10 driving hazards you need to look out for on every journey

From parked cars to slip roads, we’ve teamed up with our official car insurance partner, Vitality, to list the most important hazards to watch out for every time you drive...

Car on country road

Driving should be fun. But it can also be challenging. Whether you’re cruising down country roads, enjoying a flowing A-road, or zipping from A to B on a motorway, there are a wealth of unseen and unexpected hazards that could potentially cause an accident.

That’s why What Car? has teamed up with Vitality as our official car insurance partner. Like us, Vitality thinks that good driving deserves to be recognised. That’s why Vitality is offering a new type of comprehensive car insurance that actively rewards you when you drive well or have car-free days with regular monthly rewards and up to 25% cashback per month on your policy (worth up to £98 a year).

Vitality’s in-car Good Driving Sensor and smartphone app work like a smartwatch for your car – recognising where you drive well, based on the ABCDS of Acceleration, Braking, Cornering, Distraction and Speed. Stick to these core principles, and you’ll not only save money on your insurance and be more fuel-efficient on every journey, but you’ll also be a better driver – helping us all make driving safer and more fun.

So, to help drivers stay more vigilant when driving, What Car? has pulled together its top 10 hazards that you should be watching out for every time your drive. Let’s get into it.

Find out more about Vitality Car Insurance

Parked cars

1. Parked cars

When driving around town, be particularly aware of parked cars that can hide your view of pedestrians – especially children – who might step out unexpectedly into the road. Parked cars can also mask their view of you. Lowering your speed from 40mph to 20mph reduces the chance of a fatal injury to a pedestrian from almost 100% to just to 1 in 20.

As well as making sure you’re adhering to local speed limits, also be more proactive in scanning the gaps between cars where there could be unseen pedestrians, and always be ready to jump on the brakes if needed to make an emergency stop. A few seconds added to your journey could save a life.

BONUS TIP: When driving past parked cars – especially ones that have just pulled into park – be aware of a car door opening suddenly for someone to get out.


2. Schools or play areas

Schools and play areas are hotspots for parents and children who might unexpectedly walk out into the road, as well as cyclists who may turn unexpectedly – especially during the school rush hour. This is also true for ice cream vans. Rule 206 of the Highway Code puts it best: “Children are more interested in ice cream than traffic and may run into the road unexpectedly”.

So, if kids are about, make sure you slow down, drive carefully and be prepared to make an emergency stop.

BONUS TIP: In many locations, such as schools or play areas, there may be a flashing sign to tell you where children may be crossing. If you see one, be doubly aware until you’re clear of the area.

Zebra crossing

3. Zebra crossings

Zebra crossings are another potential area where pedestrians – particularly children – can make an unexpected decision to walk into the road. Rule 195 of the Highway Code states that drivers: “MUST give way when a pedestrian or cyclist has moved onto a crossing”.

But it’s not always clear if someone is planning to cross. If a pedestrian looks back over their shoulder, the likelihood is they are checking the traffic before walking out onto the crossing. If you see anyone near a crossing glance over their shoulder, ease off the accelerator and expect them to cross.

BONUS TIP: Bus stops are another potential hazard for pedestrians unexpectedly walking into the road to get to their next destination – mainly when a bus has unloaded its passengers. If they’re walking behind the bus, you’ll see them. But some may walk in front of the bus, and that makes them hard to spot. Make sure you are aware.

Car door open

4. Opening your car doors

In 2020, 145 car accidents were caused by car doors being opened or closed negligently across the UK[1]. So, it’s always worth being more aware of your surroundings when opening your car door. Going Dutch can help. The Dutch Reach is a method of opening a car door that requires you to use the arm furthest away from the door – meaning you reach across your body and are forced to look back over your shoulder at oncoming traffic.

Cyclists in particular will appreciate you for it, and it might just save your door from being clipped by another vehicle.

BONUS TIP: Whether you are using the Dutch Reach or not, always double check your wing mirror just before you open your door. You may have gone to open the door, then been distracted by keys, your phone or something in the glovebox. That could be 10 seconds for fresh passing traffic to appear.


5. Cyclists

In 2020, 4215 cyclists were seriously injured on Britain’s roads[2]. There are measures that drivers can take to avoid incidents with bikes, especially at junctions and traffic lights. It’s incredibly common to see cyclists sliding up alongside traffic.

As a driver, this means a cyclist could be sitting in your blind spot as you pull away. So, whether you’re turning left or right, use both of your mirrors to check for cyclists in your blind spots before pulling away or turning.

BONUS TIP: Always give cyclists at least 1.5 metres of space when overtaking. Not only will driving too close make many cyclists uncomfortable, but they may suddenly need to veer to avoid debris in the road or a pothole or puddle. Or the road may narrow suddenly. If you can’t get past with a wide berth, slow down and wait for the right opportunity to pass a cyclist more cleanly.


6. Junctions and side roads

In 2020, 37.8% of car accidents in the UK were caused by drivers failing to look properly, meanwhile 19.7% were caused by drivers failing to judge another vehicle’s path or speed[3].

This makes vehicles emerging from junctions or side roads a very common hazard. If you’re approaching a junction or side road and can see a car waiting to pull out, watch the driver closely. Which way are they looking? Which way are they turning the steering wheel? Do they look impatient? The driver’s behaviour will give you an indication as to what they are about to do.

If you’re unsure, be prepared to decelerate or brake to give them space.

BONUS TIP: You should also be aware of vehicles ahead of you turning into side roads. They may potentially slow suddenly or stop – even if the rear of their vehicle is still in the main road. This is particularly true in urban areas where there may be pedestrians in the road, or the driver may be confused by sat-nav directions.

Country road

7. Sharp curves and chevron signs

In the UK, more than half (56%) of road fatalities happen on rural roads. In 2019, serious injuries on country roads outweighed those on motorways more than 12 times, according to The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents[4].

A big contributing factor for this is inappropriate speed into the many tight and blind corners that make up country lanes. Black and white chevron signs, a V-shaped line or stripe, at the side of the road indicate a sharp deviation of route is coming up. When you see these, especially on a road you are unfamiliar with, be prepared to slow or brake.

BONUS TIP: Whether you’re in town, out in the country, or on the motorway, always look for puddles. First: there’s greater risk of aquaplaning, or a deep puddle pulling you off-line, so be prepared to lift off calmly and avoid heavy braking. Second: it’s actually illegal to splash pedestrians or cyclists, so don’t make a wave.

Country road

8. White lines

Most of us know our road markings, it’s imperative to know them to pass your test. Such as, double white lines mean no overtaking. But one that not many people know is that the length of dotted white lines is actually an indicator of road conditions ahead. If the white lines are short and the gaps are long, conditions are favourable. If the white lines get longer and the gaps get shorter, there may be a sharp curve, or a brow or dip in the road.

So, be prepared to decelerate or brake, and think seriously before you make an overtaking manoeuvre on a vehicle in front of you – even if it’s a tractor or truck that may be travelling well below the speed limit. The easy way to remember this: more white = more fright.

BONUS TIP: If you’re driving an electric car, make sure you’re using the right regenerative braking mode for the right situation. Regenerative braking is good for improving range or ‘one-pedal’ driving in stop-start traffic. But be careful of using heavy regenerative braking on A-roads, dual carriageways and motorways. When you lift off the accelerator, the deceleration force can be almost as sudden and intense as applying the brakes – which could surprise a car following you.

Slip roads

9. Slip roads

Rule 259 of the Highway Code states that drivers merging onto a motorway or dual carriageway A-road should: “Match their speed to fit safely into the traffic flow in the left-hand lane”. However, a lot of drivers fail to do this. Lots of drivers will fail to accelerate to the correct speed, or may accelerate and then slow suddenly, or – in extreme cases – stop when merging into live traffic.

So, when you’re merging onto an A-road or motorway, make sure you accelerate or decelerate in a controlled manner to get up to the correct speed to match the road or traffic.

BONUS TIP: When you’re already on a dual-carriageway or motorway, don’t linger in the left-hand lane around junctions and slip roads. Instead, move into the middle or outside lane to create space for traffic leaving and joining. Before exit slip roads, be prepared for drivers to suddenly make a late decision to brake or turn off if they haven’t been paying attention and they’ve missed their junction. Also, be aware of traffic joining your road from a slip road that may brake suddenly or dart across several lanes. In all cases, creating space lessens the chances of an accident.

Road chevrons

10. Motorway chevrons

Rear-end collisions made up 38% of all accidents on UK roads in 2017[5], while just 50% of drivers know that tailgating is an illegal offence. That’s where motorway chevrons can help. Chevrons painted onto the road surface of some sections of motorways and dual carriageways help drivers maintain a safe distance to the car in front.

Generally, you should keep at least two chevrons to the car in front at all times. In wet or icy conditions, this should be at least doubled to four chevrons.

BONUS TIP: When you’re on a dual-carriageway or motorway, if you see two trucks following each other closely on the inside lane, one of them may suddenly pull out, especially if there’s a hill approaching. As both trucks will be driving at the maximum 60mph, this will create a blockage, and other drivers may suddenly pull into the outside lane. So, check the traffic behind you to safely move into the outside lane and beware of anyone making the same decision as you at the last-minute.

Find out more about Vitality Car Insurance

[1] https://www.nimblefins.co.uk/cheap-car-insurance/top-causes-car-accidents uk#:~:text=A%20vehicle%20door%20being%20opened,is%200.24%25%20of%20all%20accidents

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/reported-road-casualties-great-britain-pedal-cyclist-factsheet-2020/reported-road-casualties-in-great-britain-pedal-cycle-factsheet-2020

[3] https://www.nimblefins.co.uk/cheap-car-insurance/top-causes-car-accidents uk#:~:text=A%20vehicle%20door%20being%20opened,is%200.24%25%20of%20all%20accidents

[4] https://www.rospa.com/media/documents/road-safety/rural-road-safety-factsheet.pdf

[5] https://businessmotoring.co.uk/what-are-the-uks-most-common-road-accidents/#:~:text=A%20rear%20end%20collision%20was,which%20came%20in%20at%206%25