Driving Tips for the Newly-Wheeled


Draft of Nov. 28, 2012


by Randall A. Wells, Ph.D.

PO Box 175

Floyd, VA 24091




Disclaimer: I am not a professional driving teacher and I do not charge for this advice. I encourage all new drivers to take Driver Education (and take it seriously) and to get much practice driving with an adult in the vehicle, most feasibly a parent. Muster up enough empathy to respect how they feel about their “kid” driving. Respect your own conscientiousness rather than your ego.


I have been driving for 55 years, have been rear-ended (no injuries), have partly caused a rear-end crash (no injuries), and have just missed avoiding a serious rear-ender and thus also being hit when the car behind me had to swerve left across the median and into the opposite two lanes, where by the greatest of luck, no car was approaching. (Myrtle Beach, SC, Highway 501.)


This little treatise will help you countless times.


First a few principles:


Nothing is more important than safety. One second can mean one less life. Driving a car is the most important thing you will do during the day.

Better to be careless about your appearance than about your rolling tonnage.


Be proud of your effort and humble about your success.


The best accident is the one you don’t even come close to experiencing.


An accident doesn’t happen on purpose, but the milk doesn’t spill itself.


Regard driving as a conscious process. Monitor your actions. Have a strategy. Maintain a margin of safety. You will be challenged not only by routine situations but mistakes that others make–and that you make. Like the member of a sports team, stay on your toes and be aware of the situation as well as the other players, some of whom will resemble opponents.


Keep in mind that the quality of anyone’s driving reflects numerous influences that overlap with each other. Age, experience, native ability, temperament, physical condition, emotional condition, attitude toward driving, intelligence, culture and ethnic group, gender, and what did I leave out? Each vehicle including your own will have a collection of these attributes behind the wheel.


A question: is it worse to harm yourself or someone else?

Another: can you drive with a touch of class?




Please understand that this advice is not exhaustive and will miss some important things. You should be able to add your own to the list:




Keep tabs on your vehicle’s safety. Make a circuit around it every so often to check the headlights dim and bright. With another person also check the taillights and brake lights. On such a tour, check your tires–tread & inflation. Learn what to look for & how to measure these indications. Keep your vehicle regularly maintained to reduce the risk of a stall, etc., in the middle of nowhere.


Familiarize yourself with everything you need to do with the car–e.g., open the hood. This includes the mechanisms in the cab, including the dashboard, so you can manipulate buttons, etc., without looking away from the road for too long. Know how to work your defroster without thinking! Also how to turn on your emergency signals. Check your dome light. If you are going to a strange place, have a map and study it, or a GPS that you attend after also studying the route. Should you drive when tired? Many people have never lived to regret that decision. Are you in a hurry? There goes some of your safety margin, so the best driving starts on time or early. Do you have friends in the car? It’s been said that a carload of teens is a party, so drive safely so you can party officially through the decades. Don’t drive after midnight, especially on weekends.


Look at your gas-tank level. Check the mirrors. Make sure the windows are clean, esp. the right rear windscreen. Make sure your headlights and taillights are clean. Make sure the inside of your windshield is clean. Clean your wipers.




In the glove compartment: registration and insurance in a distinct envelope on top.

Elsewhere: glass cleaner, paper towels, blanket, water, food. (Don’t laugh, just throw the stuff in there and presume you’ll never use it, but for example if you get caught in a traffic jam on the interstate, you will bless my name.)


You might carry toiletries and a change of clothes (stuck away somewhere) in case you spend the night to avoid driving while intoxicated.

Your own self decades from now might thank you. (Don’t drive with someone who is intoxicated.)


Carry a loaded pistol. What? Are you nuts, Randall? But I’m talking metaphorically about a cell phone. If it’s up against your ear while you drive–well, what is more dangerous, a gun or a phone that distracts you while you operate a speeding mass of steel? I carry a cell phone but stop in a safe place to use it, and the two or three times I’ve answered it, I regretted my decision. Friends don’t let friends try to drive while holding and talking into a cell phone. As for texting–are you familiar with the Darwin Awards? Also see “intelligence” above.


Backing up:


if any children live in the area, walk around the car first. (My neighbor spotted my baby brother sleeping under her wheel.)

Back up slowly, and in fact try to never dart when driving (yet be able to do so). Look 360 degrees as you back, esp. in a parking lot, where people tend to drive in their own world. Allow for their mistakes in not looking while they back up, in whipping around, etc. Watch for pedestrians and children. Tip-within-a-tip: put your blinker on when you back up to give an extra signal of motion. (Just stick your index finger out as you turn the wheel.) This practice is an example of intentional redundancy–a principle of safety that should guide you in many ways. Also be ready to honk. A fender-bender also crumples your calendar because even if the fault isn’t yours, you have to get a couple of estimates, take the car, pick it up, deal with the other insurer…. Just before you stop while in reverse, turn the wheels in the direction you will then be going forward. Easier on the steering. Some drivers can’t even back back up without a cell phone in their hand or between their neck and shoulder. How convenient!

Why not a cigarette, too!






Drive with your headlights to help your own visibility. (An example of redundancy.) At least be sure to turn them on whenever they will help other drivers see you before dusk, during rain, etc. They are valuable in helping you BE seen just as they are helping you SEE. Many drivers wait to turn on their lights until they have trouble seeing. Not smart. Meanwhile they speed along dangerously half-hidden. Be on the lookout for them!




Some of our fellow humans are unwilling or unable to adjust to challenging weather. Don’t be one of them. Rain means Slow Down, put your lights on. Fog (I once read) is the greatest weather hazard. There is no easy way to deal with it. I would only suggest that losing hours can can be the same as gaining decades.





Stop behind the stop sign. (Driver’s Ed.) This practice is a courtesy for oncoming drivers, who see that you will stop. Also for a driver who pulls up beside you and wants to look in your direction. Also a safety technique for you because you have extra time and space to survey the oncoming traffic.


Try to avoid stopping quickly so that (for one reason) the driver behind you has extra time to brake. This is a greater consideration–an example of redundancy–now that there are many distracted drivers. In fact, try to avoid going from accelerator to brake, but instead coast. Safer, easier on yourself, easier on gas. Of course do this only to the extent that it doesn’t upset the person behind you, who wants to get somewhere. Accelerate, coast, brake. In fact sometimes you can avoid even having to brake.


Always be conscious of the process of driving rather than pretty much just reacting to things. Think again of the member of an athletic team or of a musician. Look ahead. Sometimes you can see a taillight go red in the car in front of the one in front of you and begin stopping before your neighbor. Beware of Expecting but instead consider Probabilities–i..e., don’t assume anything. For example if you see a turn signal, (1) it may be sunlight reflected by the glass, (2) it may be still blinking after leaving Indiana, (3) it may refer not to the next turnoff but one after it. (Don’t use your blinker until just before you turn, at which time you have slowly slowed.) Be aware of your speed (and the limit), of stop signs, of potential complications (countless).


Starting again:


Look twice each way. A quick second look will probably help you someday. I wouldn’t hang anything from my rear-view mirror, but that may be a question of taste rather than safety. What do you think?




Whoever rides someone’s tail shows his butt.