Tactics for tricky situations

Even with a parent/supervisor's guidance, unfamiliar or difficult situations – like driving in the rain or driving on new roads – can be scary for everyone in the car.

It's ideal to get as much experience as possible, but there's a limit to the number of different experiences a learner driver can have on their Ls - you also need to learn to be adaptable.

Here are some tactics for becoming adaptable and learning to handle different situations quickly:

  • Proactive tactics – tips for planning ahead when you know you could be driving somewhere new or difficult.

  • Responsive tactics – tips for on the road, when you have time to think things through.

  • Reactive tactics – tips for when you feel under a lot of pressure.

Proactive tactics - when you can plan ahead

  • Plan and think through where you're going. Check a map and mentally practise the best route.

  • Match the route to your ability. For example, take some quieter roads if you think double-lane highways and roundabouts will stress you out unnecessarily.

  • Ask a passenger to help you navigate.

  • Use navigation technology if you have it and if it helps.

  • Give yourself more time than you think you'll need so you don't have to rush.

  • Try to drive at the safest time - avoid peak hour.

  • Practise in your mind how you will manage difficult situations before you get to them. For example, if you know you will have to turn right at a major set of traffic lights, mentally rehearse each of the skills involved.

  • Make sure you have a very clean windscreen and that your seat and all your mirrors are adjusted for your height.

  • Reduce, or better still, eliminate distractions in the car - turn off your mobile, and don't eat, light a cigarette or don't put on/change music while driving.

Responsive tactics - when you have time to think things through

  • Look ahead as far as you can comfortably see - you'll have more time to respond to any hazards or challenges up ahead.

  • Nearer the situation, respond earlier than normal - usually, this means easing up on the accelerator.

  • Make yourself breathe slowly and deeply, relax your neck, shoulders and arms; this will help you think more clearly and drive more smoothly.

  • Keep extra space between you and the car in front.

  • Take note of situations that look a bit different from those you have already experienced. Rehearse in your mind how you will manage the situation.

Reactive tactics - when you feel under a lot of pressure

  • Keep driving with the flow of traffic.

  • Avoid sudden use of the brake, accelerator, or steering.

  • Ease up a bit on the accelerator; going slower gives you longer to react.

  • Politely ask noisy passengers to be quiet - you need to concentrate.

  • Relax and breathe deeply and slowly.

  • If the anxiety levels are really high, look for a safe place to pull over and stop. Before pulling over, though, look behind and signal for at least two seconds.

Keys2drive is an Australian Government-funded program providing learner drivers and their parents/supervisors a free driving lesson with a Keys2drive accredited professional driving instructor