For new drivers, busy roads can be intimidating, and it's important to stay safe when you're new behind the wheel.
Here's a quick and simple guide to staying cool, calm and collected when you're a new driver, and the types of hazards you should be watching out for.
Stay focused on the road and avoid distractions
It's vital that you pay attention while you're driving - whether you're navigating through a busy town, waiting in a traffic jam or cruising down the motorway.
Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road, and avoid fiddling with the car radio. Don't get overly caught up in conversation with your passengers, and never attempt to retrieve any items that have fallen into the footwell.
You may love your mobile, but it's illegal to use a hand-held phone or similar device when you're driving. You can only call 999 or 112 in an emergency, and even then, it's best to try to pull over and park first.
Research we conducted in 2017 showed more than half of young drivers (51%) can’t bring themselves to turn off their mobile phones before driving. And since 2011, the number of casualties caused by drivers who were distracted by their mobile phones has increased by a quarter (24%). We recommend keeping your phone in the glove box when driving.
Calm driving and avoiding road rage
From time to time, you may experience aggressive behaviour on the roads, such as drivers running red lights and tailgating. It's best if you try to stay calm and avoid any kind of confrontation.
Road rage is very dangerous and will take your focus away from driving well. If you encounter it, here's how to get out of a potentially tricky situation:
- If an issue was your fault, calmly acknowledge it and apologise by raising your hand.
- Avoid eye contact with an aggressive driver. Don't honk your horn or flash your headlights - it could make things worse.
- Should an angry driver try to force a confrontation, don't get out of the car. Stay in your vehicle with the doors locked and call the police if necessary.
- If you experience road rage and you feel shaken, pull over somewhere safe and take 5 minutes to gather your thoughts.
Practice defensive driving
Defensive driving means staying aware of what other drivers are doing, expecting the unexpected and responding in a calm way which keeps you safe.
As a new driver, you need more time to recognise hazards, so control your speed and leave more space between other road users.
Take extra care when you're driving at night
Typically there are less cars on the road at night, so you may be tempted to speed. Always be aware of how fast you're going and slow down if the speedometer needle is creeping up.
Don't rely on street and other car lights to guide you, and drive more cautiously.
Don't drive when you're tired and pull over if you need to take a rest
Make sure you've had enough sleep before getting behind the wheel – especially ahead of longer journeys. As a new driver, you'll become tired sooner as driving will require all your concentration and uses a lot of energy. Leave plenty of time for your journey and plan your trip to include regular breaks if needed.
If you're on the road and you start to feel sleepy, find a safe place to stop and consider whether you can continue. While you're stationary, you may want to:
- Have a caffeinated drink.
- Go for a short walk.
- Take a quick power nap.
Then you can decide if you feel alert enough to keep driving. And always remember - the later it is, the more likely you and other drivers may be tired.
Only a fool breaks the 2-second rule
It's important to leave a sufficient gap between yourself and other cars so you have enough time to react as needed. If the driver in front of you suddenly brakes or swerves, you need to make sure you've got plenty of space to avoid hitting them.
Pick a roadside landmark – like a sign or a tree – and when the vehicle in front of you passes it, start counting 'one thousand and one, one thousand and two'. If you pass the landmark before you finish counting, you need to drop back.
In bad weather, or when towing, you should double the size of the gap ('one thousand and four') as stopping distances will increase.
If the roads are wet or icy, leave as much space as you can between your car and the car in front of you.
Plan ahead and be prepared before long journeys
Plan your journeys in advance, especially if you need to be somewhere important such as a meeting, interview or appointment. Make sure you leave plenty of time to get to your destination and park.
For longer journeys, schedule time for comfort breaks, food and stopping to safely check your phone and emails. In addition, ensure you've carried out basic checks on your vehicle before setting off.
And if you're taking an unfamiliar route, check out our route planner, or use a route mapping tool or GPS app to guide you.