As a new driver, you’re probably pretty excited to start driving yourself around and not have to rely on your parents or guardians to help you out. You’re experiencing a new level of independence and truly entering adulthood! But while getting to have more autonomy over your schedule, having the ability to go out with friends unchaperoned, and even getting to go on dates without any embarrassing parent encounters, being a driver also entails a lot of responsibility. After all, you’re driving around a vehicle that weighs thousands of pounds. While it might not seem like a big deal since driving is such an accepted part of our culture, small mistakes behind the wheel can cause big problems.
We’re not trying to scare you here, but driving a car is a responsibility you should take seriously—not just for yourself but for the other people in your car and on the road. And driver’s ed can be a total whirlwind, so it’s easy to forget some of the most important things to keep in mind before sitting down and driving to your destination.
1. Make Sure You’re Able to Drive
This can be interpreted a few different ways, but essentially you always want to make sure you have your license, you’re not intoxicated, and you’re wide awake.
Driving without your license isn’t just something you can laugh off to a police officer and hope they’ll let it slide; instead, you could be facing a serious ticket. Even if you only have to drive a short distance, always make sure your license is on you—no exceptions.
Additionally, ask yourself if you’re physically capable of driving. This goes beyond drunk or high driving, which is most definitely a bad idea and any online driver’s ed class will discuss thoroughly. But you must also consider how tired you are. Some studies have shown that over a third of adult drivers have fallen asleep behind the wheel. Even if your eyes feel just the slightest bit heavy, it’s better to take some plan of action to prevent drowsy driving. Try an energy drink, jumping jacks, or even pulling over for a power nap. The best option, though, is to see if you know someone who can help you. Can you call your parents or a friend who can pick you up? You might feel like you’re inconveniencing them, but they would much rather help you get home safely than have you get into a car accident simply because you’re tired.
2. Make the Car Yours
Every car is different, just like every driver has his own preference. When you’re new, driving doesn’t feel natural yet, so you’ll be hyper-aware of several things, which may increase your stress levels or cause you to be distracted. Save yourself some time and make sure you adjust certain things depending on how you like them.
Adjust the car seat to fit your proportions. Make sure that you’re high enough to have an unobstructed view of the road. If your seat is pushed back too far, you might have a difficult time reaching the pedals. If it’s too near, your legs might start cramping while driving.
Adjusting your car seat is particularly true if you’re using a family car, which means you’re not the only one driving it. Taking the time to check your seat will go a long way in terms of comfort once you’re on the road.
Adjust your mirrors. Drivers usually take mirrors for granted because you can always stick your head out your window. When you’re in the middle of the road, it may not be such a good idea.
If you use them properly, mirrors are excellent tools for safety, but you have to make sure they’re adjusted to fit your height and how you position your head. Find the correct position for your rearview mirror so you can see the space directly behind your car.
Your side mirrors, on the other hand, should be used to help you see the lanes on either side.
Side and rearview mirrors allow you to see behind you and to your side without moving your eyes or head a great deal. These are crucial, especially when you have to switch lanes.
Check your indicator lights. When you turn the engine on, all indicator lights on your dashboard turn on temporarily. Lights that remain on may indicate that something’s wrong.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so take the time to check these out before you leave. It’s safer to deal with concerns about the oil level or your battery while you’re still at home.
3. Buckle Your Seatbelt (And Make Sure Passengers Do, Too)
Maybe you grew up and the first thing your mom or dad said when you hopped in the car was, “Make sure to buckle up.” Or maybe your parents or guardians rarely put on their seatbelts themselves and never bugged you about it, either. No matter what your childhood was like, it’s your time to call the shots, and you should always be putting on your safety belt. There’s no downside to putting it on, every online driver’s ed course will remind you to take this very important step, and the upside is that you can reduce crash-related deaths by half.
It certainly becomes complicated for a teen driver to try to convince friends to put on their seatbelts. Even if you do it for yourself religiously, though, it can be uncomfortable to talk your friends into doing it, too—especially if it’s never been something their parents made a priority. You want to be friends with them, but you should also be looking out for their safety.
As the driver of the car, you make the rules, and if your friends aren’t going to listen to you that means that they don’t respect you as a person. To get people to buckle up in your car:
- Let them know that you simply don’t drive anyone who won’t put on their seat belt.
- If it’s not your car and is instead your parent’s, tell them you are respectful of your parent’s wishes and require any passengers to wear a seat belt.
- Tell them they can ride with someone else.
There’s no reason to sugarcoat it, and being firm is going to be the most effective way to get your point across. It’s not an easy conversation to have, but you—and they—need to understand that you are the driver, and thus responsible for those in the car. If they’re not going to respect your wishes, then they’ll have to find another way to get around.
4. Know Where You’re Going
When you’ve just pulled out of the driveway or are trying to determine which direction of the interstate you need with a moment’s notice is not the time to pull out your phone or GPS system to work its magic. Distracted driving causes nearly 40% of accidents, and bumbling around to get directions to where you want to go take your attention from the road. In fact, some in-car GPS systems won’t even operate while the car is in motion—a smart way to ensure driver safety.
Get your directions ready before you put the car in drive. Review them and know where you’re going, and set your GPS or your phone in a spot that doesn’t require you to hold it. When your attention can be completely on the road and other drivers around you, driving is not only safer but incredibly less stressful.
And if you get on the road and realize you need to make adjustments or tweak where you’re headed, don’t try to get updated directions while driving; instead, pull over and get it sorted out there. It will cost you maybe a minute of your time but make your drive infinitely safer!
5. Be Aware of Your Surroundings
You can increase your awareness by simply taking a walk around your car to see if anything is blocking your way. There are times when children hide behind your vehicle, or you fail to notice how close the trash bins are to the edge of the curb. It also gives you a chance to check whether there are scratches or dents you didn’t notice prior.