People stop driving for lots of reasons. Perhaps you passed your test years ago, but never got around to buying a car. Or you may have lived in a busy city where owning a car wasn’t practical. Perhaps your car keys have been gathering dust on the hall table during the Covid-19 lockdown?
Whether you’re driving again after a 10-year break, or just getting back behind the wheel after a few months away, you might be surprised how strange it feels and how nervous you are.
Let’s look at why you might be a bit rusty, and offer some tips for driving safely again.
Can you forget how to drive?
If you’ve been driving for years, do you even need to think about it? Experienced drivers build up “muscle memory” from constant repetition and practice, so driving comes naturally, without thinking too consciously about the mechanics of it.
But while you’ll probably never forget the fundamentals, muscle memory can fade – even for experienced drivers – when you don’t have that constant practice. Ever got back from a holiday and found yourself fumbling the wipers and indicators for the first couple of minutes?
Or heard the story of the chap who hired a car for two weeks while his own was being repaired? He got so used to the controls being in different places that when he went back to his own car – which he’d been driving for eight years – he’d completely forgotten where reverse gear was and called the breakdown service.
The point is, it can take time to get used to a car again, even after a short break; your familiarity with your car may not be as ingrained as you think.
Confidence and observation skills
Physical ability is only part of the skill of driving safely, though. Confidence and observation skills are really important, too, and they’re both honed by regular practice.
Experienced drivers can certainly suffer from skills-fade, but if you were a new driver before the Covid-19 lockdown, or you passed your test years ago but never drove afterwards, you may be especially vulnerable. The first few months after passing your test are crucial for gaining confidence and experience on the road, honing observation skills, and learning from new situations.
Whatever your age and experience, if you’ve not driven for a while the prospect of getting back behind the wheel can be really nerve-wracking! Here are our suggestions for getting back into the swing of things safely.
Get reacquainted with the car
Before you leave your driveway, just sit in the car for a few minutes and get reacquainted.
- Quietly go over the position of all the controls, even down to the radio and sat nav. Fumbling while you’re driving is a distraction you can do without. Pay particular attention to the location of:
- Hazard warning lights
- Lights and indicators
- Wipers and screen wash
- Levers to pop the bonnet and the fuel cap
- Reverse gear!
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- Adjust your seat so that you’re comfortable, and adjust your mirrors, too, if you need to.
Know the rules of the road
The Highway Code is frequently updated, so if your break from driving has been a long one, make sure you catch up with any changes in the rules of the road.
Make your first drive short, and somewhere familiar
It’s probably not a good idea to head to a busy town or a destination two hundred miles away if this is your first drive for a while.
- Make your first few trips short, to gradually rebuild your ability to concentrate.
- Head to a quiet area that you know well; you don’t need challenges, you need confidence.
- Keep your speed down until you’re completely comfortable with the controls once more.
Take things slowly at first
Don’t be put off if you’re a bit clumsy with gear-shifts and clutch control at first, but do be aware that you’ll need a little time for things to become second nature again.
- Your observation skills are probably rusty – double-check for oncoming traffic at junctions.
- Make a conscious effort to check your rear-view mirror regularly.
- If you’re nervous, drive with an experienced passenger the first time.
- Refresher driving courses are widely available for nervous drivers, but you may have to go on a waiting list. Plan well ahead.
Adjusting to heavier traffic
If it’s been years since you last drove, you’ll probably have noticed that the roads were much quieter back then. Similarly, if you only drove occasionally during the Covid-19 lockdown, you probably got used to quiet streets with hardly any traffic. That’s all changed now, and by the time you read this, the number of cars on the road may be making you really nervous.
Be prepared to adjust to heavier traffic and longer journey times.
Don’t forget, if you took your car off the road while you took a break from driving (SORN), you must make sure it’s insured again before you get back behind the wheel.
Try Complete Cover Group for competitive car insurance quotes.