Got most of these from a driving school that I attended early last year. I can’t say I’m a good driver yet, but I’ve noticed people who have been driving for much longer than I have and still aren’t as good as I am. So I’ll just put these here – these are the things I do that help me drive more smoothly and safely. But only the things that I think are commonly overlooked.
In a haphazard order right now. Will fix this later and add pictures.
- SLOWNESS: Be very cautious and slow.
- LOCATIONS: Don’t drive on high-speed roads, or overly crowded roads. Try subdivisions, parking lots and barangays with fairly inexpensive and replaceable things to scrape.
- TEACHERS: Get a patient, experienced, articulate driver to teach you. (Whether it’s a friend, a family member or a formal driving course.)
- MANUAL OR AUTOMATIC?: It is highly advisable to learn how to drive with a manual transmission car, preferably a crappy one, because it forces you to pay attention to the state of your engine. You have to listen and feel for the straining of the engine to tell you when to change gears. If you don’t, the engine will die and you will be very embarrassed. Learning how to listen for that will help you with smooth acceleration and deceleration, which will contribute to the maintenance of the shiny new automatic transmission car that will no doubt come into your life sooner or later, you lucky bastard.
- DRIVING POSTURE: It is very important to your health and safety to maintain good posture while driving, especially during long trips. Having good posture will decrease your tiredness, increase your alertness and decrease the likelihood of being smashed to a pulp if worst comes to worst and a random semi barrels directly into your side. The minute you sit your butt on the driver’s seat is the time to start adjusting your posture, because you need to actually be driving when you start driving, and not worrying about your posture. Driver’s seats are generally designed to force the driver into a straight, uncomfortable posture (to ensure that they won’t become sleepy) so that’s helpful. Here are the steps to adjusting your posture (once you’ve stuck the key in the ignition, turned the AC on and whatnot and have made yourself comfortable with the parking brake still on).
- ARMS: Pull or push the driver’s seat forward or backwards, depending on how long your legs are, to bring you to the correct distance from the wheel / pedals. Your arms should have enough room to rotate the wheel fully in both directions. There should be no obstructions between your right hand and the gearshift / parking brake, and no obstructions between your left hand and the lever for the signal lights.
- BACK / HEAD: Adjust the backrest of the seat to about a 90 degree angle. For long drives, it will be best to have your whole back leaning against the backrest, including the back of your head. Try that now. Then adjust the rearview mirror to give you a full view of the rear window. Then, adjust the side mirrors in such a way that you will be able to see the front and back door handles at the bottom edge of the mirror. For slow driving with a chance of encountering low, close obstructions (such as curbs, flowerpots, random wandering Ewoks and such) you can adjust them more downwards, which will allow you more visibility of how close these things are to your car. You should be able to swivel your head quickly and comfortably to the left and to the right to glance at the side mirrors.
- LEGS: An M/T car has three pedals: clutch on left, brake and gas on the right. In general, clutches are not very responsive to pressure so you’ll have to push on it using your whole left leg. Otherwise you’ll strain your ankle. Try flooring it. Can you push it comfortably all the way to the floor? If not, go back to step 1 and adjust the seat, because I’m terrible at directions. So you’ll actually be kind of standing on the clutch, using your weight to press it down instead of your muscles. Otherwise you’ll tire and cramp sooner.* Now, controlling the brake and gas will be very different from the barbaric maneuver used on the clutch, because these pedals are much more pressure-responsive. Your heel should be resting on the floor of the car, in line with the brake pedal. Don’t lift it when you switch back and forth from brake to gas. Instead, pivot your ankle so that only the middle / toes of your shoes press down on the pedals. Since your heel remains on the floor of the car in front of the brake, this means that your foot will be straight when on the brake pedal, and bent sideways when on the gas pedal. Meaning it’ll be more convenient for you to decelerate rather than accelerate, which is important for you at this stage. Think of the Ewoks.
- THE ACTUAL DRIVING: Now’s the time for the teacher I mentioned in A.3. to teach you how to switch gears and steer and everything. It’s kind of boring but that’s all right. In the beginning you won’t have a very good sense of how far or near you are to things, especially if you’ve inexplicably chosen a big car (don’t do that). Occasionally your teacher may cry out in alarm. I think this is normal. Do not get frazzled. Pay attention to what they say. If your teacher has a very nervous energy and keeps screaming at you all the time (especially if it’s a family member) you should get another one, though.
B. After Beginning
- GETTING A LICENSE: At this point you’ve probably been driving for at least 2 months. Getting a license, though, does not mean that you’re actually fit to drive anywhere you want. Don’t drive on public Manila roads yet unless you wish to die early, either from an accident or from an overload of cortisol in your system.
- PRACTICE: Gradually and steadily push your limits. Venture into busier and busier roads (always with an experienced driver in the front seat). Have emergency numbers ready in case anything breaks down (battery replacement, tire change, etc).
- SIDE MIRRORS: The front view of a car (windshield) doesn’t tell you very much about how your car is oriented on the road, because there will be too many blind areas. You will be able to deduce your position much better from your side mirrors. As you’re going down the road, a quick glance at your side mirrors will tell you if you’re centered within the lines. (Quick glance!!! Don’t stare at them.) They will also tell you if you need to be nearer to the right side or the left side. If an oncoming car on the opposite lane or the car in front of you in an adjacent lane is spilling over their line, you’ll know that you need to steer closer to the opposite line to avoid sideswiping them.
- ROLE MODELS: Observe someone’s driving style that you admire. I mean one that you’ve actually watched driving, mind, not a race car driver or whatever. Watch their posture, their attitude, and their motions. Personally I have two, AC and our current family driver. They have these in common: A predictive ability of how traffic will move (ex. on Taft Avenue, thirty feet away is a jeep moving near the curb; it will probably randomly stop at any minute to drop off a passenger, so it would be best to switch lanes to distance my car from it now); they almost never used their car horns, only dodged errant drivers; never commented or complained on how horrible other drivers are; accelerated and braked smoothly, no jerking; smooth merging and turning; fast drivers.
*That’d be an interesting corporation name, Tire and Cramp Inc. I’m not sure what they’d do, though. Probably something mechanical.