Driving is never risk free, but you should aim to drive with ‘low risk’ by having good observation, speed management and road positioning skills.
The key to good observation is scanning by keeping your eyes moving from one area to the next. You should look:
- In the distance
- At the road surface
- To your left and right
- Regularly at your mirrors and instruments
Drive at a speed that is within the speed limit and suits the conditions so that you can stop for a hazard. You should ‘set up the brakes’ by slowing down and preparing to stop when you spot potential hazards. If you cannot see at least 5 seconds ahead you should slow down. Slow down on wet, icy or gravel roads, as it will take longer for your vehicle to stop.
A hazard is any seen or unseen, actual or potential danger that might lead to a crash. Examples include:
- A pedestrian waiting to cross
- A blind corner
- A car approaching a stop sign on an adjacent street
- Poor conditions
‘Buffer’ your vehicle by maximising the distance to hazards (e.g. moving to the left at the crest of a hill to create space from oncoming vehicles or moving away from parked cars to avoid pedestrians and doors opening). Always check your mirrors before making any change to your speed or position.
Crash avoidance space
A safe low risk driver adjusts their speed and road position to maintain a crash avoidance space completely around the vehicle. Reaction time and response time determine the required crash avoidance space to the front of the vehicle.
Reaction time is the time the driver needs to:
- See the information
- Perceive what it means
- Decide on a response
- Instigate that response
A driver who is fit, concentrating, alert and not affected by alcohol, drugs, fatigue or a distraction, will still require about 1.5 seconds to react to a hazard.
Response time is the time required to take action. Generally a minimum of 1.5 seconds is needed to respond. In many situations braking may be the only possible response as swerving can result in a more severe crash. A 3-second crash avoidance space is needed to react and respond to a situation in front of you (longer in poor conditions).
Following another vehicle
To calculate a 3-second gap, pick a stationary object the car in front passes (e.g. traffic sign) and count to three. You should pass the same object as you count three or after. If you don’t reach three, slow down until you do. These techniques automatically adjust for your speed (increasing the gap as you go faster). You should use the 4-second rule to increase safety in poor conditions including rain, fog, icy roads or night driving.
The 3-second gap will automatically adjust depending on your speed
|Speed (km/h)||Gap required|
Potential for something to move into the crash avoidance space
Slow down if something has the potential to enter your 3-second crash avoidance space. Many of the crashes that occur each day in NSW could be avoided if drivers actively maintained their crash avoidance space.
If an oncoming vehicle crosses the centre line and is heading towards you, slow down, move left and flash your headlights. If one or two of your wheels run off the edge of the road you should slow down gradually and ease back onto the road.
Be careful of intersections where trees or buildings block your vision.
NSW crash patterns
Almost 90% of all NSW crashes fall within only 5 crash types. Crash patterns for provisional and newly licensed drivers are different from those of experienced drivers (though many could be avoided if drivers managed their crash avoidance space).
|1. Rear collision||33%||34%||40%|
|2. Adjacent collision||17%||17%||19%|
|3. Opposite collision||15%||16%||17%|
|4. Straight run-off||9%||11%||6%|
|5. Curved run-off||8%||10%||6%|
For all drivers, rear end collisions are the most common form of crash. However, over 30% of crashes involving provisional drivers are single vehicle crashes involving running off the road.
Basic driving techniques
When you first get in a car take the time to adjust the seat and controls to suit your height and build. Correct driving posture reduces fatigue, improves your control and allows the safety features of the vehicle to operate effectively.
- The steering wheel should be adjusted low, facing the driver’s chest rather than the face (to get the most benefit from the driver’s airbag)
- Adjust the head restraint for your height
- Keep your arms bent; thumbs should be on the rim of the steering wheel
- Keep your knees slightly bent
- Have the seat fairly upright to fully support your back and shoulders
- Sit deep in the seat
- Brace your body using your left foot
Seatbelts work effectively when they are ‘low, flat and firm’:
- Low – placed below your hips to fully secure your bodyweight
- Flat – no twists, turns or folds
- Firm – about every 15 minutes when you drive pull the belt firm to remove slack
Airbags are a supplementary restraining system (SRS) designed to be used in conjunction with seatbelts. To get the most benefit from the driver’s airbag the steering wheel should be adjusted low, facing the driver’s chest (not face).
Two-stage braking improves braking effectiveness, reduces the likelihood of skidding and provides better control:
- Put light pressure on the brake pedal and pause (set up the brakes)
- Progressively apply the necessary braking pressure (squeeze)
Harsh or excessive braking pressure may cause skidding and a loss of control, particularly on wet or gravel roads.
- Steering must be smooth and progressive
- Reduce speed before steering and wait until the vehicle begins to straighten before accelerating
- When steering keep both hands on the outside of the steering wheel and thumbs along the rim
Electronic driver assist systems
The following systems will not prevent a loss of control or crash if the physical limits of the vehicle are exceeded.
Anti-locking Braking Systems (ABS) control braking force to prevent the tyres from skidding under heavy braking or in slippery conditions. Some ABS systems cause the brake pedal to pulse when activated and although this may feel disconcerting, maintain braking effort if the situation requires a quick stop.
Traction Control Systems (TCS) stop the driving wheels from spinning by reducing engine power or temporarily applying the brakes allowing smooth acceleration, even on slippery surfaces.
Electronic Stability Control (ESC) detects if a vehicle is not responding correctly to driver steering input and selectively applies the brakes to individual wheels or changes engine power to maintain the intended direction.
Emergency Brake Assist (EBA) (aka Brake Assist System (BAS)) detects an emergency brake application and automatically increases the force being applied to the brakes to minimise stopping distance.
EcoDriving is a driving style aimed at helping the environment by reducing fuel consumption (potentially saving money) and greenhouse gas emissions. EcoDriving can help to reduce crash involvement by up to 40%.
- Only fill your petrol tank to the first click. This will allow for expansion of the fuel and reduce emissions.
- Only use air conditioning when necessary (it is most efficient above 60km/h).
- Check the tyre pressure frequently. Under-inflated tyres increase rolling resistance and fuel consumption.
- Turn the engine off when you are stopped for lengthy periods.
- Avoid carrying unnecessary weight. Remove objects such as roof racks when not in use and don’t leave heavy items in your vehicle.
- Don’t speed. Higher speeds increase fuel consumption.
- Don’t warm up the engine before starting off. Modern vehicles do not require it, except in cold climates and after long periods of non-use.
- Maintain your vehicle. Ensure your vehicle is regularly serviced and has the correct amount of engine oil and coolant.
- When driving a manual car, change gears at a lower engine speed (revs) – avoid labouring the engine.
- When driving an automatic car use the correct pressure on accelerator to avoid over-revving on take off.
- Maintain a steady speed. Smooth acceleration and deceleration will decrease fuel consumption.
Continue reading the Road Users’ Handbook Summary:
4. Safe Driving
Check out the other resources available to help you pass the Driver Knowledge Test and get your learner licence (L plates):