9 Tips to Become a Better Driver
What makes a good driver? I don’t know whether I know. I’ve driven a few 100,000 kilometers, have deepened (racing) and extended (motorcycles, dirt bikes, ATVs) my skills, I fit stereotypes (German who loves BMWs)—and I’ve also screwed up (one full and two quarter accidents) and do cuss a lot. What I do know is that I’m a driver who cares.
As such I still do have a few ideas on what makes people better drivers, complementing earlier thoughts. During my ongoing travels I’m not driving very often, so I don’t want to see all the passion fade.
Figure: The author as seen from a not-yet-carsick passenger.
- Know Your Car
- Configure and Watch The Mirrors
- Use Turn Signals (When They Matter)
- Look Ahead
- Keep a Safety Margin
- Take Responsibility for Others
- Stay Calm
- Read the (Parking) Signs
1. Know Your Car
For a start, I’m very serious about all the points here. I’m laying them out because not every driver seems to be aware. Here: Get to know your car. Read the manual. Take the car out and do braking maneuvers (where allowed and safe). Take the car out and see how it reacts in rain or in snow. Few people know how their cars react in adverse conditions. That’s where we need to know them the most though, and where we learn the most.
2. Configure and Watch The Mirrors
A few months back I shared on Google+ how mirrors should be set up. It appeared to me that the few responses were coming from “oh, well I know how to set up mirrors on a car.” Maybe. That just stands in contrast to what we observe out there, where we rarely if ever see mirrors adjusted correctly. From Skip Barber:
Make sure the side view mirrors perform their intended function. They’re meant to view beside the car, not the side of the car. What do you really need to see; your rear bumper or the car in the next lane?
Adjust the side mirrors out just so you can no longer see the side of your own car. This should help reduce traditional blind spots.
I learned this the “hard” way, maybe ten years ago, when a good friend of mine teased me, to tears, because of my mirror setup. I now promise to give anyone here the same sort of tough love when I find them watching their own car in the mirrors.
Once set up right, mirrors become even more useful.
3. Use Turn Signals (When They Matter)
This just for the folk who simply never use their turn signals: Sometimes they’re actually important, so please learn to tell when that’s the case. They don’t matter as much when nobody’s around, or doing the same thing. But if there’s somebody around and not doing the same thing, use turn signals. It can actually be dangerous not to use them.
4. Look Ahead
Simply watching the car in front is not safe, and gets unsafer and unsafer the shorter the following distance is. Try to look ahead and see what’s coming up 200, 500, or 1,000 meters ahead. One does still, immediately notice if the person in front is doing something unexpected, like braking unnecessarily because they don’t keep a sufficient distance.
The habit of looking ahead led me to dislike trucks and SUVs in front because they block too much of the view. I either increase my following distance—or try to pass. The first option is the better one. The second option is the one that people sometimes confuse for… aggression. Well.
5. Keep a Safety Margin
I featured this in the aforementioned earlier post on driving but it’s worth repeating: Maintain a safe, comfy distance to the car in front.
The law and the experts are on the very defensive side (if in doubt, err on the side of following them). What I’ve always found interesting, to say it this way, is how law and experts ignore factors like probability (do they?). There’s a difference between maintaining a distance x when there’s lots of traffic and one can’t look ahead, for example, and when there’s little traffic and clear view on the road ahead.
6. Take Responsibility for Others
I think this is one of the most important qualities to have as a driver: Show responsibility for other traffic participants. I’ve seen what appear to be the most rowdy drivers zoom through traffic and they were safer to have around then the grocery shopper. Why? Because the zoomer was paying attention and anticipating everybody else’s move, while the shopper didn’t even know the color of his own vehicle.
It’s also something that I observed as a main difference between cultures: People exhibit very different levels of responsibility. One might enter Italy or Poland and think, “oh shucks, this traffic is crazy,” while all what happened really was that the chaos dial got increased—but also the responsibility dial. I found that the more rules people follow, the less responsibility they take. (Which may hold true in other areas as well.)
7. Stay Calm
Don’t get carried away. If the person behind you honks, maybe they don’t mean you but the guy both of you are waiting for, the one who’s just for the love of it not ready enough to use the green phase. Or it is indeed about you. It happens. But in any case, let’s wait with gestures until we’re sure what was going on. (This is also a little note to self.)
8. Read the (Parking) Signs
Just an observation when looking for parking: Read the signs. I can’t count the number of times when, at busy times and in crowded neighborhoods, there were perfectly valid and legit parking spaces because people didn’t read the signs, and didn’t realize that that temporary “no parking” thing was only going to be in effect starting the next day. Or was until 4 pm. Or just got forgotten.
Anyone driving a car, drive. Independent of the carefully crafted suggestions in this post, ultimately it’s about using the car for what it’s there for: to drive. We should enjoy it. It’s fun. Let’s try to regard a car as more than just something to get from A to B. Maybe we can focus more on how we can use it to get from A to B. Let’s get better at it. Let’s become safer. Let’s become more responsible. Let’s become more efficient. Let’s become better drivers.
In memoriam Bill Strathearn †. Not for what I wrote here but for lots of conversations about cars and driving. Thank you.
I’m Jens, and I’m an engineering lead and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.
If you have a question or suggestion about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message. Thank you!
On September 10, 2013, 8:57 CEST, Der Aysbert said:
Thank you for number 3 (use turn signal). For me this is the most important as it is the only means of “communication” between drivers. No matter if (you believe) “someone is around”: Please get used to always use you turn signals! Without too much thinking.
10. Don’t make passenger sick 😉
(I’m very sensitive to motion-sickness and it’s not really fun to live)
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