PARENTS / LEARNERS 

Road Safety PLUS - by  Dieter R. Fischer 

Frequently asked questions

How many lessons does it take to learn to drive?

My learner driver can't steer in a straight line! What's wrong?

Is it necessary to apply the handbrake every time you stop?

My instructor wants me to change gears when turning. My dad says, don't do it. Who is right?  

When turning a corner, why can't I change from fourth gear to third and then second? 

Why can’t I use the left foot for braking in an automatic car?

Are the examiners strict on driving tests?

Why can't I brake as I go around the corner? 

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How many lessons does it take to learn to drive?

In an automatic vehicle the average training period for a 17-18 year old is approx. 12 hours from scratch. For a vehicle with manual transmission add another 6-8 hours, depending the learner’s ability. 

Factors to consider are: How coordinated is the person? Is he/she a quick thinker/learner? How much will the learner be able to practice between lessons with family or friends? Older people, of course, take much longer and city traffic takes extra hours to master.

After the first lesson a professional instructor should be able to give a reasonable estimate. It is worth mentioning, that saving on driving lessons is not good economy. One crash through inexperience may cause thousands of dollars worth of damage and/ or injury.    

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My learner driver can't steer in a straight line! What's wrong?

The basic motto for steering - The car will go where the eyes take it!

Steering the vehicle ought to be done with 'peripheral vision', meaning to not look directly at an obstacle! Learners who look at the kerbside, while trying to drive in a straight line must be encouraged to aim their eyes higher, further ahead and move them every second or so. 

Especially when turning corners, if a learner looks at a tree or post they get terribly confused, because they are not aiming, where the car is supposed to go. For a parent to say, watch that tree, is the worst thing to say half-way around a corner. Likewise, don't say, watch that parked car. Rather - take note of the parked car, but look beyond it as you overtake; leave space; you will still see it as you drive past. 

To read road signs or other specific information the learner must learn to move the eyes constantly and use "focal" vision. For a split second the eyes pick up information to form the 'big picture'. Following a crash very often the first statement is: "I didn't see it?" 

Good observation is an absolute must for safe driving. That's why we don't teach blind drivers. (I swear some blind ones slip in and try to have a go). 

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Is it necessary to apply the handbrake every time you stop?

In a manual vehicle - yes. Use the hand brake even on a level ground take-off. It frees up the right foot to get ready on the accelerator. Stopping with the clutch down and no handbrake, a car may move by a gust of wind, without the driver realizing.

In manual and automatic vehicles, during a prolonged stop (at traffic lights, especially when pedestrians are crossing right in front of you), it is also advisable to apply the handbrake and shift the gear lever into N (neutral). Do the same anytime whilst temporarily parked, (to check the roadmap, searching for an object in the glove box or while talking to someone in the driveway etc). The car is safe while attending other matters.

Starting on a hill, even an automatic car can roll back, if the gradient is steep enough. Apply the handbrake firmly. Before take-off, give a little acceleration just before releasing the handbrake.

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My instructor wants me to change gears on turning. My dad says don't do it. Who is right?

Normally, don't gear-change around a corner, because your hands are needed for steering. But there is one exception: On a right-hand turn, after turning the wheel to the right, there is a second or two, where it does not have to be straightened yet. Use this short time span to change from first to second gear.

At traffic lights, especially, it is important to move off briskly after the lights turn green. Impatient drivers behind often come uncomfortably close. Changing at the earliest opportunity to second (even while still turning) and then accelerating further, will avoid this.

Beginner drivers should have considerable practice first, before attempting to change from one to two when turning right. For a left turn it is best to straighten the wheel and then change to second gear, unless it is a wide turn.

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When turning a corner, why can't I change down from fourth gear to third, and then to second?

Changing down through each gear to slow the vehicle was essential when cars were heavy and brakes inefficient. The engine played a big part in slowing down. Trucks descending steep hills still need to use lower gear for safety. Later model cars are light., brakes much more effective. Using gears to slow causes excessive wear of the gearbox and clutch and increases fuel consumption. Today's instructors teach:

  • Mirror & indicator
  • Brake to the correct speed
  • Change to the gear required for negotiating the hazard
Exception to this rule: Descending long steep hills. Constant heavy braking may result in overheating of the brakes.

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Why can’t I use the left foot for braking in an automatic car?

Here are four reasons why instructors teach to only use one foot in an automatic.

  1. Under heavy braking the left foot must push against the floor to brace your body. You will have total control of brake, accelerator and steering during an emergency.

  2. It is less confusing to switch from an automatic to a manual vehicle.

  3. The left foot, resting on the the brake pedal, may inadvertently push down the brake pedal and light up the brake lights whilst accelerating.

  4. There is less chance of a mixup between accelerator and brake. After a lifetime of using two feet, older drivers may get confused, pressing the wrong pedal. The ones that had used the right foot only all their lives are less likely to have trouble later on.

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Are the examiners strict on driving tests?

The answer is yes*. There are guidelines that license examiners must apply to driving tests. No one expects the new driver to be perfect. A certain percentage of mistakes are allowed. An examiner treats everyone the same. (Ladies, please note, that wearing a mini-skirt will not make any difference!)

An applicant’s driving may be quite safe, yet the standards laid down must still be adhered to. Remember that examiners don’t make the rules, they only follow them through.

Above question is often asked by drivers who think they are ready for the driving test, because they perform very well with a family member. A lesson with a professional driving instructor, will rectify any flaws in a Learner’s driving. It is not wise to book a driving exam without first having undertaken some professional tuition. (See also: How to pass the driving test!)

*Please note: The system in South Australia, where the instructor that has taught the student issues the license, makes it very hard for the instructor to be impartial. Often, through pressures from parents, students or circumstances many are forced to lower standards or concentrate on unimportant rules and regulations. 

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Why can't I brake as I go around the corner?

One of the rules of braking is to brake in a straight line while the vehicle is well balanced. Braking sharply in a corner can induce a skid and has caused many drivers to lose control. But do not apply this rule dogmatically. If a driver has misjudged a bend and entered it at an unsafe speed, increased braking may be the only way to stop running off the road. The best way for cornering is to:

  • Read (look through to the exit) the corner,
  • brake to the correct speed before the corner,
  • gently accelerate out of the corner (in the wet wait until after the bend).

 

Your safety is

DRIVING PLUS

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Disclaimer: Above information is for Australian learner drivers. Regulations could vary in your part of the world. We take no responsibility for any accidents, failed driving tests, even if the advise in this book has been followed. We recommend to use above information in conjunction with a professional driving instructor. 

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