Drive a Car
Learning how to drive is a lot easier than it looks. It looks intimidating from the passenger's seat, or in the movies, but once you get behind the wheel and gently put your foot on the pedal, the process becomes very intuitive. If you're a defensive driver and learn to take things slow in the beginning, you'll be well on your way to mastering the basics. This article assumes you'll be driving an automatic transmission vehicle. If you're not driving an automatic, click here to learn the basics of driving stick-shift (manual transmission), although the general process will still be the same.
Getting Comfortable with the Car's Controls
- Adjust the seat so that your feet comfortably reach both pedals. You can adjust your seat forward and backward, as well as up and down. Some cars will have electronic controls (usually on the left side of the seat), while older cars will usually have a latch underneath the seat that let's you control the position of the seat. But you can tell the difference.
- Familiarize yourself with the foot pedals. In an automatic car, the two foot pedals control acceleration and braking, respectively. The rightmost pedal (which is usually smaller than the other pedal) is the acceleration pedal, and pressing down on it speeds the car up. The pedal to the left (which is usually larger than the acceleration pedal) is the brake pedal, and pressing down on it slows the car down.
- Even if you are left-foot dominant, use your right foot to reach both pedals. It will feel weird at first if you're left-footed, but getting used to it is important because it's proper technique and ultimately safer.
- Never use both feet at once to reach the pedals. Only use one foot — your right foot — to access each pedal. This will make it impossible to accidentally press down on both pedals at the same time.
- Adjust your car's mirrors so that you can see through them clearly and effectively. Your car should have three mirrors: one rear view mirror, which allows you to see directly behind the rear windshield in back of you, and two outside mirror which let you see to either side of the car and protect you from blind spots.
- Your rear view mirror should be positioned so that when you're in your normal driving position, you can see directly behind you and as much of the rear windshield as possible.
- The Society of Automotive Engineers has one recommendation for how to position your outside mirrors in order to eliminate blind spots. It recommends positioning the mirrors further outward than normal, so that they just overlap with the viewing angle of the rear view mirror. Although disorienting at first, this positioning actually clues the driver in to cars in her blind spots which she might otherwise only be able to spot by looking over her shoulder.
- Know where the parking brake, also called a hand or emergency brake, is and what it does. The parking brake is a longer lever with a button on its very tip. When the parking brake is pulled up, it helps locks the car in place, ensuring that it doesn't move. When the brake is let down, it is disengaged and the car can freely move. Make sure that your parking brake is disengaged before you start driving.
- Get a feel for the shift lever. The shift lever is usually positioned in between the two front seats of a car, and it controls some of the car's gears (park, neutral, drive, reverse). Sometimes, the shift lever is on the right side of the steering wheel.
- If your shift lever is engaged in Park and you turn your car on, your car won't move forward no matter how much you press down on the acceleration.
- If your shift lever is in Neutral, your car's natural momentum will continue to carry it forward.
- If your shift lever is in Reverse, your car will move backwards instead of moving forwards when you take your foot off the brake.
- If your shift lever is in Drive, your car will move forwards when you take your foot off the brake.
- Understand your basic dashboard controls. These gauges help show the driver how much gas the car is carrying, how fast the car is going, how hot the engine is, and how many RPM (revolutions per minute) the engine is clocking.
- The speedometer is probably the most important dashboard control in the car. It tells you how fast your car is traveling, in either miles per hour (MPH) or kilometers per hour (KPH).
- The RPM gauge tells you how hard your engine is working. Most RPM gauges will have red areas starting at 6,000 or 7,000 RPM. When the dial in the gauge, travels into the red, learn to ease off the acceleration.
- The gas gauge tells you how much fuel your car has. It usually has a dial that travels between "F" and "E," with "E" signaling "empty" and "F" signaling "full."
- The temperature gauge in the car tells you whether your car's engine is overheating. It usually has a dial that travels between "H" and "C," signaling "hot" and "cold." Your dial should normally be in the center of the gauge.
Getting the Basics Down
- Put on your seatbelt. In most places in the world, driving without a seatbelt is illegal. Seatbelts greatly reduce the possibility of serious injury or death if you happen to get in an accident.
- Always start your car with your foot on the brake. When you turn it on, a car will move forward automatically if your foot isn't on the brake. With your foot on the brake in starting position, you're ready to start driving!
- Turn on the engine and release the parking brake, if necessary. Put your keys in the ignition, which is usually to the right side of the steering wheel, and turn clockwise. Note that in some newer vehicles, provided the keys are actually inside the car, all you need to do is push the "Power" or "Ignition" button for the engine to start. Fancy!
- Learn how to back your car out. If your car is parked in a lot or a driveway, chances are you're going to need to back your car out in order to begin driving. Although it may seem intimidating, there are only a couple of things for you to remember:
- Put your car in Reverse and double-check. If your car isn't in Reverse, your car won't go backward.
- Look over your shoulder and turn your head to get a good view of where you're going.
- Gently remove your foot from the brake pedal and do not put your foot on the acceleration. For your first couple times backing out, don't worry about putting your foot on the acceleration. You can move your car simply by removing your foot from the brake. Your car will move slowly, but you won't risk accidentally running into something or someone.
- Remember that the steering wheel is "reversed" in Reverse. When driving your car forward, if you turn the steering wheel to the right, your car will also turn to the right, and vice versa. This is because your wheels turn that way. When going in reverse, turning the steering wheel to the right will make your car turn to the left, while turning the steering wheel to the left will make your car turn to the right. Keep this in mind as you back your car out.
- Use your brake whenever you need to slow down. Press your foot gently but firmly on the brake pedal to slow the car down.
- When you're ready to move your car forward, come to a complete stop and shift the car into Drive. Put your foot on the brake pedal, shift your car into Drive so that it can begin to move forward, and then take your foot off the brake pedal. Slowly press down on the acceleration pedal with your foot to get the car to move forward. Accelerate until you've reached the speed limit, and then take your foot off the acceleration, hovering it over the brake pedal in case you need to start braking.
- Hold both hands on the steering wheel at the "9 and 3" position. Image that the steering wheel is a clock. Place your left hand where the 9 would be on a clock, and your right hand where the 3 would be on a clock. Especially for beginners, do not try to hold the steering wheel with only one hand.
- Use your blinkers. Your blinkers are flashing orange lights or red, some cars have red lights as blinkers on either side of the car's rear, next to the brake lights. They are really important in driving. They let other cars know that you're switching lanes or turning. The blinker switch is located on the left side of the steering wheel. Press it up to turn to activate your right blinkers (for turning or switching lanes to the right) or press it down to activate your left blinkers (for turning or switching lanes to the left).
- Learn how to turn the car using the hand over hand method. Turning is quite easy once you get the hang of it. Like most things in driving, it's very intuitive. If you only need to turn the car slightly, turn the steering wheel in the direction you want to turn but try keeping your hands at the 9 and 3 position.
- If you're making a harder turn, use the "hand over hand" method. Say you're turning right. Turn the steering wheel clockwise, leading with the right hand. When your right hand gets to the 4 or 5 position, release it and cross it over your left hand. Re-grip the wheel and continue your turn.
- To straighten out the car after a turn, simply loosen your grip in both hands and the steering wheel will automatically begin correcting itself. Apply more pressure to slow down the correction; apply less pressure to speed it up. Your hands should stay stationary as the steering wheel moves back to its original spot.
- Learn how to switch lanes. At some point in your driving, you'll need to switch from one lane to another, sometimes quickly. Doing so is easy, but you have to remember to indicate with your blinkers to let other drivers know that you're planning on switching lanes. Here are some things to keep in mind while you switch lanes:
- Indicate with your blinkers for at least two seconds before beginning to switch lanes. This lets other drivers know what you are planning to do.
- Quickly scan your mirrors and look over your shoulder to check for any cars in your blind spot(s). Don't just rely on your mirrors to tell you where other cars are; use your eyes to quickly look for yourself before actually switching lanes.
- Slowly move the car into the other lane. Turn your hands on the steering wheel ever so slightly in order to change lanes. It's a very slight movement. It should take anywhere from 1 to 3 seconds for you to change lanes. Any less and you're doing it too quickly; any more and you're doing it too slowly.
- Stay a healthy distance behind other cars (don't tailgate). How far you should stay behind the next car in front of you depends on how fast you are traveling. You want to give yourself and your car 2 to 5 seconds to react, depending on your comfort level. If the car in front of you were to abruptly come to a halt, at your current speed, would you have enough time to both react and calmly slow your car down without rear-ending the car in front of you?
- To judge this, watch as the car in front of you passes a fixed object on the road, like a billboard. As soon as the car passes that object, begin counting: one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand.... How many seconds does it take for your car to pass the same object on the road?
Putting It All Together
- Drive defensively. Driving defensively is a very important concept that too many drivers either take for granted or don't understand. Driving defensively will help save you money, ensure a pleasurable driving experience, and — most important — help you stay alive. Driving defensively is an umbrella term for several different concepts:
- Don't assume that people will follow the rules, or pay attention, or be cautious. Rules of the road are enforced to make sure that everyone is safe. Often those rules are broken by selfish or clueless drivers. Don't assume that drivers will use their blinkers before they turn, for example. Don't assume that drivers will slow down for you to merge. Don't assume that drivers won't run red lights.
- If you see a potentially dangerous situation, avoid it before it happens. Don't linger immediately to the right of a big semi truck, for example. Don't try to pass a drunk driver who's swerving in and out of lanes.
- Use all your senses to be aware, at all times, of what's happening on the road. Drivers often learn to tune out the rest of the world and "get in the zone," simply because they've done the same thing hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Don't get too complacent behind the wheel. Use sight to monitor other cars' speeds and their habits. Use hearing to listen for car horns and the sounds of screeching. Use smell to be aware of burnt rubber or other caustic aromas that may indicate an accident.
- Stay in the right lanes for slower speeds and the left lanes for faster speeds. On highways, and to a lesser extent on streets, the leftmost lanes are usually reserved for faster traffic, while the rightmost lanes are reserved for slower traffic. It's rude (and dangerous) to tailgate someone going slower than you in the right lane. At the same time, it's selfish to hog the left lanes when you're going considerably slower than other traffic. Get in a lane that's going roughly your speed and stay there until you need to turn or get off.
- Whenever possible, pass cars on the left side instead of the right side. Because the general speed of traffic increases going right to left, it's important to pass on the left. You're speeding your car up and going faster than the car ahead of you, so you want to pass using a lane that's meant for faster cars. Follow this general rule of thumb even if it's not a "law" where you drive! Remember: drive right, pass left.
- Try to never pass a truck on the right. Trucks and semis are far larger than normal cars, meaning that their blind spots are far bigger. Trucks often stay in the rightmost lanes and switch lanes to the right, rarely switching lanes to the left. Passing trucks on the left, therefore, means you're driving your car out of their territory, lowering your risk.
- Abide by the speed limits. Speed limits are there for a reason. They're not there to make driving less fun; they're there to make the road a safer place for all. Make sure that at most, you're only traveling 5 mph (8 km/h) faster than the speed limit. At least in America, police officers will rarely write a ticket for speeding if you're only traveling 5 mph (8 km/h) above the speed limit.
- Be extremely careful in abnormal driving conditions. When the weather acts up, tone it down a notch and drive even more defensively than normal. When it rains, for example, the water interacts with the oil on driving surfaces, making it very slick and slippery. In these conditions, it's hard for your tires to get good traction.hydroplaning.
In heavy rain, when small pools of water have accumulated on asphalt, you're especially at risk of
- Wintertime creates more difficult driving situations. Learn how to drive your car during the winter time.
- Be courteous on the road. Being courteous simply means acknowledging that there are other people on the road, each with his or her own agenda, and many of whom don't want to be stuck in their car. Make their life on the road a little easier if it's easy for you; the thought is that they'll pay it forward at some point, and you may be the beneficiary of their largesse.
- Use your horn to alert other drivers, not to chide them. A horn is a powerful device. Use your horn when someone merges into your lane without seeing you, or when a light has turned green but they're still daydreaming. Don't use your horn because you're stuck in a traffic jam.
- Use a wave to thank someone. When someone let's you into their lane, wave your hand to thank them. It doesn't take much effort, and it's a nice acknowledgement of "thanks" for keeping you in mind.
- Don't disobey the rules of the road just in order to be courteous. This is important. If you stop at a four-way stop and you get there first, you're the one who gets to go first. Don't stop and let the person who got there after you go. It holds up efficiency and often creates confusion.
- Have fun. Driving can be dangerous, and there sure are a lot of rules that you need to remember, but it's important to have fun while you behind the wheel. Even while staying responsible, driving can be incredibly exhilarating. Just remember that the road doesn't belong to you alone and you should be fine.
Mastering Advanced Driving Techniques
- Learn how to parallel park. Paralleling parking is when you have to back your car into a tight parking spot, usually a very difficult maneuver. There are a couple tried and true tricks to parallel parking, which you can learn here. A very important part of urban driving.
- Learn how to merge in heavy traffic. Merging onto a highway can be a difficult thing to do, especially if the traffic is denser than expected. The important thing to do here is accelerate enough and judge whether you're going fast enough to fit safely between two cars.
- Use a roundabout. They may not be popular in America, but if you've ever driven outside the U.S., you'll know that they can be quite tricky. Often used instead of stop signs, roundabouts are efficient but need to be understood before conquered.
- Learn how to drive uphill. Driving uphill can be challenge, particularly if you're driving a stick. Master the art of downshifting when going up a steep hill.
- Save gas. With the rising cost of gas or petrol, driving smart means more than just avoiding accidents. Those drivers who can save gas while they drive ultimately have more money to spend on Auto Exterior and Interior Accessories.
- Practice makes permanent, so practice good habits (e.g. turning your head to check your blind spot) instead of bad ones (e.g. checking mirrors without turning your head).
- Stay safe, don't text when driving.
- If you are a new driver, always ride with an experienced driver until you are confident.
- Be sure to slow down before making turns.
- Wear your seat belt. This is the easiest way to be safe in a car.
- Stay in your own comfort zone. If it has snowed and roads are covered in ice, drive as slow as you need to, to feel in control of the vehicle, and if people get impatient and start honking, so what? Protect yourself and your loved ones. They can go around you!
- Study the manual A.K.A. the driving guide, from your state! This will help for learning the rules of road so you don't get ticketed or arrested for breaking the rules of the road.
- Always follow safe driving practices. Don't drive recklessly fast, accelerate suddenly or brake unexpectedly. Also, don't weave in between vehicles on the highway - it is very dangerous, and can cause highly damaging collisions.
- Put away all distracting items such as cell phones etc. before you even step behind the steering wheel.
- Maintain your car properly and regularly check oil level, wheel alignment, headlights, and brakes.
- Be careful with other cars.
- Don't wear bulky shoes with big soles, they might get in the way when pressing down the brakes during an emergency.
- When driving big cars, make sure you are clear of the road ahead before overtaking
- If you are just starting to drive, or if you are unsure of driving by yourself, it might be a good idea to get a parent or an older friend who can help you drive.
- Don't drive faster than what you're comfortable with.
- When you park your car and exit the vehicle, be sure to turn off your lights, put on the parking brake, lock the doors, and remember your parking spot (use landmarks if needed).
- If you are making an emergency stop in car equipped with ABS (Anti-lock Braking System), press the brake as hard as you can. ABS makes a car's break pump more rapidly than your foot can. This stops the car while still offering you control over the direction. Do not 'pump' the brake nor loosen the force. While ABS is active, you may feel vibration through the brake pedal - this is normal. Just continue pressing the brake until your car stops.
- Service your car within the mileage or age ranges recommended by your manufacturer or dealer.
- Keep enough room between your car and the vehicle in front so there is enough room to come to a full stop should the car in front suddenly has to stop. Tailgating is dangerous.
- Hire a certified, experienced driver teacher if you're nervous.
- Never read newspaper or eat something while driving.
- Always use your turn signal, and use low beam headlights when there is an approaching vehicle or when there is a vehicle in front of your vehicle.
- Avoid the temptation to use your mobile phone, a few seconds distraction can cause a serious accident, so the best way to do it is turning off your cell phone until you get to your destination. Better yet, park your car in a safe location when there is a need to answer a phone call.
- While changing lanes, be watchful. Check all mirrors, put on your indicator and swiftly change.
- This article can only guide you on your way to driving so don't depend on it as your only source.
- This article is aimed at American readers. Road rules are different in every country.
- Make sure you're in the correct lane while driving.
- This is by no means a replacement to going to driver's ed.
- Make sure you practice uphill starts when learning to operate a manual transmission. Because starting a manual transmission from a stop requires letting off the brakes and engaging the clutch (essentially placing the car in neutral), the car will roll backwards until first gear is engaged. To stop this from happening, apply the hand/parking brake, then release it as you release the clutch and the car begins to move forward. Otherwise, you risk rolling into the car behind you. Practice this technique on a sloped driveway or parking lot where it's safe to make mistakes.
- Unfortunately women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.
- Avoid parking illegally, your car may be towed, or you may be cited and have to pay a fine.
- In Israel you're required to carry fluorescent vests in the car and wear them when you are outside the car when making repairs or getting gas etc. If you get stopped in Israel and your car does not carry a fluorescent vest you will be fined.
- Always enforce that people who ride in your car must wear seatbelts. If they refuse, don't drive them. You're better off to create an awkward situation than to be held liable for bodily injury they sustain if you're in an accident.
- Keep on the slow lane (left or right for left- or right-handed driving countries respectively), unless you overtake. After overtaking, return to the slow lane.
- Always follow the rules of the road valid for your state or country. Make sure you know all the rules before starting to drive, or else you or your car might be badly damaged.
- In some cities, shifting late (just before red-lining) not only makes you sound like a maniac, it can also be considered "reckless driving", which is illegal and can get you a nasty ticket/fine.
- Street racing is dangerous, and illegal in most countries. If you wish to race your car, then taking your car to a track day would be the best thing to do. These are usually well supervised.
- Be aware of any limitations of provisional licenses, for example in the UK you cannot drive on a motorway without a full license.
- Always fasten your seat belt.
- Do not drink and drive. That's the worst thing you could possibly do. You could kill yourself or someone else. It is also illegal to drive with more than a certain amount of alcohol in your body e.g. in the UK you must not drive with a breath alcohol level of more than 35 micrograms per 100 ml or a blood alcohol level of more than 80 milligrams per 100 ml. This is roughly the equivalent to 2 cans of strong lager. If you are going to drink this much alcohol, arrange another means of transport.
- Never shift into low gears at high speeds (i.e. 1st gear at 50 mph/80 km/h). This will greatly damage or destroy your car's engine and transmission.
- Drive Manual
- Be a Great Driver
- Avoid Annoying Other Drivers
- Teach Your Kid to Drive
- Get Your Driving Permit
Sources and Citations