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. This is particularly important when you’re driving a large goods vehicle (LGV) because your vehicle will take longer to slow down and may be less manoeuvrable than smaller vehicles.

Getting a clear view

While you’re driving, it’s important to keep scanning the road ahead and around you so 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 have very big blind spots; for example, an LGV with a sleeper cab. Make sure you know what’s going on around the vehicle by using your mirrors, checking around you as far as possible and using a sideways glance to check beside your vehicle.

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.

Leave a four-second gap between your vehicle and the one in front when you’re driving through a tunnel. If you have to stop because there’s congestion, leave a gap of at least five metres between you and the vehicle in front.

  • When other road users are vulnerable

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

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.

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 Steering and manoeuvring section for more information about why skids happen and how to control your vehicle in a skid.

Distractions

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 a passenger, adjusting a satellite-navigation (sat nav) 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 sat nav before you start your journey
  • remind any 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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