Learning how to handle a vehicle in various conditions and situations is key to being a safe driver. Different weather, times of day, road surfaces and traffic calming measures can all have an impact on the vehicle’s handling and how you need to react.  In this section, you’ll learn how to maintain safe driving standards by learning:

  • How to keep control of your vehicle
  • About different weather conditions and how they affect your driving
  • How to drive at night safely
  • About road surfaces and traffic-calming measures

Controlling your vehicle

Learning how to have full control of your vehicle at all times is a fundamental part of learning to drive safely. Your control of the car is reduced by keeping the clutch down or in neutral for any length of time (otherwise known as ‘coasting’). This is dangerous when steering and braking, particularly if you’re travelling downhill, as your vehicle will speed up when there’s no engine braking.

Your vehicle’s engine is a perfect tool to help you control your speed: For example, if you select a lower gear when you’re driving down a steep hill, the engine will act as a brake. Doing this helps avoid your brakes overheating which can lead to them becoming less effective.

It’s important to note that, when you’re driving up a steep hill, the engine has to work harder. You should change down to a lower gear as this will help prevent the engine from struggling as it delivers the power needed to climb the hill. If you take your foot off the accelerator to reduce speed, you’ll slow down sooner than usual. You must be aware of this and use sufficient power to ensure you don’t roll down the hill.

On single-track roads, be aware of the limited space available. If you see a vehicle coming towards you, pull into (or opposite) a passing place.

Always match your driving to the road and weather conditions. Your stopping distance will be affected by several factors, including:

  • Your speed
  • The condition of your tyres
  • The road surface
  • The weather.

Weather conditions

Weather conditions are something that every driver has to learn to deal with. How your vehicle handles will be affected by conditions and, therefore, they will make a big difference to how you drive. You should always ensure that you leave yourself extra time for your journey in bad weather so you have plenty of flexibility should weather lead to delays.

Wet and rainy conditions

Learning to drive in wet weather conditions is a must! Wet roads affect your stopping distances as it takes longer for you to stop when it’s raining or when the road is wet. Therefore, you must leave at least double the normal stopping distance between you and the vehicle in front. This will give you time to counteract the road’s slipperiness and prevent the likelihood of rear-end shunts. As always when travelling on the road, it’s important to remember that if you’re following a vehicle at a safe distance, and another vehicle pulls into the gap you’ve left, you should drop back until you’re maintaining the correct stopping distances.

If rainfall has been particularly heavy, there may be deep puddles on the road and you should avoid these to prevent splashing pedestrians. Fords are something else that you need to be careful of as they’re likely to flood and become difficult to cross after heavy rain. You should carefully consider if crossing one is sensible and there may be a depth gauge to help you judge. If you do decide to cross it, you should do so slowly, in a lower gear and ensure that your brakes are working afterwards, testing them by lightly pressing your foot down on the brake pedal.

Foggy conditions

When’s it’s rainy, foggy or misty, visibility is likely to be poor. You should use dipped headlights to ensure that other road users see you, even during the day. Deciding when it’s appropriate to have your lights on is a judgment call for you to make unless you can’t see for more than about 100 metres (328 feet) in front of you. In the latter case, it is mandatory for you to use your dipped beam headlights.

You should also seriously consider using your fog lights, if you have them. Remember to switch these off when conditions improve, to prevent dazzling other road users. Leaving them on also runs the risk of other road users behind you being unable able to see your brake lights clearly, or mistaking your fog lights for brake lights. In the event of this happening, they may not react in time to stop safely or slow unnecessarily, both of which are potentially dangerous.

If you’re travelling on the motorway in foggy weather, you should use the reflective studs to help you to see the road ahead. Remember that red studs mark the left-hand edge of the carriageway and amber studs mark the central reservation.

If you have to park on the road in foggy conditions, you should leave the parking lights on to ensure your parked vehicle is seen by other road users.

Always keep your speed down in foggy weather and increase your distance from the vehicle in front, in case it stops or slows suddenly. This will ensure that you have more time to react to any potential hazards.

Extreme weather

You shouldn’t travel in extreme weather, such as heavy snow or thick fog, unless your journey is absolutely essential. If you have no choice but to travel, you should allow plenty of time and be extra cautious.

Planning before you start your journey is essential to ensuring you arrive at your destination safely. You should make sure before you embark on your travels, that:

  • Your lights are in full working order
  • Your windows are clean and your visibility is not obstructed in any way

If you are travelling in deep snow, you should fit chains to your wheels to help prevent skidding by improving your grip on the road.

In icy conditions, your stopping distance can be 10 times what it would be in dry conditions as, similar to wet conditions, the road will be slippery and your grip reduced. Keeping a safe distance helps prevent crashes and keep the roads safe.

Be aware of black ice; if your tyres are making hardly any noise and the road looks wet, you could be encountering it.  You should keep your speed down and use the highest gear possible to reduce the risk of skidding and crashes.

It is imperative that you try to avoid skidding in wet or icy conditions. Even if a skid is minor, it can be hard to get your car back under control once you’ve started skidding. If you don’t have anti-lock brakes and your vehicle begins to skid when you’re braking on a wet road, you should:

  • Release the footbrake
  • Steer into the skid by turning the steering wheel in the same direction, in the case of your rear wheels beginning to skid.

Windy Conditions

Windy weather may feel like it’s affecting you less if you’re travelling in a car. But, while some vehicles (such as high-sided vehicles, cyclists, motorcyclists and cars towing caravans) are more susceptible to sudden gusts blowing them off course, all vehicles have the potential to be affected. You should be extra vigilant about vehicles that are vulnerable in the wind particularly if they are:

  • On a dual carriageway or motorway and passing a large vehicle
  • Driving on exposed stretches of road
  • Passing gaps between buildings or hedges.

Night Driving

If you are driving at night, you need to be extra vigilant about ensuring that you can see and be seen. Your lights will be essential to this, but you must be aware of how how lights might affect other road users. Do this by:

  • Make sure that your headlights don’t dazzle the vehicle you’re following or any oncoming traffic.
  • Slowing down or stopping if you’re dazzled by another driver’s lights.

Dip your headlights if you meet other road users at night so that you don’t dazzle them. This includes cyclists and pedestrians.

When using a motorway at night you should be aware of how your visibility may be affected.  If you are overtaking, you won’t be able to see as far ahead as usual and there may be bends in the road or other unseen hazards that you will be unaware of. Therefore, you should:

  • Always use dipped headlights, even if the road is well lit
  • Use your sidelights to help other road users see you if you’ve broken down and are parked on the hard shoulder.
  • Keep control of your vehicle

Road surfaces and traffic calming

Traffic calming tends to be found in residential areas and is used to make the roads safer for vulnerable users by reducing speed.  One of the most common measures is road humps (sometimes called speed humps) but chicanes, speed tables and road narrowing are also used.

You will be warned of traffic calming measures by road signs, but other systems such as rumble devices (raised markings across the road) may be used to warn you of a hazard ahead, such as a roundabout, which requires you to reduce your speed.

In cities where trams operate, you will be alerted by signs but may also find that the areas used by the trams have a different surface texture or colour, which may be edged with white line-markings.

Regardless of the measure in place, you should ensure that you stay within the speed limit and avoid overtaking other moving vehicles when in traffic-calmed areas.