Well done, you’ve got your full licence and your freedom. What are the mistakes you are likely to make which will cause accidents?
When I got my licence I wanted to drive my mates to parties. I grew up in rural Lincolnshire, and this meant narrow roads, high speeds and very little chance of anyone finding you until morning if you went into a ditch. Looking back, my friends could be a major distraction in the car. You know, you’re laughing, you’re excited about the party and you’ve got the music blaring.
Then, on the way home, you’re buzzing from the party, your mates are hammered and it’s really late so you are tired and therefore have slower reflexes. So, here’s the deal:
- When you’re on the way to the party keep your eyes on the road even if your friends are distracting.
- Music is fine; music that makes your ears hurt is not so good because you can’t hear what’s around you – that means you can’t hear the engine, emergency sirens, cars in the lane next to you, and so on.
- When you’re coming back from the party you will be sober, but your friends will probably be smashed. You might think that because you’re sober all’s well, but if it’s 3am you’ll be tired and you risk falling asleep at the wheel. First you start having uncontrollable ‘micro-sleeps’ where your body falls asleep for a fraction of a second. You can’t do anything about this. If it gets worse, you run the risk of falling asleep for several seconds or more, and then you might end up having a permanent sleep if your car leaves the road and you hit something immovable like a bridge parapet.
- If your mates are egging you on to go faster, you are in control. You don’t have to go faster because you are the one with the accelerator and steering wheel.
One more distraction to remember is your cellphone. You should not be text messaging or using smartphone features while you are driving. If you need to text someone or read a text, pull over and do it.
You’ve probably never owned a car before and therefore you wouldn’t have had to worry about keeping it maintained. Your first car is likely to be an older, cheaper one, so it may need slightly more maintenance. The two things that are going to cause you to have an accident, though, are very simple to check:
- Tyre pressures. Too little tyre pressure and the side wall will flex and your handling will be all over the place. The worst case scenario is that the tyre rolls off the rim, the rim digs into the road and causes a spin or a flip. Too much pressure and much less of the tyre is in contact with the road leading to less grip. If the grip is less on the front you’ll understeer (the car will sledge straight ahead), and if it’s less on the rear you’ll oversteer (the car will spin). If the pressures are uneven all the way around, this could cause a spin if you brake hard.
- Tyre tread depth. Too little tread and if you hit deeper water you will aquaplane off and that could be fatal.
Most of the other maintenance in a car will not result in rapidly escalating, potential fatal situations like problems to do with your tyres. Arguably you could say that shock absorbers and brakes are important, too, but they fail or get worse over a much longer period of time and they are more likely to be picked up when you do your regular service.
A friend of a friend killed himself and his passenger on the long straight road from Frithville towards Horncastle not long after I’d learned to drive. He left the road and hit a concrete bridge parapet. One of his front tyres was inflated to over three times the recommended amount. This was judged to have been a major factor in the accident and it would have caused severely unpredictable handling at speed.
Modern cars are very safe compared to cars of the 1980s. The main improvement in cars has been refinement. Try going 70mph in a Ford Anglia and it will vibrate your internal organs into a state of liquefaction, but do 70mph in the latest Ford Focus and you can barely hear the engine. This is one of the things that makes it quite easy to exceed the speed limit.
When you start driving, judging speed is one of the trickier skills to master. You’ll want to check out our article Tricks for keeping under the speed limit. You will also need to judge when a posted maximum speed limit, like 60mph, is too much for the prevailing weather conditions.
Misreading slippery road conditions
If you have never driven on ice you won’t believe how slippery it is. You can be heading around a gentle bend and suddenly you’re facing the other way heading backwards into a hedge. It can be so slippery that it is unrecoverable even by a professional driver. Black ice is the danger because you can’t see it.
Additionally, if it’s been dry for a while the road surface builds up a layer of rubber. When it rains, this grimy film makes the road more slippery until it has washed away. Motorcyclists need to take extreme care in these conditions, as well as avoid painted road lines and manhole covers.
There you have four common causes of accidents in new drivers: distractions, tyre neglect, speeding and not driving to the conditions.
Readers – what caught you out and caused an accident when you started driving?
Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.