The alertness section of the driving theory test consists of questions about staying alert, dealing with various distractions and hazards whilst driving, and being aware of what is going on around you.

What is alertness?

  • By ‘alertness’, we mean the state of being wide awake while you focus on your driving – without distractions such as mobile phones and loud music
  • Alertness also includes being ready for hazards
  • Finally, an alert driver notices all road signs and markings so that they can follow those instructions and use the information

This section will cover:

  • Being aware of your surroundings
  • Ensuring that you are clearly visible to other road users
  • Staying aware of those other road users
  • Anticipating the actions of other road users before they happen
  • Keeping your focus on the road ahead
  • Resisting distractions

Observation and awareness

When driving, it is essential that you’re aware of activity in your surroundings. This includes:

  • Other road users
  • Pedestrians
  • Road signs and road markings
  • Weather conditions
  • the surrounding area

To stay aware of these factors, make sure that you keep an eye on the road ahead of you, as well as to the sides. This will allow you to notice changing situations as you drive.

Before moving off

  • Always use your mirrors to check on traffic behind you, and how your actions will affect them
  • Do a final check around your car, including the blind spots
  • If necessary, use a signal

Clear view

If, when reversing, you find that you cannot see behind you, it is a good idea to ask someone to guide you. They will have a better view of hazards, other road users and pedestrians which may be out of your view – this will ensure that you reverse safely.

If parked cars block your view as you’re exiting a junction, creep forward slowly and cautiously until you can see clearly.

Overtaking

You must take extra care to be observant when overtaking another vehicle. You must be able to clearly see the road ahead. Look out for:

  • Oncoming vehicles
  • Vehicles exiting junctions ahead
  • Narrowing of the road, reducing the space available to overtake
  • Changes which make it more difficult to see oncoming traffic such as bends or dips in the road
  • Road signs which state that you must not overtake

Before overtaking, ensure that:

  • overtaking is safe, legal and necessary
  • there is enough time to complete the overtaking manoeuvre.

Being seen by others

To stay safe, other road users must know that you are there.

  • In dark conditions, turn on your headlights – even if the streetlights are on
  • In situations where it is difficult for others to see you (e.g. a hump bridge), it may be appropriate to sound your horn

When driving behind a large vehicle, keep your distance and stay well back. This allows the driver to see your vehicle in their mirrors. Staying well back also gives you a better view of the road ahead, as the large vehicle would block less of your view. This is particularly important if you’re about to overtake this vehicle.

Anticipation

Anticipation – or thinking ahead – is a good habit to develop as it can help you to negotiate hazards and changing conditions (required for the hazard perception test). A ‘give way’ sign, for example, will warn that a junction is ahead. You can use this information to slow down in good time before you reach the junction.

With that in mind, you should pay special attention to road signs and road markings as they can give you valuable information about hazards ahead.

  • Do as they advise
  • Slow down if instructed to do so

If you’re turning right onto a dual carriageway, always check that there is space in the central reservation for your vehicle to stop in. This is particularly important if your vehicle is towing a trailer. This check is necessary because you may have to wait before joining the traffic. If the central reservation isn’t wide enough, only emerge when both the right and left are clear.

If the traffic lights you’re approaching have been green for a while, be ready to stop because they may soon change.

Your ability to anticipate things will be affected by road conditions. It becomes more difficult in:

  • Very wet or windy weather
  • Poor lighting
  • Heavy traffic volume
  • Driving a route that you haven’t driven before

You need to be especially alert to what’s happening around you, in any of the above conditions.

Anticipating the actions of other road users

Keep a close eye on other road users. Try to predict what they might do next, so that you’re prepared to reduce your speed or alter your direction.

Look out for:

  • Pedestrians approaching a crossing – especially those who may need more time to cross the road, such as the elderly, disabled or children
  • Cyclists – always pass slowly, leaving ample space for them. Take extra care with younger cyclists who may not be confident in dealing with traffic yet
  • Motorcyclists – these may be difficult for you to see
  • Horses – pass slowly and leave plenty of space as they may become frightened by your vehicle’s noise

Always be prepared to stop

Staying aware of your surroundings, staying alert and anticipating the actions of others will help you stay safe. But, in an emergency, you may still need to stop your vehicle quickly.

As you brake, keep both of your hands on the wheel to maintain control of your vehicle.

Keeping your focus

It takes lots of concentration to be a safe driver. You must:

  • Concentrate on controlling your vehicle
  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Anticipate what could happen next on the road ahead

To stay focused on all these different aspects of driving, you must try not to get distracted.

Part of this is achieved by good journey planning:

  • Be familiar with the route you’re taking, as well as alternative routes if needed
  • Plan to stop regularly so that you do not get too tired

Avoiding tiredness

As hinted at above, tiredness will make it harder for you to focus on your driving. Driving on the motorway in particular can make you feel very sleepy, even more so at night. To combat this:

  • Avoid continuous driving for more than two hours
  • Circulate fresh air throughout the car
  • If you begin to notice feelings of drowsiness, leave the motorway at the next exit. Find a safe and legal place to stop and have a rest.

Are you fit to drive?

Whether you’re ‘fit’ can mean:

  • Did you consume any alcohol before beginning your journey?
  • Are you under the influence of illegal drugs?
  • Do you feel groggy or ill?
  • Have you been taking prescription medicine which could affect your ability to control the vehicle?
  • Are you well-rested?

You should not begin a journey if you’re not feeling well because, compared to your normal state your:

  • Reaction times will probably be slower
  • Judgment of distances will likely be less accurate
  • Coordination will probably be worse

Driving in this state, aside from being dangerous to you and other road users, is illegal.

Deciding if you’re fit to drive

You, as the driver, are responsible for deciding whether you are fit to safely drive your vehicle. To be fit to drive, you must not be:

  • tired
  • unwell
  • emotional
  • under the influence of drugs or alcohol

If you have decided you are fit, you must then:

  • Manage any passengers travelling with you, so that they don’t prevent you from driving safely
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times – both close and far away
  • Maintain a speed at which you are always able to stop in the clear stretch of road in front of you

Tackling the theory test alertness questions

You’ll see that the theory test alertness questions cover:

  • anticipation of others’ actions
  • observation
  • signalling
  • reversing safely
  • using your mirrors
  • maintaining concentration
  • getting distracted
  • feeling drowsy
  • use of mobile phones