I Just Got My License — Now What?
Congrats! You're officially part of the club. You have joined the millions of new drivers already behind the wheel. You're probably feeling excited, nervous, or possibly scared — you may even be feeling a combination of all three. Don't worry; these feelings are normal.
Here are a few tips to keep you sane and safe.
Know Your Limits
When you were a kid and first learned how to ride a bike, you probably started out with the basics. You knew your limits — you kept both hands on the handlebars, your butt firmly in the seat, and you limited your trips to your neighborhood. After some time, you gained experience and became more comfortable with your bike; you probably ventured farther and took longer trips.
Driving a vehicle can be similar. As a new driver, the key is to make sure you are extra-careful and practicing safe driving habits. You might notice older friends and relatives doing something risky — like speeding up instead of slowing down at a yellow light. But when a driver who doesn't have a lot of experience on the road does it, that kind of behavior can be even more dangerous.
Before you take a long road trip, make sure you're completely comfortable going to and from school and work. Before you begin driving at night, when reduced visibility makes driving more complicated, make sure you have daytime driving down. Before you start driving your friends around, if your state's GDL program allows it, practice driving with a responsible adult riding shotgun and on your own — so you aren't distracted by the company.
Safe Driving Tips
Here are some tips for developing safe driving habits:
- Obey all traffic rules. This includes you and every passenger wearing a seatbelt at all times, coming to a complete stop at all red lights and stop signs, obeying speed limits, knowing when to yield, etc.
- Avoid distractions. When you first start driving, it's a good idea to avoid taking friends along with you. Besides being illegal in some states while you're a novice driver, driving with friends can be distracting and can increase the risk of a crash. Remember, passengers can be very distracting even for an experienced driver. With more experience, driving with friends can become less stressful. Other things that can distract any driver include talking on the phone, eating, putting on makeup, and listening to loud music. And it should go without saying — no texting!
- Keep alert. Keeping alert doesn't simply mean paying attention — it means eliminating any factors that might detract from reaction time. Alcohol reduces judgment, driving ability, and alertness. Driving while drowsy leads to similar effects, so get enough sleep. Mixing driving, alcohol and drugs, and drowsiness can be deadly.
Responsible driving also can help you save money. A good driver is less likely to fork over money for car repairs and increased insurance premiums than a risky or bad driver is.
Know Other People's Limits
You aren't the only person you have to be responsible for on the road — there are aggressive and inattentive drivers of all ages and driving experiences, not to mention pedestrians and cyclists. Their presence on the roads means it's not enough to make sure that you follow all the rules of the road — you also have to watch out for people who don't.
It's important to be aware of your surroundings. For instance, when a light turns green, make sure the intersection is clear before you go; someone may run a red light and be headed for you.
Other ways to be better aware of your surroundings include:
- Maintain a safe following distance. If you're too close to someone else you won't be able to react in time if they lose control in front of you or slam on the brakes. If someone is tailgating you, don't freak out — just get out of the way and let them pass. If they're making obscene or threatening gestures, don't respond with the same kind of behavior and try to avoid eye contact. Some states even advise you to call 911 to report these dangerous drivers (just be sure to pull over someplace safe to do so).
- See the future. Driving isn't just reactionary. A lot of it is recognizing and anticipating potential hazards before they develop. That's why you want to keep your eyes moving, scanning 20 to 30 seconds ahead. If someone three cars ahead of you brakes, know that you'll probably also have to stop and start slowing down. Don't simply wait for the driver in front of you to slam on the brakes — that car's brake lights might be out!
- Check those mirrors. Make sure your mirrors are in position to give you the best view possible — be aware of your surroundings and check your rearview mirror every 5 to 7 seconds.
Driver training shouldn't end with driver's ed. Consider taking a defensive driving or driver improvement course every 2–3 years to keep your knowledge and skills fresh. Not only will this help you reduce your risk behind the wheel, it may save you some money on your car insurance premiums. It could also show your parents you're serious about being a good, safe driver.
Know Your Car
Taking care of your car ensures that it's in good condition and functioning properly. Many breakdowns happen because drivers neglect routine maintenance. To avoid being stuck in one of these situations, try getting familiar with:
- pumping gas
- keeping track of maintenance schedules
- checking and changing oil
- checking the car's coolant and brake fluid
- learning how to check tire pressure and adding air when needed
- jump-starting the car
- adding windshield washer fluid
- knowing where the jack, lug wrench, and spare tire are and how to use them
Knowing your car means that you won't be that person who runs out of fuel in the middle of nowhere because he drove around with an almost-empty tank, or the one whose tire blew out because she forgot to check the pressure.
Sometimes vehicle crashes and breakdowns are unavoidable, no matter how responsible you are. You should keep some emergency items in your car at all times for use in such situations:
- cellphone and charger
- list of phone numbers to call
- insurance and registration cards
- tools (wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers, socket wrenches, etc.)
- self-igniting flares, emergency triangles, or cones
- first-aid kit
- bottled water and nonperishable food
- flashlight and extra batteries
- jumper cables
- blanket, white rags
Practice makes perfect. So get out there and drive, keeping safety first.