First time behind the wheel: what you need to know

Ah, yes you have received your learner’s permit! Considering I received mine just over a year ago I vividly remember what it was like to walk into the DMW and walk into the room I was supposed to test. Oh the nerves! If my mother wasn’t there, I don’t think I would have the strength to walk there. Once the test, which was surprisingly not as difficult as expected, was completed, I received my license and was ready to receive the keys to the car.

However, there are two different things when you dream of being behind the wheel of a four-wheeled vehicle compared to the reality of actually driving it. My first time was nerve-wracking to say the least. I didn’t know how to turn, let alone how to hit the road. Sure, I saw my parents drive almost 90% of the time, but as the saying goes, “Seeing is not doing.” To help you better evacuate this nervousness now, here are my 7 different tips to guide you.

That being said, I recently got my driver’s license two months ago, so I only have a little more experience than you at the moment. My younger sisters might not get it as fast as me or maybe they’ll be able to do a right turn perfectly the first time. Either way, all that matters is that you learn to drive well.

1. Breathe

I know this may sound basic, but it is absolutely necessary. The driver must be fully conscious and physically capable of maneuvering the vehicle. Nerves are the enemy of any driver and this can be detrimental in the case of new drivers. Anxiety is very reasonable, especially in a situation where you are venturing into the unknown. However, when handling a vehicle where you could potentially injure another person, it is best that you practice any technique to help calm your nerves.

Personally, I say a prayer before exiting my driveway to calm myself down. Putting my thoughts in order like this keeps me focused and calmer. It really helps me to know that I have a God who is always watching over me. If you’re not religious, find an alternative to keep your mind as focused as possible.

2. Try to have a quiet environment

You know what I mean. As tempting as it may seem, messing with Shawn Mendes or Taylor Swift isn’t the best option when you’re new to driving. For me, as a licensee, I practice not listening to the radio unless my sisters can change stations if the music gets too distracting. Speaking of siblings, now is not the time to bring the loudest. The first time was just me and my dad. As much as I love my family, my siblings and my mother are very talkative and being related to them, I can’t resist having a conversation with them.

So, that’s all to say, it’s best not to play the radio at all (at least for the first time) and make sure to cut down on family distractions. Don’t even consider bringing any of your friends until you have received your permit. It might seem like an enticing idea to bring several of your friends, but you’ll be tempted to be more entertained than you would with an older person.

3. Look at the accelerator pedal

I understand the incredible urge to press the accelerator pedal to go a little faster. However, the accelerator pedal is not like a button on a gamepad. It has power that can maneuver the vehicle and drive in certain directions. Self-control is essential to ensure everyone’s driving safety. Your motor runs smoothly when gently brought up to optimum speed.

Thus, when it comes to stopping at a traffic light, you have to wait 2 to 3 seconds before pressing the accelerator pedal. When you do, go from a complete stop to a gradual roll to the appropriate speed for the highway. GRADUALLY increase the pressure on the pedal; you lose control of the car once you step on the accelerator pedal.

4. expect to make mistakes

Everyone does it when they start driving. If you didn’t make mistakes, you just wouldn’t be human. As common as mistakes can be for new drivers, don’t let those mistakes define you. You are definitely more than your mistakes. Making the turn over 20 miles per hour isn’t necessarily the worst thing you can do.

This doesn’t mean you have to accept mistakes and maintain a complacent attitude. Not only does it affect your ability to drive, but it creates a tendency for laziness in you. Remember that the sooner you accept and learn from what you are doing wrong, people are more eager to teach you.

5. Leave plenty of space

Always leave room. I know that might sound extra, but believe me, it is. Not only is this useful for avoiding collisions, but it also provides a sufficient error zone. Of course, driving on a busier street might be the best idea for a new driver. However, if you leave enough room, it will prevent an unnecessarily wide turn from negatively impacting another driver. In tougher weather as well, I highly recommend leaving even more space for safe riding.

6. Try to avoid peak hours

As tempting as it is to drive around other people, wait a minute. When driving at certain times, such as 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., there is usually traffic. Otherwise, there will be a large number of stops and starts. For a new driver, that means you have to have a lot of control over the brakes. In order to start and stop the number of times required by traffic, you must have precise skills in using the clutch.

It’s also a good reminder that in these rush hours, people will be more eager than ever to get home. That being said, tantrums can suddenly flare up and no matter who is wrong, words can fly. So, as a new driver, this extra distraction can cause more anxiety than necessary. So follow this advice and limit yourself to driving in the late morning and early afternoon.

7. Know where you are driving

You shouldn’t venture onto that new side road you spotted last Tuesday. As you have never been on this route, there could be pitfalls that you had not anticipated. Just to avoid all that panic, it’s best to stick to familiar areas such as your neighborhood, the streets, and the occasional parking lot. By doing this you are helping yourself and your riding partner by not having to worry about where and how to turn around.

This brings me to another thing: knowing the traffic signs on the road. Of course, you must already know what a stop sign looks like. Yes, the big red octagon! However, there are other signs that may not be so familiar. Spend some time learning these signs and it will save you a lot of hassle and mistakes. Remember, although not every sign will be something you will remember clearly and it’s okay if you draw a blank from memory. I strongly advise you to learn the signage before setting off on the road.

Here are the colors you should associate with each type of panel:

  • Yellow signs often convey a warning. Ex. Left turn, right turn, winding road, stop ahead, etc.

  • Blue signs are for services. We should all be aware of this. Ex. Food, gas stations, hotels, etc.

  • The white panels are regulatory.

  • Orange (most commonly recognized) is used for construction. It will warn and guide drivers to safely navigate a work zone.

  • Brown signs indicate that there are parks and recreation centers nearby.