11 incredibly common driving errors – and how to fix them

Our team give their tips on how to drive better, safer and more comfortably...

Sitting too close to steering wheel

9. Sitting incorrectly

Sitting too close to steering wheel

 If you want to be in control of your car, it’s absolutely vital that you find a good driving position. Now, your driving instructor may have led you to believe that the most ‘comfortable position’ is the correct one, but unfortunately that is not the case; we’ve all seen new drivers sitting far too close to the steering wheel.

How to sit correctly

Correct driving position

Thankfully, finding the correct position is fairly straightforward. In a manual car, you start by depressing the clutch to the end of its travel. Your leg should be slightly bent; if your leg is straight you need to move your seat forward. Once this is sorted, focus on your arms. You should be able to rest your wrists on the top of the steering wheel with your arms still slightly kinked. Use your reclining adjustor to tailor your position.

 In terms of seat height, this will vary dependant on your own height, but ideally you should have an unobstructed view to all sides and all displays on the instrument panel. Finally, you should adjust the upper edge of the headrest to the same height as the top of your head so that you don’t risk whiplash in the event of a rear end shunt.

If done properly you should be able to reach the pedals, gear stick and steering wheel comfortably.

10. Not looking ahead

Driving a car

 Per mile, car drivers and occupants are nearly twice as likely to be killed on rural roads as on urban roads. Now that might come as a surprise to you, seeing that rural roads are significantly less busy than inner city thoroughfares. However, country roads present their own unique challenges – think varying cambers, hedgerows, narrow roads, blind crests and corners. That’s why looking ahead and being able to read the road confidently is so important.

 We can’t give you a full break down of how to read a country road (for that, we would suggest attending an Institute of Advanced Motorists course), but we can give you some basics.

How to do it

Firstly, you should always be consciously trying to raise your line of sight: in other words, you need to look as far ahead as possible. Not only does this slow down the rate of objects coming towards you, it also forces you to anticipate the next bend. Remember the old adage: “look where you want to go”. Then, when you approach an unknown corner, you should visualise the line you need to take, using the vanishing point to judge when to get on the accelerator - i.e. holding a steady and comfortable speed through the bend until you can see the corner opening up.

For any cornering situation, it’s also important to be smooth with your controls so that you do not upset the balance of the car. This means selecting the correct gear before you enter the corner, braking in a straight line, and being gentle with the accelerator on the way out.

11. Opening your door dangerously

Opening car door

You may open your car door without looking around you, but this is a mistake. Sure, you can take a glance in the door mirror to ensure the way is clear, especially of a passing cyclist who you may not be able to hear. But you may miss them if they’re very close, in your mirror’s blind spot, and thus a dangerous accident can result.

There were 474 such ‘dooring’ incidents in 2015 in the UK, and there was a fatality arising from one in 2013 in Leicester.

The Dutch Reach

Opening car door - the Dutch Reach

Instead, employ the ‘Dutch Reach.’ Originating in the Netherlands in the 1960s, this method (in the UK version, for right-hand drive cars) involves always opening the driver’s car door with your left hand, which forces the head to look directly to the side and towards the rear of the car, eliminating the blind spot, and allowing for full visibility of the immediate area.

This practice is a required section of the Netherlands driving test, and is even taught in Dutch schools. Pressure group Cycling UK is lobbying the government to do the same here. Time for you to get ahead of the game.

And finally...

Driving a car

You may have been doing all this stuff already – if so, our apologies and congratulations. But please do finally remember the wise words of automotive writer Tom Vanderbilt.

As he says in his 2008 book ‘Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do’:

“There is a simple mantra you can carry about you in traffic. When a situation feels dangerous to you, it's probably more safe than you know; when a situation feels safe, that is precisely when you should feel on guard. Most crashes happen on dry roads, on clear and sunny days, to sober drivers.”

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