Here we go then, this is where it all gets exciting… This is a big lesson and there are lots of things to think about and remember. Your instructor should explain all the points on this page to you before you start the engine. That way when he or she is talking you through what to do, you will understand and be able to carry out the tasks involved. Something else you can do at this point is to familiarise yourself with where the car is in relation to the kerb. It will help you later when you come to stopping. Take a look in your door mirror and see how much space there is between the wheels and the kerb also have a look at the bottom of the windscreen where the kerb appears to intersect it. Is there something you can use inside the car to locate that position? Maybe there is a mark on the windscreen or a bump on the windscreen wipers, possibly it might be in line with one of the dials on the instrument panel. Use whatever you think will help you best. Your instructor may give you some hints where it might be beneficial to look. Remember though, that everyone sits in a different position so no-one’s reference points are the same. You will have to find your own.
Starting the Engine
There are a couple of things to remember before starting the engine.
First of all, make sure that the hand brake is on firmly. Just the act of getting in the car or starting the engine, could be enough to start it rolling, if you are on a bit of a hill and the hand brake isn’t on properly.
Secondly, you need to make sure that the gear lever is in the neutral position. Give it a good firm wiggle from side to side and make sure you can feel it spring back into the centre. ( The gear lever will still move from side to side a little bit if it is in gear, but there won’t be as much movement and you won’t feel the spring. ) If this is the first time you have used the gear lever, try pushing it into one of the gears and give it a good wiggle there too, then move it back to the neutral position and feel the difference.
The reason you need to make sure that the gears are in neutral is; if it is in gear and the clutch is in the up position, then the engine is connected through the gearbox all the way to the wheels. With the hand brake on, the wheels cannot move, therefore if you try and start the engine, it won’t be able to turn. What will happen is that the car will lurch forward a couple of inches and the engine will fail to start. If you are close to something like a wall or if there is another car parked closely in front of you, you could have a bit of a bump. Just remember; Up (handbrake), Wiggle (Gear Lever), Start (engine).
Next comes the preparation of your feet with the gears. We need to select first gear, use a bit of gas, then find the biting point ready to move off. So in more detail here is what you need to do.
Using your left foot, press the clutch all the way down to the floor. Select 1st gear and keep your foot all the way down. Next give the gas pedal a little bit of a gentle squeeze, you should hear the engine get a little bit louder and sound like a few buzzy bees. Now keep your right foot still as well.
We now need to find the biting point. Slowly raise your left foot so that it is about halfway between the floor and where it was to start with. You should hear a slight change to the engine sound (the tone becomes a little deeper) and the front of the car should rise up a little. This is the biting point and it is where the engine is trying to pull the car along but the brakes are stopping it. However, at this point the clutch is a bit higher than we actually want, so you just need to ease the clutch down a gnat’s whisker so that the engine isn’t pulling quite so hard, otherwise you will move off a bit quicker than you really want. You can “play” with the clutch a bit so that you feel comfortable with getting the bite just right. Just ease the clutch up and squeeze it down a tiny bit a few times and get the feel of it. You need a nice soft bite, just where the bite starts. If you let the clutch get too high, you will hear the brakes begin to creak and then eventually the engine will stall. Your instructor will help you with this and will probably get you to practice finding the biting point a few times so that you get it right.
So that you can remember the order to prepare, think; clutch, gear, gas, bite.
That is the preparation sorted, so keep your feet still and work through the observations.
Before you move off, you need to be sure that you aren’t going to pull out in front of anyone or run anyone over and also make sure that your pathway is clear. So we need to look all the way round to get as much information as possible to help us make a decision as to whether it is safe to move off or not. You will most likely be parked on the left of the road, facing the same way as the traffic is moving, so your observations will start in front of you looking for anything which might obstruct your path. Are there any parked vehicles on your side of the road, if so, you will need to move out, probably onto the wrong side of the road. Or maybe there might be something parked on the other side of the road. If that is the case, then vehicles coming towards you may be well over into your side of the road. Hopefully your instructor will have chosen a nice quiet road, without any parked vehicles, for you to worry about. So having decided that the road in front is clear enough to go, we then need to check what else is around that we need to look for. So now we are going to check our mirrors in a big sweep from left to right. We start with the pavement side because anything there, will be moving a lot slower than anything that is moving in the road. So look out of the passenger window, are there any pedestrians that look as though they are about to cross in front of you. Are there any kiddies on bikes or skateboards that might be about to come past, next look in the centre mirror to see if there is anything coming up behind, then check your right door mirror in case there is anything that is coming alongside you and finally we check our blind spot (more on this later) for anything that might be emerging from someones driveway on the right or maybe is crossing the road from your right.
If there are no pedestrians or vehicles around, then it is safe to move off without indication.
There are several of these. ( See the diagram! ) The first two I am going to mention are the front windscreen pillars. Although they don’t look very big they can actually hide a whole car at certain angles and can easily hide a pedestrian waiting at a crossing. For this reason always look in both directions two or three times when at a crossing or when emerging from a side road. The other two blind spots are the large triangles to the side and rear that are not covered by either of your door mirrors. To fully appreciate this, take a good look in your right door mirror to see what you can see. Look for the nearest point to you in the far right edge and make a mental note of something easily recognisable like a gate post or tree. Then look out of the right driver’s window and find that object. You will then be able to see that everything from that point up to a position directly in line with the mirror can not be seen in the mirror. So things like the pavement and peoples’ driveways. You can see that without checking round to physically look in your blind spot area you could easily miss someone about to emerge from their driveway, someone on a mobility scooter about to cross the road, children playing with a ball, a dog not on a lead or anything that might cause you to act differently. You might just need to signal or maybe wait for a moment before moving off. So here is a scenario; There is a car about to emerge from a driveway and he is going to go in the same direction as you he has not noticed that there is anyone in your car. You are about to move off you have checked around but not checked your blind spots and have decided that the road is clear and there is no need to signal. Both you and the driver in the driveway start to move together and BANG. Had you checked your blind spot, you would have noticed the car emerging from the driveway. You could then wait a moment for him to emerge safely before re-checking around and then following him. Alternatively he may seem to be dithering a bit maybe waiting for his wife to finish locking the front door to join him, in which case you would signal, make eye contact if possible, when you are sure that he is not actually moving you can move off safely knowing that he is fully aware of your presence. Remember, most accidents occur from poor observations. Make sure before you do anything, that your actions will not interfere with anything that anyone else is already doing. Especially when you are making the change from stationary to moving or from moving to stopping but also any change of speed or direction while you are just driving along. See my article called “Are mirrors a waste of time”.
When parked on the left, although you should check your blind spots on both sides, your right blind spot is going to present the most danger. It stands to reason therefore that if you are parked on the right side of the road, you need to be more vigilant about your left blind spot and also your observations will sweep from right to left. ( still pavement to road though, still slow to quick! ).
So when should we use our indicators? If there are pedestrians around we would need to signal to let them know we are about to drive away just in case they were about to cross the road in front of us. If there is something coming towards us from the front and the road ahead has no obstructions, it would be safe to drive forward but we should signal just in case the oncoming vehicles decides to cross over onto our side of the road, to park in front of us. He may not have seen that there is anyone in our vehicle, so signalling will alert him to the fact and allow him to make an informed decision as to whether to park behind us or signal and wait for us to move. If there is someone approaching from behind, a bit more thought needs to take place. How far away is he? Could we move off without making him change speed or direction? If so, we signal right and move off. If it isn’t safe or we are not sure, then we should wait. What we mustn’t do, is signal just as he gets to two or three car lengths away because you will put him in a quandary. He won’t know whether you have seen him and are going to wait or whether you haven’t looked properly and are going to pull out in front of him. The only time you would signal when someone is coming up closely behind is if there is a constant stream of traffic thundering past you. In those conditions it is obvious that you know that there are vehicles passing so it is OK to signal mainly as a plea for someone to slow down and let you out, otherwise you could be there all day waiting.
So you have done all your observations, it is clear enough for you to drive off without interfering with anyones passage, you have put your signal on if you needed to and you are ready to move off…
OK so we are ready to go and we need to move off as soon as we are sure it is safe to do so. We don’t want to hang about because things change fast, if you aren’t able to move away immediately you have decided it is safe, then you need to do all your observations all over again. So as soon as it is safe then it’s hand brake down and go.
So how do we “go”? With your gas pedal just buzzing and your clutch at the biting point, we then release the handbrake, if your biting point is just right, you will remain stationary ( if your clutch is a bit high, you may start to move off straight away. ) start to squeeze the gas pedal gently and then gently ease the clutch up, all the way to the top. Steer away from the kerb by turning the steering wheel about a quarter turn and then turn it back again to straighten the car. Your instructor will help you find the correct road position and help you find a reference point so that you can judge it for yourself. Wha-hoo, you are now driving!!! Now we need to check our road position. Look well ahead and you should feel as though you are in the middle of your side of the road. Glancing in your door mirrors should help you find the centre point. This will be your normal driving position on most roads. However, if the road is very wide then you shouldn’t be any further away from the kerb than one metre or one door width.
The next thing for you to do now, is to learn how to stop!
So how do we stop? Well simply, we need to move back towards the kerb so that we don’t stop in the middle of the road, then we need to brake to stop the wheels from going round and finally just before the car stops completely we need to press the clutch down to stop the engine from stalling. However, there is a bit more we need to do to stop safely. First of all we need to choose the place where we want to stop ( More about that later ) and then we need to consider who might be affected by our actions and what we can do to assist them.
As soon as we know that we want to stop, we look around for a suitable space to stop, check in front and to both sides then check our centre mirror and left door mirror. We need to know who is about, pedestrians or vehicles, we also need to check for turnings etc. and then make a decision whether we need to signal or not. If there is no-one around either on foot or in a vehicle, then there is no necessity to signal but if there is any one around at all, then we must signal. If we need to signal then we need to get that signal on as quickly as possible to give plenty of time for those around us to adjust their actions. About 6-7 car lengths before your target stopping space is a good rule of thumb but sometimes it isn’t feasible to signal that soon, if there is a turning on the left just before where you want to stop for instance. Having checked what is round and signalled or not as the case may be, we then steer towards the kerb using about a quarter turn to the left. Using your parking ref point locate, your position alongside the kerb, gently brake and then press the clutch down. As soon as the car has stopped keep your feet firmly applied to the pedals and pull up the parking brake. Put the gear lever into the neutral position, then relax your feet and turn off the indicator if it is on.