On the road, you’ll need to use signals to let other road users know what you’re planning to do. It’s important that you understand the signals both so you know how to use them and so you know what to do when you see someone else using them.
You must use signals to tell other road users when you’re changing course or direction, stopping or moving off. However, you won’t always need to use signals: if there are no other road users around you (eg if you’re driving late at night), it’s not essential to signal when you’re turning or using a roundabout. If you’re not sure whether you need to signal, it’s best to give a signal just in case.
Signals for turning
Some road users, especially cyclists and horse riders, may use arm signals to show that they’re going to turn, slow down or stop.
Drivers usually use their vehicle’s direction indicators to show when they’re going to turn or pull up at the side of the road.
- Be careful to use your indicators in good time to warn other road users what you’re going to do, but not so early that it could confuse others.
- Make sure your indicators are cancelled as soon as possible after you’ve turned – if they don’t cancel automatically, switch them off yourself.
Your position on the road will also help road users to understand what you’re doing: move to the correct position on the road in good time, eg moving towards the centre of the road if you’re going to turn right, at the same time as using your indicators. Make sure you use the MSM/PSL routine.
You must only use the horn when your vehicle is moving and you need to warn other road users that you’re there.
Unless another vehicle is putting you in danger, you mustn’t use your horn
- while your car isn’t moving
- when you’re driving in a built-up area between 11.00 pm and 7.00 am.
You can also flash your headlights to warn other road users that you’re there: this can be useful where the horn might not be heard or at a time when the horn shouldn’t be used.
Drivers might sound their horn or use flashing headlights to give other messages, such as thanking you for letting them pass or warning you of a fault on your vehicle.
If someone uses a signal incorrectly, before you act on the signal
- think carefully about what the signal could mean
- decide whether the signal was meant for you.
Use hazard warning lights to warn road users when you’re obstructing traffic, such as
- when you’ve broken down
- if you have to slow down quickly on a motorway or dual carriageway because of a hazard ahead – only use them long enough to warn the driver behind you.
You mustn’t use hazard warning lights to excuse stopping in a restricted area, such as on double yellow lines.
See The Highway Code for information on signals used by other road users.
The roads in the UK’s towns and cities can be very busy so it’s vital to cooperate with other road users to help keep traffic flowing and to avoid incidents. Always scan the road ahead to gather information about your route.
Remember that not all road users have to follow the same rules: drivers of large vehicles or vulnerable road users such as cyclists and motorcyclists will do some things differently to car drivers. For example, when turning left, a large vehicle may first swing out to the right-hand side of the road to make the turn. Allow these road users plenty of space.
Look out for other road users and try to predict what they’re likely to do. This is especially important for vulnerable road users, such as
- cyclists and motorcyclists, who may look over their shoulder, showing they might be about to move out or turn
- children, who may run into the road
- the elderly, who may not be aware of approaching traffic because of poor eyesight or hearing.
You can learn more about overtaking cyclists by watching this video.
While you’re driving in a stream of traffic,
- remember to keep checking the traffic ahead of you, behind you and, if necessary, beside you
- keep a safe separation distance between you and the vehicle in front
- anticipate problems so that you can slow down in good time.
Driving without care, attention and consideration for other road users is an offence for which you could be given penalty points, which could lead to you losing your licence. See GOV.UK for more information on penalty points given for driving offences.
One of the most effective ways of keeping yourself and other road users safe is to keep a safe separation distance between you and the vehicle in front: this will allow you to stop in time if the vehicle in front stops suddenly.
Your stopping distance depends on lots of factors, including
- the speed at which you’re travelling
- the road and weather conditions
- the condition of your vehicle’s brakes and tyres.
See the stopping distances guide in The Highway Code and try our stopping distances game.
In good, dry conditions, leave a two-second gap between you and the vehicle in front.
Traffic and weather conditions can affect other road users so be especially aware of others when traffic is heavy or the weather is bad. For example,
- it might be harder to see cyclists and motorcyclists in bad weather or heavy traffic
- windy weather might blow them off course.
Allow them extra space in these conditions.
If you hear or see an emergency vehicle, try to keep out of its way so it can get past you safely. Take any reasonable action you can to help it get through, but you mustn’t break the law.
Watch this video for more information about helping emergency vehicles get past.
Overtaking on the left
You shouldn’t overtake other vehicles on the left unless the traffic is moving in queues and the queue on your right is moving more slowly than the queue you’re in.
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 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 can’t 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. Don’t 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
- 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 isn’t 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
- don’t play music loudly.
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.
Defensive driving – sometimes called planned driving – is about using observation, anticipation and control to help you be prepared for the unexpected.
Make sure you are always in control of your vehicle and drive
- at the correct speed
- in the correct gear
- in the correct position on the road.
You should also drive with
- consideration and courtesy.
Keeping a safe separation distance between you and the vehicle in front will give you time to stop safely if you need to. See Cooperating with other road users for more information on separation distances.
As you gain more driving experience, your ability to drive safely and responsibly should improve. Remember to keep checking what’s covered in DSA’s driving standards to see how you’re improving and where you may need more practice or instruction.
Ecosafe driving is not only about driving in a way that reduces the the effects of your journey on the environment: it’s also about making your journeys more comfortable and reducing your fuel bills.
The factors that affect your vehicle’s fuel consumption the most are
- how you brake
- how you accelerate
- the speed at which you drive
- the weight and wind resistance of your vehicle
- the condition of your tyres.
Although it’s good to save fuel and drive in an ecosafe way, driving safely must always take priority.
Braking and accelerating
Scanning what is happening on the road ahead of you will help you to be aware of potential hazards so you can take action in good time: this will help you avoid having to brake sharply. Always try to brake and accelerate smoothly because this will use much less fuel that sudden braking or accelerating.
Using the gears correctly will also help reduce the amount of fuel you use: see Using the gears to find out about ‘block’ gear changing, which can reduce the amount of time when you’re accelerating and so reduce fuel consumption. To use the engine as efficiently as possible, try to use the highest gear possible without making the engine struggle.
Engine braking will help to reduce fuel use too. This is when you use the resistance of the engine to help slow the vehicle. Anticipating when you’ll need to slow down and choosing the correct gear will allow you to use engine braking rather than relying completely on the footbrake.
Keeping your car working efficiently
Your vehicle will use more fuel when it’s carrying an extra load, especially if it creates extra wind resistance, such as a roof rack. Avoid carrying extra weight in your vehicle when you don’t need to and remove a roof rack when you’re not using it.
Under-inflated tyres will also make your vehicle use more fuel: remember to check your tyre pressures regularly and add more air if necessary.
Technologies such as catalytic converters, new fuels and engine improvements are helping to reduce the amount of pollution created by vehicles. Find out more about the environmental effects of different fuels in Is a car right?
Knowing what to do if your car breaks down is important to help keep you and other road users safe, and to help get your car recovered as soon as possible.
If you’re driving when your car breaks down, brake as gently as possible and pull over to the left side of the road as far as you can. If the problem affects your control of the car,
- try to keep in a straight line by holding the steering wheel firmly
- avoid braking severely
- steer gently to the side of the road as you slow down.
Breakdowns on motorways
Use the hard shoulder on a motorway or dual carriageway if your car breaks down and you can’t make it to the next exit or service area. Stop your vehicle as far to the left as you can, away from the traffic.
While you’re waiting for help,
- turn on your hazard lights
- turn on your sidelights if visibility is poor or at night
- get out of the vehicle, with any passengers, using the nearside doors (ie the doors furthest away from passing traffic)
- keep animals inside the vehicle
- lock all the doors except the front passenger door
- ask your passengers to stay near the vehicle, on the embankment so they’re away from the hard shoulder
- telephone the emergency services.
It’s best to use a roadside emergency telephone to call for help: the number on the phone box will make it easier for the services to understand where you are and get to you quickly.
If you can’t use an emergency telephone, you can use a mobile phone to call for help. You’ll need to give precise details about where you are: use the numbers given on the nearest marker post on the hard shoulder to help the services identify your location.
Warning other road users
Use your hazard warning lights to warn other road users that your car is blocking the road or is in a dangerous position. You can also use a warning triangle if you have one. Put the triangle on the road, well back from the car.
- On a straight level road, put the triangle 45 metres (147 feet) from your vehicle.
- On a winding or hilly road, put it where drivers will see it before they have to deal with a bend or hump in the road.
- On a very narrow road, put it on the nearside verge or footpath.
- Never use a warning triangle on a motorway.
Always use your hazard warning lights as well as a warning triangle.
Even the most careful drivers can find themselves involved in a collision – or you might be the first person to arrive at the scene of an incident. It’s very important to make sure there’s no further injury or damage.
Move any uninjured passengers, animals and passers-by to a safe place away from the vehicles involved in the incident.
- Don’t move anyone who’s injured unless they’re in danger.
- Don’t remove a motorcyclist’s helmet unless it’s essential (eg if they’re having breathing difficulties).
Warn other road users as quickly as possible
- turn on hazard warning lights or other lights
- display a warning triangle (unless you’re on a motorway).
Switch off your engine and warn others to do the same. Put out cigarettes or other fire hazards and call the emergency services if necessary.
Before you call emergency services, make sure you can give exact details about where you are and the casualties involved. If you’re on a motorway, use the location details given on the marker posts to help the emergency services get to you quickly.
When the ambulance arrives, give the crew as many facts as you can about the condition of the casualties so they can help those most in need first.
If you can, gather and record information about the scene of the incident: this might involve taking photographs, drawing a map or noting details such as the weather and road conditions, damage and/or injuries caused and details of the vehicles involved. This will help the police work out what has happened. The sooner you can do this after the event, the clearer and more accurate the information will be.
What to do if you’re involved in an incident
If you’re involved in a road traffic incident, you must stop. You must call the police if you’ve damaged someone else’s property but can’t find them to tell them, or if a person or animal has been injured.
You’ll need to give the following details to anyone who has good reason for needing them
- your name and address
- the name and address of the vehicle’s owner
- the vehicle’s registration number.
If you can’t do this straight away, you must report the incident to the police within 24 hours (in Northern Ireland you must report it immediately).
You’ll also have to give your insurance details to the police if there’s been an injury. If you can’t show the insurance documents when you report the incident, you must produce them at a police station within seven days.
The police may ask you for a statement. Remember you don’t have to make a statement straight away. It might be better to wait a while so you can reflect clearly on what happened. Write your statement carefully and keep a copy.
Giving first aid
First aid is just that: help that you can quickly give to help people who are injured until the emergency services arrive. If you’re able to give first aid, do so; however, if you’re not confident about giving first aid, leave it to others. You may be able to help by sitting with a casualty to talk to them, keep them calm and watch them until an ambulance arrives.
If you don’t have any first aid training, it’s a good idea to look at the information provided by St John Ambulance, British Red Cross or other first aid organisations about how to give first aid or, if possible, take a course.