Driving 201 – Beyond Getting a Driver’s License

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February 22, 2022 by Scott Crosby - Views: 88

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Driving 201 – Beyond Getting a Driver’s License

“Yeah, I’m a good driver.  I’ve never gotten a ticket.  I even took driving lessons.”

Your driver’s license only shows that you have the minimum basic skills to be allowed to drive a car on the road.

Driving lessons – “Driving 101” – are important, but their primary goal is to help you pass the State’s Driver’s Test.  Most instructors keep driving lessons as inexpensive and brief as possible.  Few beginner drivers are able to spend the time and money for more than that.

But now that you have a little driving experience, let’s take your driving skills to the next level.

 Safety First

First and foremost, we all want to arrive safely at our destination. 

Safety is paramount.  In all the other things techniques for being a better driver, no exception is made about safety.  Safety is interwoven into every good technique.

But safety does not mean driving more slowly.  Going slowly disrupts other traffic.  Disruptions increase mistakes and so can cause accidents.  Going faster is not dangerous, within the limits of the road and traffic, of course.  Airplanes and spaceships go much, much faster.  Whether the situation calls for going faster or going slower, driving safely is crucial at any speed.

The first technique reflects that:  watch the traffic around you.  Figure out what each driver around you is doing, and anticipate what he will do next.  Everyone quickly takes notice of a driver who is weaving back and forth:  is he drunk?  Is he asleep at the wheel?  Are kids in the car distracting him?

Now expand that:  what is every driver doing?  Constantly use your judgement:  at first you will often make mistakes, but as you learn, your judgement will improve.  Some drivers are just staying behind the car in front of them, passive and barely alert.  Some drivers are switching lanes, in a hurry. 

When a gap forms, does the driver behind the gap rush to close it, or leave it open?  Are any drivers preparing to get off at the next exit?  Watch all the drivers around you:  front, back, right, and left.  Anticipate.  How each drives is important to you. 

Particularly on an interstate highway, but also elsewhere, you also need to know what the cars beyond your nearest neighbors are doing.  Anticipate how the actions of those more-distant drivers will affect you.  How will you have to react?

There are only a few different categories of drivers.  Being able to categorize each vehicle around you means you can better anticipate what each car around you will do.  Knowing that may save your life.

The second technique applies to Interstate highways:  cars tend to clump together.  When possible, stay away from those clumps.  Stay ahead of the clump behind you, and stay back from the clump ahead of you. 

Cars clump together around trucks and because half-alert drivers catch up with another car, and then make no effort to pass it.  Too, many people feel safer or more comfortable among other people.  They feel safer staying in a clump.

The opposite is true:  if you are near another car, you could be in an accident not only due to your own mistake, but also due to his mistake.  The more cars that are near you, the more people can make a mistake that will cause an accident that will affect you

It is not always possible to stay away from clumps of cars.  But if traffic is light enough, get away from a clump.  Being a loner is safer.

Clumps move at different speeds; they merge and separate over time.  Slowing down to get away rarely works; most people in a clump tend to be slower drivers.  But if you can thread your way to the front, pull away.  Once separated from the clump, slow a bit to keep isolated.  While between clumps, nobody else can compromise your safety.

You will see the third technique every time you see a police car pull away from a stoplight:  when pulling out, accelerate quickly.  Don’t race, but don’t dawdle, either.  Even if the speed limit is only 35 mph, accelerate quickly (but smoothly) up to your desired speed; then let your foot off the accelerator a bit, and let the car’s inertia do some of the work.  That saves gas, and it will usually put a little distance between you and the other cars.  Distancing from other cars is safer for you.

The fourth technique is simple:  stay out of other drivers’ blind spots.  If you are next to another car, the driver probably cannot see you.  Either pull ahead or fade back.  Make sure other drivers can see you.


Four-way stop signs:  Who has the right-of-way? 

Many people seem to think that only one car can be in the intersection at a time, but that is not so.  Up to four cars can be in the intersection at once, under the right conditions.  See the two diagrams for examples.




You will see many people who are clearly unfamiliar with the rules of right-of-way.  So while you may have the right-of-way, caution is crucial; be safe.  Anticipate the other drivers’ actions.

Assuming the other driver knows you have the right-of-way can be a big mistake.  Start rolling, but with caution, and be ready to stop.  If he toots his horn, he is shouting his ignorance for all to hear.

If there are no lines of cars, the first to arrive has the right-of-way.

If two cars arrive at the same time, the car to the right of the other has the right-of-way.  If the two cars arrive across from each other, both should go.  If one is turning left, the other car has the right-of-way.  The car turning left may pull into the intersection, but must wait for the oncoming car to proceed, then turn left after he passes. 

Generally, a car turning left never has the right-of-way.  If both cars are turning left, both may go.

With cars lined up at each stop-sign of a four-way stop, two opposite cars from one street go at the same time, then the two opposite cars from the other street, alternating.  Even if there is no line of cars on your side, when the car across from you goes, you go. 


Merging highway traffic:  When on an entrance ramp for a highway, accelerate to match speed with the traffic in the lane.  Locate your car at a gap between other vehicles.  The cars already in the lane have the right-of-way, not you.  Match speed with the traffic in the lane, and merge safely. 

Never stop on an entrance ramp!  Stopping makes it far more difficult for you to get onto the highway, and prevents other drivers on the ramp behind you from merging smoothly.  While on the entrance ramp, become aware of the cars around you – particularly in the lane you will be joining. Accelerate, find a gap, match speed, and merge. 

Left turn onto a multi-lane road:  You have right-of-way to the leftmost lane, not all lanes.  Expect a vehicle across from you that is turning right to proceed into the rightmost lane.  Neither of you gets the whole road.  Tooting your horn shouts your ignorance to everyone.  Other drivers, be cautious:  many drivers are ignorant.


Improving Personal Skills

Imagine you are driving one of those limousines with the little fold-out trays for the folks in the back seat.  On those trays, someone has set a glass of champagne.  Your goal is to drive so smoothly that the glass and its contents stay put.

Traffic around you may make it necessary to react suddenly; but never let that glass tip or slosh due to your driving.  That means not only do you have to drive smoothly, but you must also learn to anticipate the actions of other drivers.  For example, if you think the car in front of you is going to hit the brakes, begin slowing down early; open up a gap in front of you. 

When a traffic light turns green, accelerate smoothly. 

When you practice this technique, your driving may be a bit slower at first.  But as you improve, bring your driving speeds back up to normal.  Competence is achieved when nobody notices what you are doing – and yet that imaginary champagne glass is still sitting quietly in place while you drive.

Is that car moving?  It is sometimes difficult to tell if another car is moving or not.  Look at the wheels.  It is much easier to tell whether wheels are turning than whether a car is moving. 

Right foot or left foot?  Use your right foot to hit the brakes.  Take your right foot off the accelerator, and put it on the brake pedal.  Unless your car has a clutch, your left foot has nothing to do.

It is always amusing to see another driver’s brake lights go on while pulling away.  “There goes another driver using his left foot for the brakes.”  His right foot wants to go, but his left foot wants to stop.  The result:  using more gas while wearing out his brakes.  Is he so unsure in the rest of his life, as well?  If he is unsure, do I need to be unsure about his driving habits?

Braking for most people is unthinking:  “Going too fast; hit the brakes.”  Better braking techniques are strategies that you must practice until they become habits. 

To start:  do all your braking before you enter a curve.  Once in the curve, maintain your speed.  Once the curve is complete, accelerate back to normal speed. 

How fast is the right speed in the curve?  Your speed through the curve should be steady (unless the curve gets tighter).  Keep that champagne glass in mind.  Also,  Murphy’s Law says there will be an oil patch – and a small child will dart out onto the road.  Can you stop in time?

Making this new braking technique a habit can take six months to a year.  Keep at it until you can no longer recall what it is you used to do.  At that point, contact the author to learn the next braking technique.

Hitting the brakes:  do you come tearing up behind another car, and then have to hit the brakes to slow down?  Always be aware of your relative speed compared to other cars.  As you approach a car ahead of you, ease up on the gas; let your speed slow to match his, without hitting the brakes.  It saves gas and brake wear, which is a plus, but more importantly:  any time you have to hit the brakes due to your own driving (vs. external factors), consider it an indication of a fault in your skills that needs correction. 

Are you one of those who gets right behind another driver, and has to keep hitting his brakes?  Back off a bit.  You will get there just as quickly, but you will not need to use your brakes.  Let the buffer work for you.  Or, as the saying goes, do you enjoy “staring at the south end of a north-bound mule”?

Approaching a stop sign behind another car:  start slowing down early.  Your goal is to arrive behind the car in front of you just as he pulls out, so that you can roll up to the stop sign and only have to stop once; i.e., at the stop sign itself.  If you have to stop and wait behind him, then you were too close.  Begin slowing sooner.  Stopping only once not only saves gas and brake wear, but is smoother and is actually faster for you. 

Snow and Ice:  Snow in South Carolina is wet and icy, and so has less traction than snow further north.  Sliding uncontrollably is a constant danger.  Four-wheel drive?  Who cares?  We all have four-wheel brakes, but they do not stop a slide.  

Staying off the roads is best.  But if you must be on snowy, icy roads, your driving habits must adapt.  Slow down, and keep back from the car in front of you.  Be able to stop in the distance separating you. 

Slow down further with oncoming traffic – if they start to slide, you may be able to avoid an accident.

Go easy on the accelerator and brakes.  Spinning or skidding tires are dangerous.  Sudden changes can cause you to slide out of control.  If your tires spin, reduce the gas.  If your tires skid, get off the brakes.  Try to regain traction.

In snow, keep moving.  Red traffic light ahead?  Slow way down, to a crawl if need be.  Avoid having to stop for the light.  Arrive at the intersection just after the light turns green, and if no cross-traffic is about to slide across, keep going.

When going up a hill, keep moving; do not stop.  Getting started again may be impossible. 

When about to go down a hill, slow down – a lot.  Stopping is likely to be impossible, and may turn into an uncontrollable slide.  See those ditches next to the road?  Want to be in one?

Setting a higher personal standard


Raise the bar for yourself.  “Adequate” driving skills are never good enough.  As the skills described here become habits, you will find that your driving becomes not only safer but also more enjoyable – for you and for your passengers.    Make these better driving techniques your new standard – so you can begin working on setting the bar still higher.



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