Before You Start Driving
Essential Driving Maneuvers

Basic Driving Manuvers for Beginners: Before You Start Driving

Updated May 24, 2019

In this section we discuss the driving maneuvers and techniques you must learn before you get out on the road. When it comes to positioning your car, steering, backing up and communicating with other road users, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about things. It is important to learn the correct maneuvering rules and methods from the start of your learning journey, otherwise you may develop bad habits which are hard to fix later.

Pre-drive checklist

Completing a pre-drive checklist will be part of your practical driving exam. Successfully running through the checklist demonstrates to your assessor that you know how to begin a journey safely, spot mechanical issues before you depart and make necessary adjustments to your vehicle. You will fail your driving test if you miss too many points on the pre-drive checklist.

It is important to begin working through the pre-drive checklist from the very first day you start learning to drive, as it will help you form good habits in preparation for the exam. When you are a more experienced driver, many of these checks will become second nature and you will not need to run through the list thoroughly every time you get in your car.

The pre-drive checklist begins outside the vehicle, where you must look for animals, obstacles and children around the car that may not be seen from the driver’s seat. Also check for any obvious damage to the vehicle which may render it unsafe to drive. Inside the vehicle you must then adjust your side-view mirrors, rear-view mirror and seat belt, before embarking on your journey.

Lane positioning

Correct lane positioning amounts to much more than simply staying within the boundaries of your lane. According to driving experts there are five possible lane positions, each of which is appropriate in a unique set of driving situations. Lane positions 1, 2 and 3 should be used when traveling in a single lane, while 4 and 5 must only be assumed when merging into a different lane. Here is a brief breakdown of the five lane positions you must learn:

  1. 1

    Lane position 1:  The default driving position. Your vehicle is positioned in the center of a lane, with at least three feet of space between your car and the lane boundary lines.

  2. 2

    Lane position 2:  Three to six inches away from the left boundary line. Assumed to avoid obstacles, prepare for a left turn or move over for road workers in the adjacent lane.

  3. 3

    Lane position 3:  Three to six inches away from the right boundary line. Assumed to avoid obstacles or prepare for a right turn.

  4. 4

    Lane position 4:  Straddling the left lane boundary line. Assumed when merging to the left-hand lane or avoiding an obstacle in the middle of your lane.

  5. 5

    Lane position 5:  Straddling the right lane boundary line. Assumed when merging to the right-hand lane or avoiding an obstacle in the center of your current lane.

Keep in mind that positions 4 and 5 should only be used to avoid a hazard when you can do so without endangering drivers in the adjacent lane.

Car reference points

Knowing where your vehicle should be positioned is the easy part. Visualizing where your vehicle sits on the road and maneuvering it into the correct position is difficult – particularly for new drivers. Ascertaining where your car is in relation to other vehicles, obstacles, the curb and road markings is a challenge because the car itself obscures your view. From the driver’s seat, you must rely on your mirrors and strategic reference points to help you maneuver the vehicle.

When attempting to position your vehicle the recommended three to six inches away from side-adjacent objects and markings (i.e. the curb, or the edge of a parking space) use your left headlight, or the center of your hood. When parking on the left side of the street, your left headlight should line up with the curb when you are in the correct position. When parking on the right, the curb should appear to intersect the center of your hood.

We discuss these reference points along with tactics you can use to position yourself correctly in relation to front and rear road markings, elsewhere on the website.

Steering

Learning to steer your vehicle correctly begins with assuming the correct hand position on the steering wheel. There are three generally accepted hand positions: “10 and 2”, “9 and 3” and “8 and 4”. Opinions on which position is the most appropriate for general use vary state by state, so you should consult your own driving manual in addition to reading this article. Generally, position “9 and 3” is the safest option, as it affords superior leverage on the steering wheel while keeping your forearms safely away from the air bag deployment zone. If the air bag deploys when your arms are in the way, they will be thrown back toward your face and could cause serious injury.

When it comes to steering technique, drivers have several options. Which you use should depend on the situation, as discussed below:

  1. 1

    Hand-to-hand / Push-pull steering:  Widely considered the safest and most effective steering method, hand-to-hand steering involves feeding the wheel through the hands while executing a turn. With push-pull steering, the driver does not sacrifice control by removing one hand from the wheel. This technique keeps your forearms safely away from the air bag deployment zone.

  2. 2

    Hand-over-hand steering:  This technique involves removing one hand at a time from the steering wheel, crossing the hands to regain connection and keep the wheel turning. Hand-over-hand steering is an acceptable technique to use during your driving test and is considered more efficient than hand-to-hand by many drivers. This is untrue, as experts now understand hand-over-hand to be a less efficient steering method in most situations. It is also more dangerous, as crossing the hands puts them in front of the air bag deployment area.

  3. 3

    One hand steering:  One handed steering is only appropriate when backing up demands that you release the wheel to look over your shoulder, and when you need one hand to operate controls within the vehicle. It should not be used in general driving situations otherwise.

Backing up

Reversing your car can be a little daunting to begin with, as your view behind the vehicle is limited. The key thing to remember about backing up is that you MUST turn and look back over your shoulder while maneuvering; do not rely solely on your mirrors to guide you. Reversing without turning around will amount to a fail on your driving exam. However, you must not look backward throughout the entire maneuver either! Remember to look forward briefly and check the position of your front wheels, particularly when backing up into a tight spot.

Follow these steps while reversing a car:

  1. Press your foot firmly on the brakes and shift the car into reverse.
  2. Place your left hand at the 12 o’clock position on the wheel, release the parking brake.
  3. Place your right hand on the passenger seat to brace yourself.
  4. Do not accelerate. Instead, gently release the brake until the car starts to move backwards.
  5. You should only accelerate if the situation calls for a fast maneuver. Always cover the brake pedal in case you need to stop.
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