Before you start driving your vehicle, make sure you understand what the gauges, indicators and warning lights on the instrument panel mean. If you’re not sure about any of them, check your vehicle handbook.
Indicator lights show when you’re using different functions in the vehicle, such as the rear screen heater, fog lights or hazard warning lights.
The warning lights let you know when there’s a problem with your vehicle. Knowing what these lights mean and what to do when they are lit will help you protect the engine and other equipment from damage.
The lights will vary from one vehicle to another but these are the most common ones:
- oil pressure
- anti-lock braking system (ABS)
- air pressure gauge (if your vehicle has air brakes)
- brake condition
- water temperature.
Some vehicles have on-board diagnostic systems that tell you when there’s a problem with the vehicle. They differ from one vehicle to another. Check your vehicle handbook to find out more about the diagnostic systems in your vehicle.
Starting the engine
Different vehicles have different ways of starting the engine. Look at the vehicle handbook to make sure you know how your vehicle starts.
Most modern vehicles are fitted with anti-theft devices such as steering-column locks and immobilisers. These are usually turned off when you unlock the vehicle or when you put the key in the ignition.
If you use any extra security devices, such as a steering wheel or parking brake lock, you’ll need to remove these before you start your vehicle. These are usually locked using a key; check the manufacturer’s instructions for details on how to use them correctly and how to remove them.
Vehicles with diesel engines usually have a preheating device to help start the engine from cold: wait for the glow plugs to heat up (until the indicator light turns off) then turn the key to start the engine.
When you’re about to move off, it’s vital to check all around you to make sure it’s safe to go. Use your mirrors and look all around you to see what other road users are doing and to check the road.
Although your mirrors help you see around the vehicle, there are usually many blind spots your mirrors can’t reach – particularly just behind the vehicle. You must be aware of the road users around you so you can be sure it’s safe to move off.
Check your passengers are seated before you move off so there’s no risk of them falling. Close the doors before you move off to make sure passengers can’t try to get on or off the bus as it begins to move.
Mirrors – Signal – Manoeuvre
Whenever you move off, use the Mirrors – Signal – Manoeuvre routine to keep you and other road users safe.
- Use your mirrors to check around you.
- When you’ve decided it’s safe to move off, signal to other road users what you’re going to do, eg turn on your indicators to show you’re going to pull out.
- Wind down your window and lean out to look around to make sure it’s clear before you start to move off.
- Manoeuvre your vehicle onto the road.
Using the gears and brakes
If you’re driving an automatic vehicle, make sure you put your foot on the footbrake before you select ‘drive’ otherwise you’ll stall the engine.
Put your vehicle into gear so you can move off when it’s safe to do so. When you’re ready to go, check the road ahead and behind you again before moving off slowly.
In some vehicles, you’ll need to know where the biting point of the clutch is to keep full control when moving off: this is the point at which the vehicle begins to move. The biting point differs from one vehicle to another so when you’re driving a vehicle for the first time, practise finding the biting point before you move off.
Parking brakes differ from one vehicle to another: make sure you know how to release the parking brake. Check the vehicle handbook if you’re not sure.
When you’re manoeuvring, be careful not to turn the steering wheel when the vehicle isn’t moving: this is called dry steering and it can cause
- damage to the tyres
- wear in the steering mechanism.
Checking the controls
As soon as possible after you set off, check the controls in your vehicle are working correctly.
- Turn the steering wheel to check power-assisted steering is working.
- Choose a safe spot on the road to test your brakes.
Slowing down and stopping your passenger-carrying vehicle (PCV) in a controlled way is vital for good driving: it reduces wear and tear on your vehicle, saves fuel and keeps you, your passengers and other road users safe.
The distance your vehicle will take to stop depends on how fast you’re going, the road and weather conditions, and the size of your vehicle.
- The faster you’re going and the larger your vehicle, the longer it takes to stop.
- It takes longer to stop in wet or icy conditions.
The stopping distance is made up of two parts:
- thinking distance – the distance you travel from when you decide to brake to when you start braking
- braking distance – the distance you travel from when you start braking until your vehicle stops completely.
The weight of a PCV makes its braking distance much bigger than that for a car travelling at a similar speed, so you’ll need to allow extra time and space to stop safely. You can see the typical stopping distances for cars in The Highway Code.
When you need to brake, make sure you are aware of the road users around you. Check your mirrors and signal if necessary before you begin braking.
Anticipating the need to brake will help you brake smoothly, progressively and safely: watch out for things around you that you might need to slow down for, such as pedestrian crossings or cars pulling out of junctions. It’s important to try to plan your braking so you only use the brakes when the wheels are straight. Braking while you’re turning can cause the vehicle to skid.
Harsh braking can be dangerous for your passengers, who won’t be expecting the change in forces on the bus and may fall as a result. On articulated vehicles it can also cause jack-knifing (where the tractive unit is pushed forwards by the semi-trailer) or trailer swing. You can avoid these situations by braking, steering, accelerating and changing gears smoothly.
Like cars, smaller PCVs usually have hydraulic braking systems. Large vehicles generally have air braking systems or air-assisted brakes (hydraulic system with air assistance).
If you need to make an emergency stop in a vehicle with hydraulic brakes, you may need to pump the brakes (called cadence braking) to avoid locking the wheels. When you have done this, you’ll need to find somewhere safe to stop and check the hydraulic system before you continue your journey to make sure the brakes still work properly.
Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) can help you brake safely and effectively by helping to prevent skidding but they won’t shorten your stopping distance. If your vehicle has ABS and you have to brake heavily in an emergency, apply maximum force to the brake pedal and maintain this force: the ABS should stop the wheels locking up. Don’t pump the brake pedal because this reduces the effectiveness of the ABS.
Endurance braking systems, also known as retarders, help control a vehicle’s speed without using the wheel-mounted brakes. These systems reduce the wear on the service brake and avoid the risk of brake fade when you’re driving down long or steep hills. They work by applying resistance to the rotation of the vehicle’s drive wheels rather than to the road wheels.
There are several different types of endurance braking system.
- electric – uses a magnetic field to slow the axle, transmission or driveshaft
- engine-driven – changes when the engine cylinder exhaust valves open so less compressed air is available to drive the piston back down, which slows the engine
- exhaust brakes – the exhaust pipe is restricted by a valve so raises the pressure in the exhaust system and forces the engine to work harder on the cylinders’ exhaust stroke, similar to the engine-driven system.
You’ll need to think carefully about where you stop or park your passenger-carrying vehicle (PCV) to make sure it will be safe, legal and won’t cause an obstruction to other road users.
Whenever you stop or park your PCV, make sure the place you choose is
- safe – eg could it cause an accident by being too close to a junction or a zebra crossing?
- secure – eg is there a risk of theft or vandalism?
- convenient – you’re more likely to cause damage, either to your vehicle or another vehicle, if it’s an awkward spot
- legal – check The Highway Code for more information on parking rules.
The blind spots around a large vehicle can make it difficult to reverse so, if possible, choose a parking place you can drive into forwards, and where you can also drive out forwards.
If your vehicle has air suspension, remember that it may move when you park it or when you start it: make sure you’re not parked too close to other vehicles, buildings, street furniture, etc, which the vehicle body could collide with if it moves.
When you’ve parked the vehicle, you must turn off
- the headlights
- the fog lights (if fitted)
- the engine.
You mustn’t park a PCV on a verge, pavement or on land separating carriageways unless you’ve been given permission by the police. Avoid parking on a grass verge: the weight of the vehicle could damage the verge and it may collapse, which could mean your vehicle gets stuck or rolls over.
If you’re parking at night on a road, you must use the parking lights on your vehicle. You don’t need to use lights if you’re parked off-road, eg in a coach park.
In foggy weather you should avoid parking on the road; if you must park on the road, leave your parking lights on.
Parking on a hill
When you’re parking on a hill, you can use the wheels and the engine to make sure your PCV can’t roll away in case the parking brake fails.
- Turn the steering wheels slightly towards the kerb: if the vehicle rolls, it will steer into the kerb and stop.
- Leave the vehicle in gear: if the parking brake fails, the engine should stop the wheels turning. (This only applies to a vehicle with manual gears.)
Preventing falls from the vehicle
Many people are injured by falling from vehicles each year. To minimise the risk of falling
- open the door fully, use grab rails and all the steps
- don’t jump from the vehicle: use the steps provided, making sure they’re safe to use
- wear suitable footwear for the job
- make sure steps and work areas are well lit.
When you’re getting out of your vehicle, make sure you check your mirrors before opening any doors. Watch out for other road users, particularly cyclists and motorcyclists, when opening a door on to the road, and for pedestrians when opening a door on to the pavement. If you’re parked on the left-hand side of a busy road, it may be best to use the passenger door to get out to avoid obstructing traffic or putting yourself at risk.
Different types of vehicle will have different security and anti-theft systems. Check your vehicle handbook for information about the systems fitted to it, and find out from the vehicle operator whether there is any extra equipment provided to keep the vehicle safe.
When you’re leaving a vehicle unattended, make sure
- it’s locked
- there are no passengers on board
- passengers haven’t left anything on board, except in locked compartments
- any fitted anti-theft devices are set.
Before you leave your vehicle, make sure the engine has stopped, the ignition system is switched off and the parking brake is on.
Always do a walk-round check on your vehicle when you return to it, to make sure it hasn’t been entered or tampered with. If you see anything suspicious, call the police and tell your employer.
If you’ve towing a trailer with your passenger-carrying vehicle, you’ll need to know how to couple and uncouple the trailer safely.
- The trailer brake should be on so it can’t move independently.
- Reverse slowly up to the trailer then make sure the vehicle parking brake is applied.
- Check the coupling is at the correct height.
- Connect the tow-hitch, the break-away cable and the electric lines.
- Connect the air lines if fitted and turn on the taps.
- Raise the jockey wheel or prop stand.
- Release the trailer parking brake.
Before uncoupling a trailer, make sure your vehicle is parked on level ground and in a place where it’s safe to uncouple, eg away from pedestrians or passing traffic, and where the ground is clear from obstructions.
- Make sure the brakes are applied on the trailer and the vehicle before you begin uncoupling so neither part can move unexpectedly.
- Set the jockey wheel or prop stand so the trailer is supported.
- Turn off any taps and disconnect the air lines (if fitted) then stow the lines safely so they can’t become tangled or damaged.
- Disconnect the electric line and stow it safely.
- Release the break-away cable connection.
- Release the trailer coupling.
- Drive the vehicle away slowly, checking the trailer as you move away.
Before you set off, make sure you know what the dashboard warning lights in your vehicle mean: check your vehicle handbook for more information.
Make sure you know where to find the switches and controls you’re likely to need while you’re driving such as the controls for the windscreen washers and wipers, demisters, indicators and headlights. You’ll need to be able to use these without losing control of the vehicle while it’s moving. Look in your vehicle handbook if you’re not sure where to find any of the controls.
Using dipped headlights
Use dipped headlights
- at night
- whenever the light is poor, even during the day, to make your vehicle more visible to others – eg in rain, drizzle or mist.
Only use fog lights when visibility is reduced to 100 metres (328 feet) or less. You must not use fog lights at any other time because they can dazzle other drivers.
Flat and convex mirrors
Most interior mirrors and some exterior mirrors are made of flat glass: flat mirrors give a ‘true’ reflection of what is going on behind you.
Many exterior mirrors have convex glass: this means it is slightly curved so it gives a wider field of vision. However, this also makes it harder for you to judge the speed and position of vehicles in the mirror. A car behind you will look smaller in a convex mirror so it could be closer to you than you think.
Changes to road and weather conditions
The road surface and the weather can change while you’re driving so you may need to change controls in your vehicle or change how you’re driving in response. For example, if it starts raining, the road surface will be more slippery so you’ll need to increase your distance from the vehicle in front and reduce your speed as well as turning on your windscreen wipers and possibly your headlights. If the weather changes from being cloudy to very sunny, you might need to pull down the sun visor and/or put on sunglasses.
If necessary, stop when it’s safe to do so to change controls or settings in the vehicle and to find equipment you need.
Always try to use the accelerator smoothly and steadily: this will
- reduce fuel consumption
- reduce wear and tear on the vehicle
- make your driving safer
- reduce the amount of damage your vehicle does to the environment.
Accelerating suddenly can cause you to lose control of the vehicle, make the journey uncomfortable for your passengers or even put them in danger, especially if they are standing or moving on the vehicle.
Make sure the driving seat is adjusted so you can use the pedals easily and comfortably. If you’re too far from the pedals, you won’t be able to press the accelerator pedal smoothly.
Be careful not to over-rev your engine when moving away (ie don’t press the accelerator more than is needed to make the vehicle move) or when your vehicle is stationary because it will waste fuel and make it harder to stay in control.
Using cruise control, if it’s fitted on your vehicle, can help to save fuel because it keeps your speed steady. Only use cruise control if you can travel at a steady speed for a long period, eg on a clear motorway. Check your vehicle handbook for details on how to use cruise control.
Speed limiters are fitted to passenger-carrying vehicles (PCVs) with a maximum authorised mass of more than 7.5 tonnes to prevent them going faster than 62 mph. They’re also fitted to vehicles with more than 8 passenger seats, first used on or after 1 January 2005. If you’re driving a vehicle with a speed limiter, you’ll need to plan well ahead before overtaking and be aware of the effects of the limiter on your vehicle.
Using the gears
The number of gears in a PCV will vary depending on the type of vehicle (eg single-deck service buses may have only 4 or 5 gears) and the type of transmission (eg manual, semi-automatic, pneumo-cyclic or pre-select gearbox).
The layout of the gearbox varies from one make of vehicle to another: use the vehicle handbook for guidance if necessary.
If you’re driving a manual or semi-automatic vehicle, the speed at which you’ll be travelling when you’ll need to change from one gear to another will vary depending on the number of gears in the vehicle and how they’re configured.
Choosing the wrong gear can
- make the vehicle accelerate too slowly or too quickly
- make it difficult to control the vehicle effectively
- increase fuel consumption and wear and tear on the vehicle.
Travelling in the highest suitable gear will help you save fuel and reduce wear on the engine.
You don’t always need to use all gears when you’re changing up or down. Missing out gears – sometimes called selective changing or block changing – can give you more time to concentrate on the road and allows you to keep your hands on the steering wheel for longer.
When you’re braking and changing down gears, it’s best to brake to the speed you need to go and then change down into the appropriate gear so you may be able to miss one or more gears.
You can also use selective changing when you’re changing up gears, but be careful not to accelerate too fiercely or for too long in the lower gears.
Avoid coasting (ie driving with the vehicle in neutral) because you’ll have less control over the vehicle than when it’s in gear. It’s particularly dangerous to coast if you’re driving a PCV with air brakes because the compressor won’t replace air being used as the brakes are applied when the engine isn’t in gear.
Driving on hills
Use the gears to help your vehicle drive efficiently when you’re going up or down hills, especially if the vehicle is loaded.
When you’re driving uphill, change down to a lower gear to avoid the engine struggling to give enough power.
Driving downhill, you can use a lower gear to increase the effect of engine braking and reduce the risk of overheating the brakes.
It’s a good idea to leave your vehicle in gear when you park, especially when parking on a hill. If the parking brake fails, the engine should stop the wheels turning. (This only applies to a vehicle with manual gears.)
Good use of the steering wheel is essential for keeping your vehicle under control. Keep both hands on the wheel unless you’re changing gear or working another control with one hand, and put that hand back on the wheel as soon as you can.
To keep your vehicle stable and provide a smooth journey for your passengers, aim to steer
- in a planned and controlled way.
Don’t rest your arm on the door because this restricts your movement and therefore your control of the steering wheel.
Grip the wheel firmly but not too tightly: you should be able to turn the wheel easily when the vehicle is moving.
The steering lock is the angle through which the front wheels turn when you turn the steering wheel. The further the wheels turn to the left or right, the smaller the turning circle of the vehicle. Usually smaller vehicles have a smaller turning circle than larger ones. (Don’t confuse this with a steering-column lock.)
Be aware of the size of your vehicle because this will affect how much space you need to turn. You can find the dimensions of the vehicle, such as the maximum authorised mass and the height, on a plate near the front of the vehicle. You should also take note of the vehicle’s size and shape when you’re doing the walk-round checks before you start driving.
Remember to think about whether your vehicle could overhang kerbs or verges when you’re turning. If it does, you’ll need to make sure the area is clear of pedestrians, street furniture, road signs, etc before you turn.
When turning left or right, large vehicles may need to swing in the opposite direction to make a turn: for more about this, see the Junctions and crossings section.
Before you start to manoeuvre your vehicle, you need to check it’s
- safe – eg is there enough room; can you see where you’re going? If there isn’t enough room, find somewhere else to make the manoeuvre
- legal – there are rules about where some manoeuvres can be carried out, such as reversing around corners: check The Highway Code for details
- convenient – other road users shouldn’t have to slow down or change course to avoid you.
You’ll also need to check that you can control your vehicle – for example, if you’re reversing downhill, are you confident you can keep the vehicle under control?
Always use the Observation – Signal – Manoeuvre/Position – Speed – Look routine to make sure you can manoeuvre safely.
- Observation: use your mirrors and look behind you to check blind spots at the back of the vehicle.
- Signal: give a signal if it will help other road users understand what you’re doing.
- Manoeuvre: carry out the manoeuvre using Position – Speed – Look:
- Position: move into the correct position on the road in good time to make the manoeuvre.
- Speed: adjust your speed so you can make the manoeuvre safely.
- Look: keep looking ahead and around you for possible dangers such as other road users or pedestrians.
If you have reversing aids such as camera systems or proximity sensors, you’ll still need to check all around you before and during a manoeuvre: these aids can add to, but not replace, your normal checks.
While you’re manoeuvring, avoid using the accelerator, brakes and steering suddenly or harshly because this will make it difficult to carry out the manoeuvre correctly and you could end up getting in the way of other road users.
The manoeuvres you should know are
- reversing into a side road on the left
- reversing into a side road on the right
- turn in the road
- reverse parking (see more about this on the Parking your vehicle page.
If you’re unsure about how to do any of these manoeuvres, speak to your driving instructor or take a look at The Official DVSA Guide to Driving Buses and Coaches.
Never make a U-turn
- on a motorway
- in a one-way street
- where there’s a ‘no U-turn’ road sign.
Controlling your vehicle
Don’t reverse your vehicle further than is necessary: it’s difficult to see where you’re going and, while it makes the vehicle more manoeuvrable, the fact that your steering has a greater effect makes it easier to get into difficulties.
Avoid coasting: this is when your vehicle is moving but it’s not being driven by the engine – either when the clutch pedal is held down or the gear lever is in neutral. If the vehicle is coasting you have less control over it; doing this while you’re travelling downhill will mean you’ll quickly pick up speed, and you’ll then need to brake harder than should have been necessary.
Some passenger-carrying vehicles have audible warning systems to signal when the vehicle is reversing. These can help to keep people away from the vehicle but you mustn’t rely on these completely: you’ll still need to look and make sure you can reverse safely before you begin the manoeuvre and while you’re moving, in case someone hasn’t heard the warning or hasn’t understood it.
You must not use an audible warning system when you’re on a road that has a 30 mph speed limit between 11.30 pm and 7.00 am.
If you do not have a clear view when reversing, ask someone to help guide you from outside the vehicle.
Skidding is caused by the driver trying to go too fast for the amount of grip the tyres have on the road. Skids happen when you change speed or direction so suddenly your tyres can’t keep their grip on the road.
The three factors that cause a skid are
- the driver
- the vehicle
- the road conditions – for more information on road conditions, see Identifying and responding to hazards.
To avoid skidding,
- don’t accelerate suddenly or harshly
- don’t brake harshly
- don’t brake while cornering
- watch out for slippery road surfaces and keep your speed down if you think the road is slippery
- use engine braking as well as the brakes to slow the vehicle down
- keep your vehicle in good condition – brakes that are in poor condition can snatch or pull unevenly, which can cause skidding.
If your vehicle begins to skid,
- release the brake pedal – braking makes a skid worse
- turn the steering wheel in the same direction as the skid and ease off the accelerator to bring the wheels back into line.
If the front wheels are sliding, release the accelerator and don’t try to steer until the wheels begin to grip the road again.
Different vehicles will react differently when there’s a risk of skidding, depending on whether they’re front- or rear-wheel drive, and on the systems fitted to the vehicle, such as anti-lock brakes (ABS) or electronic stability control/program (ESC or ESP). Check the vehicle handbook to find out how these will affect the risk of skidding.
Engine braking can be useful when you’re driving in slippery conditions because the vehicle is less likely to skid under engine braking than when using the brake pedal. Change down the gears in plenty of time but be careful with the accelerator and clutch, particularly in very slippery conditions, because these can cause skids too.
If you want to drive a passenger-carrying vehicle (PCV) with a trailer, you’ll need a trailer entitlement (+E) on your driving licence. To add this, you’ll need to hold the full entitlement for the vehicle before you take the trailer test.
For more information about adding extra entitlements to your driving licence, see GOV.UK.
Remember to check the vehicle’s insurance policy because not all policies cover towing a trailer. You should also check the vehicle handbook: most manufacturers make recommendations about the maximum size of trailer that the vehicle can safely tow and how they should be attached. Make sure you follow these recommendations.
Not all rescue services will include recovering a trailer so make sure you check this before you ask for assistance.
Driving with a trailer
Towing a trailer may increase the number of blind spots around the vehicle, which you must be aware of when you’re driving and manoeuvring. You may be able to fit wide-angle mirrors to reduce the blind spots.
If you’re towing a trailer on a motorway, the speed limit is 60 mph (96 kph). All other speed limits are the same as for ordinary PCVs.
If there are three or more lanes on a motorway, you mustn’t drive a vehicle towing a trailer in the right-hand lane.
Towing a trailer will change the way a vehicle handles. You’ll need to
- allow more time for braking
- give yourself three times the normal distance and time to overtake safely
- allow for the extra vehicle length, particularly when turning or emerging at junctions – you might need to take a different position on the road to give you enough space to turn.
If you use your brakes too heavily, eg when going downhill, your vehicle may suffer brake fade – a loss of braking power caused by the brakes getting too hot. To help avoid brake fade
- change to a lower gear
- use engine braking to slow the vehicle
- don’t allow the vehicle to coast.
‘Snaking’ is when the trailer begins to swerve from side to side while you’re driving. If this happens,
- ease off the accelerator slowly
- reduce your speed gradually until the snaking stops.
Reversing with a trailer takes particular care because the trailer can move in a different direction to the one you’d expect.
Remember to check the height and width of the trailer and to bear these in mind when you’re planning your route: look out for any restrictions.