try and catch a bus home or get a lift.
3. Drive alone
It’s understandable that your mates will be really happy for you now that you’ve passed your test and it’s natural for them to want to jump in your car and go places. However, suddenly not having an instructor by your side can feel strange and safe driving requires lots of concentration, so it’s best to drive on your own until you’re comfortable being on the road. Even when you’ve become confident behind the wheel, remember that you’re not your friends’ taxi service.
4. Small steps
If your auntie who lives hundreds of miles away has begun suggesting that you should pay her an overdue visit now that you’re able to drive, respectfully don’t give in to such pressure. Start slowly, sticking to familiar local routes for the first few weeks after passing your test, so you know what to expect and feel less overwhelmed.
Yes, public transport is rubbish at times, but as tempting as it may feel, it’s not advisable to drive during the morning or evening rush hour soon after getting your full driving licence. Roads are crazily congested and busy at such times, which can fluster even the most experienced motorists. It’s also best to make your first solo car journeys in daylight, as driving is a whole lot more dangerous in the dark.
So that you can become familiar and ‘in tune’ with how your car’s engine sounds and how it feels over different road surfaces, and also so that you’ll be able to hear emergency sirens and other things going on around you, make sure the volume of your music isn’t notched up too high. It’s illegal to use a mobile phone whilst driving, but it can be really distracting just to hear or feel your phone ringing or vibrating from inside a handbag or rucksack, so it’s best to put your phone in silent mode.
Practice makes perfect, but perhaps don’t try squeezing your car into a really tight parking space soon after you’ve passed your test. Okay, the space may be nearer the entrance to wherever you’re going, but parking can even flummox people who have been driving for many years, so it’s best to find easier bays at first, if possible.
Other road users can be so unpredictable, from cars and vans to buses and cyclists, and on dual carriageways and motorways where faster speeds mean longer stopping distances, it’s particularly important to stay well back, taking notice of the ‘two chevron rule’.
9. Don’t be bullied
No matter where you live, you’ll always come across other drivers who seem to be in a mad rush and who will aggressively ‘tailgate’ you, driving close to your rear bumper. It can feel intimidating, even scary, but don’t panic and especially don’t react angrily in a moment of road-rage. When it’s safe to do so, just move over and let them pass by.
10. Additional tuition
Overconfidence can have negative results for drivers of all ages but it’s especially true for newly qualified young drivers. Whatever your age, you can never learn enough and many motorists have found it really positive to sign up for an advanced driving course. We looked at various options on The Root a while ago.