Driver Knowledge Tests

How can a new driver drive more safely?

Congratulations. You’ve spent a lot of your own personal time learning how to drive so that you can achieve your goal of a full licence. Now you’ve got it, you still need to get more experience, but hopefully without having an accident. What are the things that will be the most dangerous for you as a full licence holder.

Tiredness

If you are not used to driving long distances, the first time you do it you will find it draining. There’s so much to pay attention to, plus there’s the inactivity of sitting in the seat which will make you feel drowsy. Opening the window might work for five minutes, but it’s not a long term solution. Neither is turning on the radio or making the inside of the car suitable as a penguin habitat by winding down the air conditioning.

The only ways to combat tiredness are:

  • Having a nap before you drive
  • Getting a good night’s sleep the night before
  • Stopping the car and having a power nap
  • Stopping the car and having a quick break, doing some stretches and walking around the car.

You can also try foods and drinks with caffeine for a temporary boost (apples work well, too), but it’s not addressing the real problem. Mid-afternoon our circadian rhythm tells us we want to sleep, so you will tend to feel tired then. If you are driving around when your usual bedtime is, you will feel tired, too.

Mobile phones

94% of you would rather give up sex for a week than lose your mobile phone according to this survey. This probably means you’re doing it wrong. It’s the mobile phone that has all our attention, even in the car. The problem is that to use a smartphone’s features you have to take your eyes off the road, up to several seconds at a time. You could travel the length of a football pitch in the time it takes you to open an app or check a text, and that’s enough time for you to plough into the back of another vehicle that might have a spiky thing that impacts your head.

Perhaps if vehicles had to have spiky things on their rear bumpers and in the middle of the steering wheel we’d all drive with more care.

If you get a call, use a hands-free kit to answer it. If you get a text, pull over to read it. Some phones  will compose a text using a hands-free option (like Siri Eyes-free, which is available on some Holden Commodore models), but that is technically still texting so I’m not sure how police would feel about that. It’s best to pull over, anyway, as you are distracted when doing this.

Friends

Your mates can be the biggest distraction when you are driving. You’re all having a good time, you’re on the way to the party, the music is cranking. Your eyes should be on the road. On the way back, you’ll be the sober driver and your mates might be boisterous, asleep or verging on throwing up. Either way, it’ll be late and you’ll probably be tired. It’ll be dark and your reflexes are already dulled.

If you are tired you will eventually start to take micro-sleeps. You have no control over this – your body takes them automatically and you can’t stop it. They are fractions of a second where your body falls asleep. Eventually these become so frequent you risk falling asleep and then you’ll be off the road and into something immovable. You then might have an appointment with the law for negligent driving, that’s if you survive. And your friends won’t be happy about it.

Tyres

The main two factors for grip on the road are tyre pressure and tread depth.

Pressure

Get into the habit of checking your tyre pressure every month or so and make sure you know what the manufacturer-recommended pressures are. If the tyre pressure is too low you’ll get a lot of sidewall flexing and very erratic handling. In the worst case, the tyre can come off the rim. If the tyres are over-inflated your steering will feel really light because there’s less tyre in contact with the road. This also means less grip.

Tread depth

The treads on your tyres are there to channel water away so that the blocks of the tyre can be in contact with the road. If you’ve ever tried driving a go-kart or racing car on slick tyres in the wet, you’ll know it’s like driving on ice. If the tread depth isn’t deep enough, water pressure will cause the tyre to ride up on top of the water, and then you’ve got aquaplaning and very little grip.

Watch out for deep puddles. When it’s been raining (particularly on back roads), you’ll notice two lines of puddles will form that follow the tyre tracks. This is where the road has been slightly compacted by the movement of vehicles and creates slight troughs. By positioning your car slightly to the left you will avoid driving through this deeper water and that has two benefits: less chance of aquaplaning, and you’ll use less fuel because there’s less drag on the wheels. Just be careful if you’re positioning your car to the left that you don’t hit deep standing water on the edge of the road. If you ride a motorbike you can ride between the tyre tracks.

Here’s some real-world aquaplaning

Change in the road’s grip levels

Tarmac road tends to have a fairly uniform grip. Motorcyclists know that they should avoid manhole covers and white lines in the wet, but the black bits tend to be fairly uniform in the dry. However, there are plenty of places where the road’s surface can change grip with very little warning.

  • If it’s frosty, areas that are sheltered from the sun will remain slippery for longer than areas that are in the sun.
  • In rural areas there can be stretches of muddy road where livestock have been moved, or agricultural machinery has driven.
  • On minor roads there might be areas of gravel
  • Outback roads that are sandy, or roads that might have sand and fine dust blown onto them, will be slippery
  • If the weather has been dry for a while a film of rubber builds up on the road and immediately after it rains this can be really slippery
  • Black ice: you can’t see it, and that’s what makes it dangerous.

Speed

The capability of modern cars far surpasses those of the 1980s. Anti-lock brakes mean that cars can stop very quickly in front of you. This is one reason why you shouldn’t tailgate.

The other thing about speed is that when you are a new driver your reflexes aren’t as honed as when you’ve been driving several years, so you really need to keep the speed lower, especially when the weather’s bad. A posted speed limit, like 100kph, doesn’t always mean it’s safe to do 100kph, even if you do have a late model vehicle. There are all kinds of other things like visibility (due to spray or fog, for example), standing water, what other drivers might do, etc.

There you have six things that might cause an accident if you’re not aware of them.

If you’ve had an accident, what was the first one caused by? Let us know in the comments section below.

Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

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Posted in Advice, Car, Heavy Vehicle, Motorbike
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