5 skills every driver needs
There are many skills to learn and techniques to master to keep you safe behind the wheel. Here are just a handful that every motorist should know.
Checking tyre tread
The why: It’s hard to believe something as basic as a bit of rubber can play such a huge part in preventing a crash – but tyres are one of your car’s most important safety features and should be checked at least once a month.
For starters, as they wear out, your car’s braking distance significantly increases. In fact, when driving at 80km/h, it’ll take you 40 per cent longer to come to a stop if your car has worn tyres, according to a study by NRMA, our sister club in NSW.
What to do: The law says there must be a minimum of 1.5mm of tread across the whole surface of the tyre, but we recommend changing them well before then.
- Take a look in the grooves and you should see raised rubber bars called ‘wear indicators’ (see diagram below). If any part of the surface has worn down to this level, it’s definitely time to head to the tyre store.
- Alternatively, head into an RAA Shop and pick up a tyre-wear indicator – free for RAA members. Simply place it in the groove to see how much tread is left, and check your tyre pressure while you’re at it.
Judging a safe following distance
The why: Most people would be shocked at how much space you need to stay safe; but, think about this: if you’re driving at 60km/h, it’ll take you at least 32m to come to a stop (slightly longer than a basketball court).
And that’s banking on the fact that your tyres and brakes are in top nick, your reaction time is good and it’s not raining.
What to do: Just remember the ‘three-second rule’. Basically:
- pick a stationary object on the side of the road – anything from a light pole to a person wearing a sandwich-board sign – and count the time between when you and the vehicle in front reach it.
- If there’s at least three full seconds (i.e. one, one thousand; two, one thousand etc.), then you’ve left a safe gap.
If the road’s wet or you’re carrying a heavy load – anything from a back seat full of passengers to a caravan – you’ll need to leave an even longer gap.
What to do if your car hydroplanes
The why: The word ‘hydroplaning’ sounds pretty extreme, so you probably think you’ll never find yourself in this scary situation. But it can be the cause of many wet-weather crashes and every driver should know how to handle it.
In a nutshell, one the jobs of your tyre tread is to push water out of the way so the rubber can still grip the road. But sometimes it can’t do this fast enough, so your wheel is effectively skating on top of a pool of water – causing your car to skid.
What to do:
- As hard as it sounds, avoid the instinct to slam on your brakes, as it could send your car into a spin.
- Instead, gently ease your foot off the accelerator and firmly hold the steering wheel to keep your car pointed in the right direction. It should regain traction on its own.
While there’s not much you can do once your car starts to hydroplane (other than stay calm), there are plenty of ways to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Firstly, when it’s wet, slow down, don’t use cruise control (so you’re in command of the vehicle) and watch out for puddles of water on the road. What’s more, regularly check your tyre tread, as this will help your wheels disperse the water properly.
Defogging your windscreen quickly
The why: You jump into the car on a cold morning and suddenly you can’t see through the windscreen – not so safe for driving. This happens because your warm breath is trapped inside and the excess moisture settles as fog on the icy glass.
What to do: For the world ahead to reappear:
- turn on the air con
- switch the fan to high; and
- make sure the air is blowing directly on the windscreen.
- Many people think you have to use cold air, but warm will also do the trick (in fact, we recommend it as it’ll keep you more comfortable in the frosty weather).
The key part here is selecting the A/C function, as this works by sucking the moisture out of the air. Note: the A/C works for both heating and cooling.
The why: We get lots of reader letters here at samotor, and without doubt, merging is one of the biggest points of contention. Many motorists think you have to give way to the right, but that’s actually not the law.
There’s two types of merging and each has a different rule.
What to do:
- The first situation is where one lane comes to an end and you have to cross a broken white line to merge (see the first image below). Here, you’re actually changing lanes so you must wait for a safe gap in traffic and give way to any vehicles in the lane you’re moving into – regardless of whether they’re in front or behind.
- The second type is the zip merge, where two lanes become one with no broken lines between them (see second image below). Here, you must give way to any driver that has any part of their car in front of yours.
What other skills would you like our experts to explain? Let us know by emailing the samotor team.