Safe Driving After an Extended Break from Driving
During the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the focus has been on vehicle safety after the lockdown. Vehicle owners were told to look after the car battery, tyres and other vehicle components to ensure that their vehicles are fit for driving after the lockdown!
But are we as drivers also fit to drive?
For those who return to driving after an exceptionally long time, getting back behind the wheel can be a daunting prospect. In this section, we would like to discuss how we can ensure safe driving for those returning to driving after a long break.
Reasons for the Break from Driving
The break from driving could be for some as short as a month or two, while for others it may be years and even decades away from the wheel! Personal circumstances may differ but some of the safety suggestions we will discuss may apply in the same manner.
Possible reasons for the break from driving could include:
- Drivers felt pressured to undergo the driving test at an early age.
- A lack of confidence to drive or still feeling stressed after passing the driver’s test.
- While licensed to drive there was never the need to drive.
- Drivers have been abroad with access to world-class public transport in an urban environment.
- A change in marital status or the death of a spouse who did all the driving.
- A return to physical or mental health after a lengthy hospitalization.
Returning to drive after you have been in a road crash
Many licensed drivers will avoid the roads after they have been a victim of a road crash.
- Vehophobia, or the fear of driving, is very real for people who have been involved in a serious crash.
- This fear is technically a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
- Road crash victims fear they will suffer a panic attack while driving and harm or kill another person or family member.
- A mental re-approach to the anxiety-inducing experience of operating a motor vehicle is required.
- Professional help from a therapist could help someone with driving anxiety to prevent panic attacks.
- It is advised that the driver ease back into the routine to build confidence and increase the comfort level behind the steering wheel.
- Face the fear! Drivers should not avoid the crash scene and further feed the anxiety.
- It is often best to take someone along on the return to driving to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
What are the major challenges to return to Driving?
The return to driving after a break of any time can be daunting. It is not merely about picking up where you left off or as simple as “riding a bike”! The lack of driving practice can indeed make it a costly and dangerous to venture onto the road without the required knowledge, ability and confidence:
- If you have not driven for a lengthy period, your driving skills will be rusty.
- For most, the main concern is about safety and not killing or injuring another!
- Whether it has only been a few months since you were last out on the roads or decades, the rules of the road are constantly changing.
- It is incredibly important that you brush up on these rule updates.
- Roads may have changed and become much more congested in specific areas.
- Get familiar with any new speed limitations, new roads, or routes that might have changed since you last drove.
Safety suggestions on returning to Driving
It is important to focus on both the theoretical and physical aspects of the return to driving:
Theoretical knowledge about safe driving
- Theoretical knowledge is the key to safe driving.
- Ensure that you are familiar with the road signs and the many other rules of the road.
- Whether you are driving your own car or someone else's, you need to make sure you're completely familiar with it.
- Read the user manual of the vehicle/car.
- Spend some time getting to grips with how everything works - from your hazard lights to windscreen wipers to fog lights.
- Go through the small rituals that we take for granted such as checking and adjusting mirrors, the car seat, headrest, and the position of the seat.
- Know more about hazard awareness and defensive driving techniques for specific conditions.
Techniques for the returning driver.
- Become comfortable again with the pedals and clutch control.
- Be reminded of observation and where to look during driving manoeuvres.
- When rusty you may wish to start driving in a less busy area to get into the swing of things again.
- Acquaint yourself with the adjustments in the driving style required for rural driving, all-weather driving, driving at night etc.
- Focus on avoiding any driver distractions. Radio silence might be your best bet for a while.
Building confidence for the return to safe driving
- A break, whether short or long, can have you feeling insecure in your driving ability.
- You may need to work at regaining your confidence on the road.
- There is plenty that you can do to rebuild your confidence and ensure you are safe on the roads.
- For some having a family member or friend next to them in the passenger seat can boost their confidence -whether they are keeping nerves at bay by chatting or giving handy tips.
- Keep in mind that having a relative or friend beside you in the car can sometimes have the opposite effect for those feeling more pressure having them there.
- An advanced driving course is always a good suggestion for those looking to sharpen their driving skills and overcome their nerves.
- It can help you build up the skills you need to tackle any kind of road conditions and give you the confidence boost you need to drive unsupervised.
Take it slow when you start driving again
- It can take drivers a while to rebuild their confidence.
- It is important to build your confidence at a pace that suits you.
- Do not force yourself to tackle road types and conditions that you are not comfortable with just yet.
- Stick to quieter local roads for the time being. That way you know the roads and you can get home quickly if you feel stressed!
- Once you have a few hours of practice under your belt, you can begin to challenge yourself by driving to areas you are not familiar with.
- Continue to practise either with relatives, friends or a professional driving instructor and you will get there eventually.
Where and how to drive
- Before you start the ignition take some time to get to grips with the vehicle you are driving.
- Drive to a closeby familiar area and test your skills in areas such as clutch control and manoeuvres.
- Good examples of a safe location could be an empty car park or a special section in a quiet residential estate.
- This may allow you to practice driving in a square for hours at a time without encountering another vehicle or pedestrian traffic.
- Stick to areas you are familiar with at first and avoid driving at rush hour, at least until you feel more comfortable behind the wheel.
- Try to drive every day or so, even if it is just for half an hour.
- Gradually increase driving distances.
- Try to also drive at different times of the day [also driving at night] to get used to different volumes of traffic.
- If you ever feel overwhelmed, pull over in a safe place and take a few minutes to collect your thoughts.
- The best thing to do to get motoring again is to book yourself a refresher driving course.
- Refresh your driving knowledge and get essential guidance from someone who is experienced with teaching people in your exact situation how to drive.
- Most driving schools offer these refresher lessons and driving instructors are used to reintroducing drivers to the roads.
- Unlike learning to drive the first time, there is no test to pass at the end, so it is much less stressful.
- Courses are designed to help you feel comfortable driving a modern car on today's busy roads.
- They will teach you how to drive safely, which will give you more confidence.
- With modern-day concerns about the environment and the high price of fuel, a refresher course will usually teach you to drive more efficiently.
- This will save you money and help you to minimise your impact on the environment.
Insurance for the driver returning after a long break from driving
- Consider not only the road risks but also the financial risks of your return to driving.
- Always be prepared for and insured in the unfortunate event of a collision or road crash.
- If not your own vehicle, get insured as a regular driver on a friend or family member’s car.
- Being insured on someone else’s car may take the pressure off you, allowing you to have lessons and learn at your own pace.
- If you were hospitalized for more than about 3 months, be advised to inform your insurers and to act in accordance with their response.
Many drivers returning to the roads after a long break may fear the hefty costs of insurance or buying a car. The risk of unsafe driving is however much more severe - You cannot put a price on safety.
Only return to the roads after implementing the recommended safety steps and having made sure you and others are able to share the roads safely and with confidence.