Congratulations! You’ve secured your license and become a newly-qualified PCO driver — now it’s time to kickstart your driving career. And although it’s an incredibly exciting milestone, it can undoubtedly be a little daunting. Whether you’ve been driving for years, or have only recently learned, you might be a bit nervous about taking your first passengers where they need to go. So, if you feel like you need a bit of reassurance, read on for some tips to help you navigate the roads as safely as possible.
1. Follow the safety rules
It may seem obvious, but it’s imperative that you always follow the law while driving, and refer back to the highway code if necessary. Here are some of the main considerations.
Knowing when to indicate and signal helps to warn and inform others of your intended actions, such as when you plan to pull over. Use them to show others you’re going to change course or direction, and for stopping and moving off. Make sure to signal in plenty of time to allow other drivers to react, as this ensures others can maintain safety while driving too. Don’t forget to look out for other driver’s signals as well so that you know it is safe to drive yourself.
You need to be using your car lights at all times, so make sure they are all working properly. Your lights will keep you safe while driving, as they allow you to be visible on the road. Visibility is essential for allowing you and others to be able to see the road clearly, particularly at night, but also in the case of road obstruction, flying debris and larger vehicles. Brake lights should be used when braking so that other drivers are aware that you’re going to slow down and brake, but not excessively in stationary queues as this causes unnecessary glare for the driver behind you.
Your headlights and fog lights are necessary at moments of reduced visibility, and your dipped headlights should be on so you can be seen in dreary weather. All sidelights and rear registration plates also must be lit between sunrise and sunset. At night, your headlights should always be on, but kept dipped in more populated areas, or when approaching other road users, including vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. Remember never to dazzle other drivers or discomfort road users by flashing your lights unnecessarily or keeping them too bright, including pedestrians and cyclists.
Bad weather conditions
As a new driver, it’s likely that you will be inexperienced when it comes to bad weather, so take extra care when driving during winter. However, to get used to these conditions, you shouldn’t go out of your way to avoid them. The more you experience bad weather, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with them. You need to know how your braking distance will be impaired during changes of weather — for instance, rain, snow and ice will extend it, meaning you have to brake sooner. Braking distance can double in wet conditions, and failing to brake in time could result in a major accident, this could be exacerbated by poor weather.
Try to keep a safe distance away from other vehicles during bad weather conditions to give you and other drivers more time to react, and drive slowly to reduce the risk of skids and accidents. When planning journeys, check the weather before setting off so you can, plan accordingly.
2. Keep healthy
Driving while tired is dangerous, regardless of whether you’re a new driver or not. Sleep deprivation has similar effects on your body to drinking alcohol, so if you have a long journey planned, ensure you’ve had seven to eight hours sleep the night before. And if you ever feel drowsy while driving, pull over and rest whenever it’s safe to do so.
Staying hydrated is also important, as it enables you to concentrate and make better decisions. Research shows that dehydration can also increase the number of errors made while driving, so make sure you carry a water bottle with you. And of course, you should never drink and drive. Even alcohol consumption the night before setting off for an early morning drive can affect your ability to operate your car safely, partly because you rarely sleep well after drinking, so you may feel drowsy. You could also still be over the limit — drink driving has its consequences, and you could be imprisoned, banned or fined if found guilty. The average liver processes one unit of alcohol per hour, so if you drink eight units it will take eight hours to sober up. As such, it’s likely you’ll be over the limit the day after a heavy night drinking into the early hours.
3. Invest in technology and download apps
Technology can be a godsend while driving, making it much easier to follow safety measures, and monitor how you’re using your car. A dash cam is one particularly beneficial example, and isn’t only useful if you’re involved in an accident, but can also encourage you to drive safely, since you’re being constantly recorded. This camera will document everything that happens in front of your vehicle, so if you have an accident you’ll be able to see exactly what occurred, what caused it and who was responsible. Some dashcams even have an SOS feature which contacts the emergency services if a collision is detected, which could save your life.
There are also apps that can help you drive safely, such as Everdrive, an app which measures your driving skills every time you’re out on the road. It can assess speeding, hard braking, acceleration and turning, and provides an overall driving score for the previous two weeks. The app enables drivers to learn from their results — for instance, if it notices you’ve been speeding it can encourage you to slow down and be cautious.
4. Avoid distractions
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drivers who are distracted and fail to give their full attention to the road are the leading cause of most crashes. You need to be alert at all times while driving to ensure the safety of yourself and others, so as a new driver, you should be cautious about who you let enter your car, as your friends might be distracting. Another common distraction is mobile phones, which is illegal and can lead to your license being revoked if you passed your test in the last two years. Should you absolutely need to use your phone on the road, make sure you have hands-free access like a Bluetooth headset and voice command, but otherwise, ignore it. If you need extra help restraining yourself, you could also turn on do-not-disturb mode or flight mode to prevent you from looking at notifications.
It is also a good idea to keep your music volume down while driving, as being unable to hear certain sounds, like an approaching motorbike, could be dangerous. Some studies have suggested that music impairs driving performance, depending on the volume, tempo and type of music played. For instance, listening to quiet, calming music, or nothing at all encourages people to drive more safely, whereas louder music can actually lead to more violations. So, remove any possible distractions and you’ll drive much safer.
5. Keep your passengers’ welfare in mind
As well as staying safe yourself, as a PCO driver, it’s imperative to keep your passengers’ well being in mind when making a journey. Before setting off, check that everyone in the vehicle has their seatbelts fastened, and that they are kept on at all times during the ride. You should always stick to the speed limit, keeping an eye on your speedometer and staying aware of the limits for different types of roads. For example, urban roads with street lighting have a 30mph limit, while you can drive safely at up to 70mph on a motorway. Remember that you have the right to ask your customers to keep distracting behaviours to a minimum, particularly if they’re being too loud, and it’s affecting your ability to concentrate while driving.