Are you a new driver? Or know someone who is? Here’s a checklist you need to read
You’ve done your practice drives and passed your license exam.
Now it’s time to drive in the real world, where the roads can get hectic, distractions are all
around, and other drivers seem to be constantly late to wherever it is they’re going.
All this can feel pretty daunting, so before you get into the driver’s seat, here’s what you can do
to make sure you arrive safely, with nerves intact.
o Buckle up! – This should always be the first thing you and all your passengers – front
and back seat – do when you get in the car. But don’t just take it from your parents; the
U.S National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that the seatbelt is effective in reducing serious
crash-related injuries and deaths by about half 12 . Just as you as the driver get to pick the
music, it is also your prerogative – and in fact your responsibility – to get your
passengers to buckle up too.
o Speeding kills – So don’t do it, seriously. It’s as simple as that. Always keep within the
speed limit (or well below it if you are driving on wet, icy, narrow, or windy roads). Young
drivers in particular can be more likely to see speed as exciting and are particularly
prone to approaching bends too fast and overtaking dangerously. Why risk your safety
and getting a ticket just to get there two minutes faster?
o Boring but important – Make sure you have the appropriate paperwork with you in your
vehicle. This means: your driver’s license, a copy of your insurance policy, registration
papers, and emergency information. Different countries – and even different states or
provinces – have different laws about what you need to carry while driving, so do your
research and be prepared.
It’s also important to know the right thing to do if you get pulled over by the police (move
to the side of the road when it is safe to do so, and stop). Stay calm and be cooperative
– the police have a job to do too.
o Managing rush hour traffic – Crawling along in rush hour gridlock can be frustrating for
any driver, experienced or not. Try to keep enough distance between you and the car in
front so you have time to respond to sudden braking – as a rule of thumb, always stay
three cars lengths from the car in front of you. Get to know your car’s features and how
they can help. For instance, vehicles like the new Ford Focus are equipped with Active
City Stop technology, which operates at speeds below approximately 50 km/h by
applying the brakes if it detects that a crash is likely.
o Your Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) is your friend – ABS can be extra useful for
new drivers. It helps you maintain steering control and vehicle stability by keeping the
brakes from locking. If ABS activates, the pedal may pulsate under your foot and you
might hear the wheels lock and unlock. Don’t worry, that’s just the system doing its job.
o A red light is not a Snapchat break – While you know full-well not to use your mobile
phone while driving (or have it resting on your leg, or placed between your shoulder and
ear), it’s important to remind yourself that the same applies at a red light – under the law,
you’re still driving when you are stopped at a traffic light. If you happen to get caught, the
police won’t think that Snapchat selfie was as important as you may have.
o Blinded by the light – Driving at night brings a new level of complexity: it can be harder
to see than it is during the day, and you have to deal with glare from oncoming traffic. So
don’t give off glare either: remember to dip your high beams for oncoming traffic. And
don’t forget the basics: keep your windows clean to maximise visibility at night.
o Steering out of trouble – It may sound obvious, but if the road you’re on has potholes
or is slippery, drive more slowly so you can anticipate and avoid them. If your vehicle
comes with Electronic Stability Control (ESC), that can be a great help too. ESC uses a
system of sensors designed to support stability when your vehicle starts to slide away
from your intended path, by braking individual wheels and reducing engine torque as
o Rules and curfews – According to the Road Safety Department of Malaysia (JKJR), the
highest number of road fatalities involved teenagers between the ages of 16 to 25 years
of age. Try not to drive to events when you know there will be alcohol. Even if you know
the rules about not drinking and driving, peer pressure may put you in a tough spot.
Giving yourself a curfew will also help you manage your own fatigue levels.
o Just in case – Make sure you have the knowledge of what to do if you are in an
accident. Turn on your hazards. Turn off the engine and check that you and your
passengers are OK. Have your documentation and local emergency numbers on hand.
Check if it is safe to get out of your vehicle. Make sure you exchange information if there
is another party involved.
As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. We’ve all been in your shoes as a new driver,
and we all found ourselves in sticky situations. With practice – and with these tips – you’re well
on your way to becoming a confident driver.
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1 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Plans and Programs, Office of Planning and Analysis (11 July 1984). Passenger Car Front Seat Occupant Protection (PDF) (Report). p. IV-2.
2 "Seat Belts: Get the Facts". Motor Vehicle Safety. Centers for Disease Control. 20 August 2015.