Tuesday, June 23, 2020

learning to drive: beyond handling the car

having gotten my theory in place, and myself behind the wheel once, it was time to actually learn how to drive.

driving is not about making the car do what you want it to do, driving is about knowing what you want the car to do.
 - kris, just now

so far i had learned how to start off, stop, and follow the road (i.e. steer). beyond this, the only bit left when it comes to handling the car is to change gears. the rest of my driving lessons were basically about what to do, and when. that's the fun bit!

at this point, the skills to learn aren't that many, and the practice required is far more. which means although i am over 50 hours from getting my driving license in this story, the stuff i had to learn isn't really that much!

I had already learned to follow the road. As long as there are no lines/paths I have to cross, that's the simple bit. Just follow the road!

actually, it's not that simple. a bit of safety and anticipation first:

while driving, you keep glancing in the rearview (no need to look at the side mirrors when driving in a straight line, following the road), and make sure the vehicle behind isn't too close. if it is, lightly tap the brakes so your brake lights flash without slowing the car down. that should remind the driver behind to keep space. stay at least a car length behind the vehicle in front when moving dead slow, half a car length behind when stopping for any reason (easy guesstimate is, you should see the tyres of the vehicle ahead, and a bit of road). when moving at normal speeds on dry roads, the distance to be maintained is two seconds: look at a fixed object by the side of the road, and when the vehicle ahead passes it, start saying to yourself "only a fool breaks the two second rule" at a normal speaking pace. if you pass the object before you finish saying it, you're too close. slow down, making sure the vehicle behind you is far enough as well - if not, tap your brakes until they give room. brake lightly when letting go of the accelerator so that the vehicle behind has a visible cue that you're slowing down.

if a pedestrian has their feet on the road or even one foot off the kerb, or is standing at the kerb at a zebra crossing, you have to stop for them. if someone looks like they might cross, be prepared for them to step on the road without warning. when approaching a traffic light that's green, prepare for it to turn amber/red. preparation involves checking your rearview for vehicles too close, and signalling to them with your brake lights if they are.

if you do have to stop for pedestrians/traffic lights, you first let up on the accelerator and press the brake. when the engine gets near stalling, clutch in all the way and shift down, releasing the clutch immediately. at higher speeds you may need to shift down to 2nd/3rd, let go of the clutch while braking, and eventually clutch again before coming to a complete stop. when stopped, the brake should be held down all the way. the moment you stop, shift to neutral and start counting to 3. if stopped for more than 3 seconds, engage the parking brake, and let go of the foot brake - this is to avoid dazzling drivers behind you. if the vehicle behind is still at a distance and approaching, it may be fine to lightly tap the foot brake to alert them that you've stopped.

one the light has changed or the pedestrian has crossed (and if there is more than one lane, the pedestrian needs to cross all the way across - if there is an island in the centre, you can start when the pedestrian reaches the island safely), it's time to get going again: shift back to 1st gear, find the biting point, and check all around the way you would when moving off from parked (except for the signalling bit), starting from over your left shoulder, and ending with over your right shoulder - your eyes should be back on the road ahead before you start moving. brake off, and get rolling! don't spend too long on the clutch - in most cases a second or at most two.

The next bit is about T junctions: turning left or turning right.

in most T junctions (when approaching from the leg of the T) the leg of the T will have either: a solid line, a double dashed line, a single dashed line (all painted on the road), and optionally a stop sign (a red octagon) or a give way sign (in an inverted triangle) by the left of the junction.

a solid line or a stop sign (or both) mean you HAVE to stop before entering the junction - doesn't matter if it seems clear on approach. you stop before the solid line, taking the usual precautions - rearview etc.

a double or single dashed line means you have to give way to traffic going along the road you want to turn into. Same for the give way sign. double dashed lines mean visibility is reduced at the junction and you need to be extra cautious. either way, you have to slow down, till not more than 2nd gear, and prepare to stop (again, usual stopping precautions).

Turning left at a T junction

About 6 car lengths ahead of the junction, you start your observations: rearview (for vehicles too close), left mirror (for cyclists/motorcyclists following closely). if all looks safe, signal left, and then look over your left shoulder (all the way behind - chin over shoulder), left mirror, road ahead, road to your left, road to your right. when looking over your shoulder and in the left mirror, look out for motorcycles and cyclists. give them room, slow down, and let them pass/stop. by the time you're at the junction, the car should be at the left side of the lane (so somewhere between the parking position and the driving position), so start moving left if clear before stopping at the junction. it's fine to stop at a junction that does not say stop/have a solid line if unsure.

next, you have to make sure it's clear before you move. first, check the road you intend to turn into (ie the left of the T) - if there's no room for the car to fit there entirely, do not enter the junction - wait at the line. then, check the road from which vehicles are approaching the road you intend to turn into (ie to your right). you can only turn in if it's clear - the vehicle approaching should not have to slow down or anyhow change its path because you are turning. if in doubt, wait - however, waiting when it's clear or the vehicle is too far will get you a minor fault in your test, and two minors get you a major (which is a fail) - so it's fine when learning, but you need to get good enough at estimating distances and speeds before you give your test. the simple rule is:

"if you can walk across, you can drive across"

obviously this depends on you at least being able to judge how fast you can walk across a road, but hopefully you have more experience of walking across :D

there are a lot of other things you need to watch out for when turning into a road:

pedestrians - any pedestrian with a foot off the kerb gets right of way. once you stop, you can expect waiting pedestrians to begin to cross. even if they don't, they might cross at any time. if they start to cross, stop immediately. pedestrians could be crossing either the leg of the T or the arm of the T you're turning into - or anywhere, really. pedestrians on the road have right of way.

parked cars/other obstacles on your side of the road: they obscure your view. if from your current position, if things look clear, you need to perform the "moving off" sequence (biting point, left shoulder, all 3 mirrors, right shoulder), move a bit, look again. as soon as you see any reason to stop, stop immediately. this is called "peep and creep". if there are a lot of vehicles passing by, you might have to repeat this multiple times (stop, biting point, check all around, start each time) until you have a clear view.

parked cars/other obstacles on the opposite side of the road: they force oncoming vehicles to cross over on to your side of the road (if it's a 2 lane or narrow residential road). similarly, parked cars on the right side of your road would block cars turning into it - if a car has already started to turn, you shouldn't move until they stop, leaving enough room for your car.

basically if anything is in your path, stop. if anything is going to move into your path, stop. if you can't see if anything is in your path or going to move into your path, peep and creep. your actions should not cause anyone to slow down or do anything to avoid you.

Turning right at a T junction

Turning right is same as turning left, except that you signal a little earlier (10 car lengths in stead of 6), mirror your checks (ie obviously check right when you would be checking left for a left turn), and you have to make sure you are clear on both sides - no vehicles approaching from the right (ie the path you intend to cross) or the left (ie the path you intend to join). Again, peep and creep/stop as soon as you see something in your path. Can be quite time consuming, but that's how you do it. Also, you should be positioned toward the right of the lane (but not touching/crossing the lane marker) before entering the junction.

More turning stuff

If there is more than one lane in the junction, you need to stick to your lane. More on lanes later, but basically when turning from a single lane road onto a wider one, you're turning into the leftmost lane, unless prohibited (leftmost is a bus lane, etc).

Sometimes, when turning, if you have "peeped and creeped" far enough, oncoming vehicles may slow down or stop to let you go. this still means you have to check both sides and for pedestrians, and that your exit from the junction is clear. Some drivers may flash their lights at you as a signal to go ahead. this is not an official signal, and hence is a hint, but cannot be used in itself as an indication that it's safe to proceed.

Approaching vehicles may have their turn indicators on, and that may indicate it is safe for you to turn (eg a car approaching from the right or left and signalling left). However, you are not allowed to act upon those signals unless you have seen those signals off before they were turned on - this is to eliminate the possibility that they have forgotten the signal on. Also, you should be able to notice them slowing down as they approach the junction. If they don't seem to be slowing down, ignore the signal and wait for them to pass.

phew! that was again a lot to cover in two hours - but at the end of it, I had a bonus: my instructor asked me drive home! he's obviously a very skilled instructor, as he literally had a hand on the steering, feet on his pedals, and eyes on his mirrors all the way! He was probably doing more of the driving than I did, but I felt amazing to be able to drive home on open roads. 4 hours down, I was grinning to myself as I parked and got off!

Speaking of parking - before opening the door, you need to look all around. Especially behind. I once got "doored" while cycling to work, and I will never forget it - extremely dangerous! The "Dutch reach" is no mandatory but helps - you reach the door lock with your opposite arm, forcing you to turn around while doing so.

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