Identifying and responding to hazards

Being prepared for hazards will help you to spot them early and take action in good time to keep you and other road users safe.

Getting a clear view

While you’re driving, it’s important to keep scanning the road ahead and around you so that you can spot potential hazards in good time: the sooner you spot a hazard, the easier it is to take action and avoid an incident.

There may be things along the road that limit what you can see, such as parked cars or overhanging trees. If you cannot see clearly ahead, slow down so you can deal with any hazards that appear from behind the obstruction.

Some vehicles, especially 4x4s, have very big blind spots that could hide a motorbike or a small car. Remember to check your blind spots carefully while driving.

Reading the road ahead

By looking well ahead of where you’re driving, you can anticipate problems. For example, if you see a parade of shops ahead you should be ready for vehicles stopping or pulling out; there are also likely to be pedestrians who may want to cross the road.

Different environments pose different hazards – on rural roads you might find slow-moving tractors or mud on the road; in cities, there are lots of different road users close together so you need to be careful to give others enough space.

Driving in tunnels

Many tunnels have radio transmitters: these allow you to tune in and find out about any incidents, congestion or roadworks in the tunnel.

If you have to stop because there’s congestion in a tunnel, leave a gap of at least 5 metres between you and the vehicle in front.

Vulnerable road users

There are times and conditions in which other road users can be vulnerable, such as

  • motorcyclists, cyclists, vehicles towing caravans and high-sided vehicles in windy conditions
  • learner drivers and newly qualified drivers
  • drivers overtaking you
  • disabled people using powered vehicles
  • older drivers.

Watch out for these road users and allow them extra space when necessary.

Aquaplaning and skidding

The road conditions can cause particular hazards, particularly in wet weather. Remember to change your driving to suit the conditions.


When there’s a build-up of water between a vehicle’s tyres and the road surface, the tyres can lose contact with the road and your vehicle slides on a thin film of water: this is called aquaplaning. It’s a particular risk when you’re driving at speed in very wet weather.

To avoid aquaplaning, keep your speed down and watch for water pooling on the road surface.

If your vehicle begins to aquaplane, slow down by easing off the accelerator. Do not try to brake or change direction until there’s grip again.

Conditions that can cause skidding

Skidding is caused by a number of factors but it’s more likely to happen on slippery road surfaces, such as where there’s

  • loose gravel
  • oil or diesel
  • rain
  • ice or packed snow
  • frost in shady places
  • wet mud or leaves.

If you’re driving in these conditions, keep your speed down. See the Manoeuvring and steering section for more information about why skids happen and how to control your car in a skid.

Distractions in the car

More often than not, driving is not the only thing you’ll be thinking about when you’re behind the wheel. It’s easy to be distracted by talking to passengers, adjusting a satellite navigation system or changing settings on the radio.

Losing your concentration, or even just taking your eyes off the road briefly, can quickly cause an incident. It’s up to you as the driver to keep your concentration on driving.

To help you do this

  • programme your satellite navigation system before you start your journey
  • remind passengers that you may not be able to talk to them when you need to concentrate on driving
  • do not play music loudly.

Mobile phones

It’s illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while you’re driving: being distracted by your phone could cause a serious incident. Although you can use a hands-free kit to speak on the phone, it’s still best to avoid using a phone at all.

  • Turn your phone off or put it on voicemail before you start your journey.
  • Wait until you’re safely and legally parked before you use it at all.

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