How to be a safer driver
There are about 45 million driving licence holders in the UK, although many of the people who hold a licence aren’t active – perhaps as many as one third. However, that still leaves around 30 million people trying to stay out of trouble every time they get behind the wheel.
The problem is, all too often some of those 30 million drivers end up on the traffic news because they’ve brought a major road to a halt having parked their car on its roof or driven into someone else. Each year about one in 15 of us will crash our car – that’s about 200,000 accidents, most of which are completely avoidable.
Last year we guided you through the 10 most common reasons for car crashes and gave you a few pointers as to how to avoid these scenarios. The thing is, if you drive well at all times you can avoid just about any accident, not just the common ones.
The key thing to remember is that driving well isn’t difficult, and if you want to be a really good driver, it’s our highly trained traffic cops that you need to emulate. Sure we hear about them crashing sometimes, but they cover huge mileages, often at high speeds on roads that are saturated with hazards – so it’s amazing they’re not involved in shunts more often.
The reason why these drivers are so good is because they’re trained using a book called Roadcraft (the police driver’s manual). So if you want to be a more gifted driver, what better way than to start with your own copy of Roadcraft? Read it and these are the key things you’ll put into practice every time you drive.
Read the road
It’s no good just looking out of the windscreen – you need to be constantly scanning for hazards and reacting to them. That means looking as far ahead as you can and making sure that you drive at a speed that always allows you to stop in the distance that you can see will remain clear.
Don’t just look ahead – always be aware of what’s going on all around you. Sure it takes more concentration, but once you get into the habit of doing it, this becomes second nature. And before you make any manoeuvre, take the belt-and-braces approach by checking over your shoulder to make sure the coast is clear.
Having kept tabs of what’s going on all around, use that insight to anticipate the problems that might come up because of other road users or hazards, and plan for them well in advance so you won’t ever need to take last-minute action.
Use the two-second rule
Spot a fixed point ahead, like a lamp post or road marking, and wait until the vehicle in front goes past it. As it does so say to yourself “only a fool breaks the two second rule”. If you get to the point before you’ve finished, you’re too close to the vehicle in front. In adverse conditions such as fog or rain, double it – then double it again if it’s icy.
Manage your personal space
This is where many drivers get it wrong. Instead of keeping their distance from the car in front and doing their best to maintain space all around, they leave themselves no margin for error. If you can’t create lots of space around you, drive more slowly – how much space you need is directly to proportional to how fast you’re driving and hence how quickly you can stop.
To drive really well takes a lot of concentration. You’re constantly scanning all around, prioritising the information you take in and acting upon it. At 70 mph you’ll take the length of a football pitch to stop which is why looking away at a crucial moment can be fatal.
Driver fatigue is a major factor in many crashes; it’s estimated to be the reason for as many as one in five. So if you’re feeling drowsy don’t get behind the wheel; the same goes if you’ve drunk any alcohol or taken any medication.
No sudden movements
If you’ve scanned all around and used that information to predict what may happen, you should never be surprised by another vehicle’s movements. If the driver in front makes a sudden movement, by looking ahead you should have spotted the hazard before they did, and prepared accordingly.
Assume the worst
Drivers constantly do really stupid things, whether that’s deliberate or accidental. One of your many tasks is to make sure you don’t get caught up in their accident. Also, don’t ever assume that another motorist has seen you or will react as you expect – and don’t rely on somebody else’s reactions to keep you safe.
This is the one that even some very good drivers overlook; if they’re involved in a near miss they don’t think about how they could have avoided getting into that situation, even if it was the other driver’s fault. It’s only by learning from your mistakes that you can constantly improve the standard of your driving.
As with everything in life, if you want to improve it’s worth going through some extra training, so doing all of these things becomes second nature. There are lots of organisations that can help you become a better driver, the key ones being IAM Roadsmart, RoSPA and Diamond Advanced Motorists.
All of this might sound like a lot of effort, and frankly you’re probably already wondering if you can be bothered. But avoiding being in a crash is surely a worthy prize, especially if it helps you to keep your car, yourself and your no-claims bonus intact?