Relearning to drive
April 26, 2012 10:08 PM   Subscribe

I've got some questions about driving after a hiatus of several years.

I have a current driver's license, but I haven't actually driven a car in over four years due to not owning one, and I'm rusty. I'm looking to start some basic driving again; just enough to do things like get to the store and driving friends who have been drinking.
I've noticed when riding in cars someone else is driving that I now feel like a passenger instead of a driver; I'm no longer in the habit of noticing certain things about the road/environment that I did when I was driving regularly. So, I'm planning on taking a few hours of driving lessons to brush up before I drive alone again, but I'd like to make the most of that time by making a list beforehand of stuff I need to relearn or get re-habituated to.

1. Can you help me generate a list of driving tips and rules I might have forgotten? The more non-obvious the better, but I won't be offended if I remember it. I'm more interested in stuff that feels like habit to you as a drive--I can reread the rule book, but I need to relearn the habits that don't come naturally any more (e.g. honoring right-of-way instead of being "polite").
2. Any driving exercises I should go practice in the big empty parking lot by my house? I know I need to relearn parallel parking, for example.
3. Any recommended reading (besides the Rules of the Road) to remind me of things I might have forgotten?

Bonus question: I'm pretty sure the states I've move among don't have laws about a driver's license losing validity if you're not actively driving under it, but what kind of terms would I search for to make sure this is true?
posted by pavane to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Slow down in the wet or poor visibility, poor road surfaces.

Two second rule - always keep a safe gap between you and the car in front.

Road awareness and judgement is simply something that comes with experience, it cannot readily be taught. Being situationally aware is a matter of habit and practice. To be a better driver, simply drive more.
posted by wilful at 10:16 PM on April 26, 2012

Do me, and every other motorcyclist, a favour, and before you change lanes or turn, turn your head to look behind you in that little arc between the mirror and your peripheral vision. Don't just look in your mirror, turn your head right around on your neck and have a look through the back seat windows of your car in case there's a motorbike there.

I can't count the number of times somebody's tried to change lanes into mine when I'm in it. If there's one good habit you can pick up the second time around that's the one.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 10:32 PM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Related to your bonus question: your insurance premiums may be extremely high. In at least some jurisdictions, your driving record "resets to zero" if you've been uninsured for a certain number of years, presumably because insurance companies are assholes they assume that you've lost the valuable driving experience that you'd previously gained.

I think one of the biggest things to get back in the habit of is being able to predict what others on the road are going to do. This is more art than science and is hard to teach, but often you can just tell that the guy in the lane beside you wants into your lane, isn't going to signal, and will cut you off in about 30 seconds. You can just tell, and so you act accordingly and, sure enough, when he cuts into your lane, you were prepared for it and avoided an accident as a result. (I suppose that a lot of this is just about being a defensive driver, but I like to think that I have psychic road powers.)
posted by asnider at 10:34 PM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm pretty sure there's no law that says you actually have to drive a car to maintain your driver's license. Once you take the road tests, as long as you keep a valid license, you only need to take the written tests when you move to another state.

You'll be surprised how fast driving will become second nature again. You'll start off being over nervous about it, which is good.

Use your turn signals.
posted by birdherder at 10:34 PM on April 26, 2012

Fiasco reminds me, I did a safer driving course for work a year or two ago. One of the things I learnt was that the way we all adjust our mirrors is WRONG! Adjust them like this and you will largely eliminate the blind spot.
posted by wilful at 10:38 PM on April 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

You know, I've done almost exactly this – I did drive very occasionally during the carless period – and it's really not a skill that you lose. I was a bit worried about it too! Just start with short trips on side streets and be extra careful at first and you'll be fine. If you are actually taking driving lessons you're doing more than I did.
posted by furiousthought at 11:26 PM on April 26, 2012

If you're first in line when the light turns green, take a second to look both ways for red-light runners. Itamazes me how many people just go because it's green and never check if it's safe to go.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 12:34 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm curious as to how long you were a regular driver before your hiatus? If you drove for many years, I'm sure you'll be fine. I imagine that after a few lessons you'll be a better driver than most people on the road.

When I was a young man I drove very fast, as young men are wont to do. I calmed down a little after I started to settle down in my mid-twenties. Then, after having been an almost daily driver for more than a decade, I spent several years without driving at all because I lost my nerve after one too many near misses with drunk drivers and the like. Then I spent a few years driving only very occasionally.

A few months back I got a gig that required me to start driving regularly again after my nearly decade hiatus. I found that I still drive just fine, even with some élan if the situation warrants. I still get extremely nervous, but careful driving and taking the familiar routes whenever possible make it easier. After a week or so I wasn't even nervous when behind the wheel, though I sometimes have to psyche myself up to want to do it.

The only specific tip I'd add to the commenters above is to try to keep your driving to daylight hours until you get your feet back under you. Not having to fight darkness and glare while you're shaking the rust off will help.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:04 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The best suggestion I have is to use your turn signals. All. The. Time.

Even if it's late and you don't see anyone around. You may have just missed that car behind you which is driving with its lights out. Or, even if you're very attentive, you didn't seen that guy hanging out in your blind spot who is just itching to pull in right behind you. Especially on the freeway, when everyone is driving 70+ and things happen much faster than you think they do.

Please, use your turn signals.
posted by King Bee at 4:48 AM on April 27, 2012

One more tip that I've seen several people not do lately: except in horrible traffic or other unusual circumstances, a highway on-ramp should be used to smoothly accelerate up to highway speed. You should not be using your brakes on the on-ramp, and you really should not be using your brakes while you merge.

Oh, and another tip: when you're driving in traffic, especially stop-and-go traffic, keep an eye on what's going on up ahead of you, not just on the car in front of you. Try to anticipate what's going to happen next, and when in doubt, leave more room between you and the car in front of you. I got rear-ended quite badly the other day and if people on that road (including me, and of course especially including the girl who hit me) had been paying more attention to what was going on a few cars ahead of them, this could have been avoided.
posted by mskyle at 6:27 AM on April 27, 2012

I was told in drivers ed to keep your headlights on in the day if you don't have daytime running lights, to ensure you are more visible to others. Maybe it's just psychological, but I've always felt a bit safer doing so.

(Thanks for the wing mirror advice, wilful - I'd not realized I'd been doing it wrong all this time!)
posted by DingoMutt at 7:32 AM on April 27, 2012

In my experience (moved to New York at 19 and took a 5+ year hiatus from driving, then started driving regularly for work), it's like riding a bike. Once you're behind the wheel, it all comes back.

If anything, I'd suggest taking it easy your first time out. Maybe just start by driving around a parking lot, or through a quiet area with minimal traffic. The rules will start coming back to you.

Agreed on having your first time back behind the wheel be during the day.
posted by Sara C. at 11:54 AM on April 27, 2012

Something that I believe has changed in the past 5 years is that many more people drive while using their cell phones. It makes them very dangerous to be around. Be on the lookout for distracted drivers - they'll go way too slow, swerve oddly, merge without signaling, try to make illegal left turns, etc. Just a bonus hazard you might not be aware of if you have not been driving for a while.
posted by newg at 1:19 PM on April 27, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. All of these are best-answer quality and are making me feel more confident about returning to the road.
posted by pavane at 12:58 AM on April 28, 2012

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