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Driving in the Winter – Do’s and Don’ts

Winter driving needs special care, attention and in lots of ways, a skill all of its own. This is an adeptness that you naturally learn and perfect over time as you get more used to driving itself – and especially during winter. Roads are slippery when wet or icy, vision may be impaired and of course, daylight hours are at a minimum, so you’re going to be driving in the dark a lot more than during summer months. Yet above all, the most important thing to remember when driving in winter is to be cautious and aware, and to take extra care.
Drive Conservatively A season which sees slippery leaves covering road ways, spots of black ice and frequent rain and flooding is not a time to test the top speed of your car. Always drive conservatively – not too slowly, of course, but exercise caution and use your own judgement and as always, don’t see the speed limit as a target. If the speed limit is 60 but you don’t feel comfortable driving anywhere over 50 because there is a lot of spray or mist obscuring your view, then stick to your guns and don’t let pressure or panic cause you to drive recklessly or out of your comfort zone.
Be Aware and Take Extra Care Try to be more alert and on your guard – not just regarding your own actions, but those of other drivers, too. This is especially true when you are driving in the dark, as naturally you won’t be able to see as clearly. Pedestrians and other road users such as cyclists will also need extra consideration – as they may not always be visible. Whether you’re driving on a busy main road or a quiet country lane, always be aware of your surroundings and adopt a heightened alertness to minimise the risk of accidents.
Stock Up On Safety Essentials At any time of the year it’s important to ensure that you are carrying a few safety essentials in your vehicle, such as a warning triangle, high visibility jacket, plus some general tools and supplies. In winter it’s always a good idea to make a couple of savvy additions – a shovel for example should you get caught in snow, and a first aid kit, blanket, change of clothes or warmer jacket and some food should you not be able to return home or are stuck in a location in your car for any length of time.
Get Your Car Checked Out Mechanical issues with your vehicle can prove to be doubly disastrous should instrumentation fail or cause you to break down during winter months. For this reason it’s imperative that you or a mechanic checks your car thoroughly – including the battery, engine, heating system, windscreen wipers, brakes and anti-freeze fluid. Be alert and extra careful during winter, stay safe and keep checking the blog for more handy driving tips and tricks for learners, beginners and experts alike.
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Avoiding distractions on the road For those who have passed your test, you can probably remember when you first learnt to drive how difficult it was to concentrate on everything you needed to do - to keep the car travelling along the road at the correct speed, focusing on the road ahead,  remembering when to change gear, look in the mirror, indicate etc. However even before we are more confident and driving becomes second nature we find ourselves more aware of the world outside the parameter of the road. Avoiding distractions is key if you want to pass your test and stay safe on the road once you do – so how can you avoid distractions? Firstly, you need to be aware of what they are.
What do we mean by distractions? So you’re driving along, and as you climb a steep hill and steer round the corner there’s a commotion in front of you involving other vehicles. It's so easy in that split second for you to take your eyes off the road. The same is true for other distractions – for example when passing an accident, seeing a pedestrian or another driver you recognise, it's easy to lose your concentration. The consequences of this can be disastrous and very quickly you can cause an accident yourself.
How do I avoid distractions whilst driving? It's important to stay focused whilst driving – and there are a few things you can do to stop your mind (and your eyes) from wandering.
Be prepared Firstly, think ahead. Is there anything in the vicinity of the car itself which could cause you to become distracted? Turn your mobile phone off, turn your radio down and ensure other passengers aren’t doing anything which is taking your attention away from driving. Additionally if you’re going further afield check your route for any incidents, accidents or events.
Accidents and incidents Accidents happen without warning – and when they do, traffic inevitably slows down as people crane their necks to see what is going on. However this is incredibly dangerous and is very likely to cause another accident – so it’s important that you maintain your focus when passing an incident and concentrate on what’s going on in front of you on the road. When driving past an accident, stay focused on the road ahead as you will have to be more vigilant –it’s likely that other car drivers may not be taking as much care as you!
Pay attention The chances are if you think you recognise somebody either on the pavement or in another car, they won't be looking your way. They will concentrating on their own driving or watching where they are walking. It won't be the end of the world if you don't attract their attention just so that you can wave hello! Keep this in mind if you do spot someone you recognise and keep looking straight ahead with your attention fixed firmly on the road ahead.
Stay alert One last thing to remember whether you are just beginning driving lessons or whether you are about to take your test is never to drive when you feel very tired. Always make sure you feel able to concentrate so that you keep yourself and other road users safe. For more handy driving tips and expert advice, keep following our blog.

How do I get a good night's sleep before my test?

How do I get a good night's sleep before my exam? It's likely there’s a lot resting on the success of your driving test. However confident you are, however many lessons you've had and however much careful preparation you've done, you're bound to feel a little nervous. Plenty of good quality sleep is essential before your exam to ensure you're in the perfect frame of mind in which to take and pass your test - but we all know how disruptive stress and anxiety can be to sleep. So how do you go about calming those pre-exam nerves enough to get a decent night's sleep before your exam?
Get comfy with clean sheets Fresh, clean bedding is an essential component for a sound night's sleep. The sweet smell of crisp sheets, plump pillows and a soft snuggly duvet are all factors which could help you to drift off more easily. Try putting a few drops of lavender essential oil or invest in some 'sleep spray' to mist over your pillow prior to the usual time you go to sleep.
Don't drink or take any non-prescribed medication (or drugs) This one should go without saying, but believe it or not it does happen! Besides having potentially disastrous consequences for your concentration and brain power on the crucial next day, it could also land you in trouble, as depending on how much you've consumed, traces can linger in your bloodstream which may well tip you over the drink drive limit. If your examiner can smell alcohol on you as you get in the car it's likely they'll cancel your test. Our advice here is simple - don't drink before your test at all - not even a ‘small one’. It's simply not worth it.
Read a book or magazine instead of watching TV or staring at a screen We all love tinkering about on our smartphones and tablets these days but have you ever noticed how you can lose track of time spent on these devices - especially at night? This can cause you to stay up later but also negatively impacts on the quality of your sleep as the 'blue light' given off by artificial light sources such as LED TVs, phones and tablets affects our sleep hormones. So, turn off the tech at least an hour before you plan to go to sleep and read a book, newspaper or magazine instead.
Try to get to sleep early If you can, head off to bed a little earlier than your usual time. Even if you sit in bed and read a book or go over a few exam pointers, you're becoming relaxed and rested and ready for sleep. You may even drop off before you normally would with any luck - just make sure your alarm is set!
Make sure you're fed and watered You might be feeling a little nervous and therefore don't want to eat anything - but please, try to make sure that you've eaten properly the night before. A wholesome meal is ideal as opposed to fast food, sweets and junk food as this will properly prepare and equip you mentally and physically for the next day. It will also help you to have a restful night’s sleep as your stomach won't be grumbling and griping in the small hours!   For more exam and driving lesson preparation tips, keep following our blog!
        driving test fail

Your driving test: the top ten reasons for a fail

What are the most common reasons people fail their driving test? We certainly get asked this a lot! Whilst your driving instructor will inevitably focus on what you should be doing when driving in order to pass your driving test, it’s always useful to know what you shouldn’t be doing, and why. The driving test is there for a reason – to ensure you’re ready and fit to drive a vehicle safely on our roads with other people. After all, a car can be a dangerous machine in the wrong hands. Whether you’re just about to embark on your driving test or are a seasoned driver, it’s worth taking a look at these reasons for failure as there are very good reasons why they are important elements on the driving test.
  1. Observations: Your driving instructor will have drummed into you how important observations are – but in a test situation, you may forget them a couple of times. It’s a key reason people fail because they forget to make the appropriate observations too many times – resulting in many faults which eventually add up to a fail. Remember when pulling out of junctions to make sure it is safe to proceed and make a point of making your observations obvious to the examiner by properly checking blind spots moving your head and eyes fully – within reason, of course!
  2. Moving off safely: As the relief of having completed your parallel park perfectly washes over you, you may inadvertently forget to move off from your parked position properly – effectively negating the points you have just gained! When moving off from the side of the road, be sure to properly check your blind spot and check that you are indicating the right way.
  3. Mirrors: Similarly to observations, many students forget to frequently check their mirrors during their test because they are so focused on what is happening on the road in front of them. You need to regularly check your rear view and wing mirrors – it should be a habit by now, but if it doesn’t quite feel routine yet, try to remember to keep checking them as much as you possibly can.
  4. Reverse parking: This is a tricky one for lots of people because when anxiety and nerves set in, it’s easy to forget what you are doing and which direction the car will go in relation to the steering wheel. It’s also easy to stall whilst you are doing your observations; or perhaps forget to do the proper observations whilst ensuring you don’t stall!
  5. Traffic lights: Watch traffic lights carefully – especially at larger junctions. One of the biggest mistakes people make is waiting at a junction to turn when the filter is on green. Also be mindful of the green boxes set out at junctions for cyclists – if you venture across the solid white line into this box, you will receive a fault. Of course, it goes without saying that skipping a red light is a big no-no!
  6. Steering: Steering might seem like one of the simpler elements of learning to drive – but remember to keep a steady course and hold the wheel properly with both hands, moving appropriately when you make a turn. If you clip a kerb (or mount the kerb) you will receive a fault, so this is very important.
  7. Positioning: You need to keep the vehicle in the appropriate lane at all times. Make sure you’re not in a cycle or bus lane, and avoid straddling lanes if there are several. Choose one, and stick to it in a straight line. When approaching a junction or a roundabout, make sure you are in the correct lane for the direction you are about to take.
  8. Turning right at junctions: Turning right can sometimes be tricky as you are crossing a lane of traffic – which is why it catches people out. Be sure to make the appropriate observations, checking for pedestrians and cyclists as well as other vehicles before making a move.
  9. Control when moving off: Nobody likes to stall – it’s the panic-inducing, cringe-worthy mistake which can make or break a driving test. Too many stalls affect your confidence – and your overall score. Even though you are nervous, try to ensure you are at bite-point properly before you move off, and of course, check you are taking off or putting on the handbrake at the appropriate times as rolling back or trying to move off with the handbrake on are both causes for fault.
  10. Response to road markings: It’s so easy when you’re busy looking around you to forget what is right in front of you. You’re concentrating on so many things at once and you are undoubtedly nervous – so you may forget to watch the markings on the road beneath you. You will be marked with faults for failing to follow directional arrows, crossing solid white lines unnecessarily or venturing into a marked cycle area or bus lane. Also remember that a yellow box junction can only be entered when the exit is clear – as doing so when you are unable to leave the box will result in a fault.
This list might be a little daunting, but please don’t feel nervous! It is designed to help you be aware of the potential difficulties you may encounter when passing your test. At this stage, it’s likely you’ll have an understanding of your ‘weak points’ and will have practised them with your instructor – but it’s helpful to keep these in mind when embarking on your test to ensure you get that pass you so desperately want. Would you like more advice on learning to drive and passing your test? Continue reading our blog here!

Getting over pre-test nerves

Getting over pre-test nerves A driving test is often described as one of the most stressful experiences you will go through in life. However this is hardly useful for you when you are embarking on your test – and this sort of inadvertently unhelpful advice can actually cause you to be more nervous! Whilst nerves are part and parcel of any important event in life, they can make things difficult for you when you get behind the wheel. So with that in mind, how can you calm those nerves and prepare yourself for your upcoming exam to give yourself the best possible chance of a pass?
Be kind to yourself: There is often bravado surrounding passing your driving test first time (or second, or third). But this isn’t a competition – and that sort of pressure will hinder, not help, when you are in an exam situation. Put the exam in perspective – despite any outside influences you may be under from family and friends who need or want you to pass, and of course the internal pressure you’ll be piling on yourself to pass. If you don’t pass first time, you can do the test again. A ‘fail’, despite the negative-sounding name, is simply an opportunity to learn more and gain more experience. If outside influences are an issue, then speak with your instructor and book your test in private. That way, nobody knows whether you passed or failed!
Positive, positive, positive! It might feel impossible, but try to eliminate any negative things you may be thinking before the test, such as ‘I hope I don't get that roundabout’ or ‘Please don't give me a parallel park’.  The best way to get rid of negativity is to distract yourself from it or replace it with plenty of positivity. Often your negative thoughts and doubts over your ability are completely irrational – remember that your instructor will not allow you to go for the test if they are not completely confident in your ability. So take a little of their confidence in you and believe in yourself!
Scare-stories: There are so many ‘old wives’ tales’ circulating about driving tests – and this unfortunately is one of them. The tale of the mean, unfair examiner who is ‘out to get’ learner drivers, deliberately marking them down instead of using their discretion where needed. Despite these tall tales being rife amongst learner drivers, it’s highly unlikely that this will happen. Believe it or not, examiners actually want you to pass. They will only fail you if they believe there is a substantial reason according to the guidelines which forces them to be unable to pass you. We are only human – and therefore we are bound to make mistakes. The driving test allows for this, taking into account the fact that mistakes (within reason) are common and can often be recovered from if the test is good overall.
Lip Service: This might sound strange, but if you talk yourself through what you are doing during your test, you could increase your concentration levels and secure that pass. Admittedly you might feel awkward talking to yourself in the presence of the examiner, but science has proven that by processing what you are doing out loud, your brain connects more efficiently with the task at hand. With that in mind, talking yourself through the test could be very useful. What’s more, you could impress the examiner with your foresight and commentary during the test, which could bring that pass even closer.
Be Prepared: When you have lots of uncertainty surrounding a situation, it can distract and worry you. The best way to avoid this is to be prepared. Ensure you know what to expect – if knowing the process step by step is important to you, then ask your instructor beforehand so that you are fully clued-up going in for your test. Your instructor can also go through test pointers and a sample mark-sheet so that you are aware of what the examiner is looking for, too. For more handy driving lesson and test pass advice, keep checking our blog!
1st driving lesson

5 ways to prepare for your first driving lesson

5 ways to prepare for your first driving lesson Your first driving lesson is understandably important and you might be feeling a little nervous - which is completely normal! There's absolutely nothing to worry about though - with the right instructor, your first driving lesson can actually be a rather enjoyable experience. After all – you’re taking the first steps to the freedom and independence which comes with learning to drive and eventually obtaining your driver’s licence. Understandably you’ll want to be prepared as best you can for the lesson ahead – so here are a few top tips taken from our own experience to help you to ensure you’re in tip-top condition and ready to go when your instructor arrives to take you out for the first time.
Sleep well Make sure you’re in bed early and have had plenty of sleep. We all need different amounts of sleep depending on several factors – including our metabolism, weight, age and activity levels. You’ll know roughly how many hours you need and what amount of sleep is perfect for you based on when you normally go to bed and what time you usually wake up. If you’re struggling to sleep prior to your first lesson, try reading a book, listening to music or using some soothing sleep spray to help you to drift off nicely.
Make sure you've eaten Eating prior to the exam is a must - even if you're feeling sick with nerves! The right type of food can help to calm those nerves and of course helps to calm stress, as a hungry body is an anxious body. You don’t have to have a huge meal – just make sure you’ve had a wholesome snack and never skip breakfast if you’ve got an early lesson! Foods with added brain-power benefits are ideal  - like nuts, seeds, oats, bananas and eggs.
Avoid stress and distractions You might feel a little bit nervous before your first lesson, which is of course completely natural. But it’s also important to note other stresses which may be occurring in your life. If you know that you’ve got a difficult day ahead of your first lesson, or that your little brother drives you mad, then reschedule the lesson and try to avoid your little brother the night before. It’s easier said than done – but limiting possible stressors will help you to concentrate better and feel more relaxed during your lesson.
Don't go out the night before Believe it or not, it’s happened more than you might think! Even if you have ‘only had a few’ or haven’t been drinking at all, a night out before a driving lesson is a no-no for several reasons. It’s likely you’ve been up late which means you’re tired, not conducive to a good driving lesson! Concentration and accuracy are key when driving, even for experienced drivers. So if you’re shattered and groggy, chances are you don’t have the level of brain power required to drive that day. Make sure you arrange your lessons and nights out around each other. If you’ve got an engagement you simply can’t miss (like a wedding or birthday party), then simply speak with your instructor about rescheduling your usual lesson time for a more appropriate day.

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What is the difference between manual and automatic cars?

What is the difference between manual and automatic cars? An increasing number of learners are opting for the automatic route these days. But just what does this entail, and what are the implications of choosing to learn automatic over learning in a manual vehicle?
What is the difference between a manual gearbox and an automatic gearbox? You may already know that all road vehicles have engines and gearboxes. They use gears to run efficiently on different types of terrain and at differing speeds. When driving a car with a manual gearbox, you decide which gear you drive in. Typically you start in first gear, then move up to second, third, fourth and fifth. Some high performance cars have more gears, but generally you will only encounter five. The gear you choose at any given time is dependent on the speed you are driving and the gradient at which you are driving - for example your car will struggle to run in a high gear (fourth or fifth) up a steep hill. Similarly, your car won't last very long if you drive in second gear on the motorway at 60 miles an hour! The gears in an automatic cars work in exactly the same way - except in an automatic car, this 'decision' is made for you, and the change is done for you, too. It's automatic - hence the name. All you have to do is concentrate on accelerating and braking.
Is learning to drive in an automatic car easier than in a manual? Simply put, yes. Of course there are still lots of things to learn and your awareness and skill levels need to be the same - but you have less to concentrate on as you are focused only on driving itself and don't have the added factor of choosing which gear you should be in. Gears can be a little tricky to master at first - which is why many new drivers stall their cars (usually because they are in too high a gear). This said, manual gears are nothing to be frightened of and thousands of learners pass their tests in a manual car every single day.
Which should I choose? Only you yourself can answer this question - as it’s completely up to you which type of vehicle you choose. Whilst learning in an automatic is technically 'easier', you must consider the fact that the licence you gain when you pass your test is for automatic vehicles only, meaning you can't drive a manual car and don't have as much choice when it comes to driving in the future. On the other hand, those who learn and pass their test in a manual vehicle do have the option of driving an automatic as their licence includes both. If you are daunted by the prospect of driving then you could always learn and pass in an automatic then move to get a manual licence, but most people find that they get on with an automatic licence just fine and don’t need to redo their test to obtain a manual licence after all. Most people now learn automatic as they believe they will never need to drive a manual car. All cars come in manual and automatic versions these days, so you will never be short of choice. It is something to consider however if your budget for a new car is tight - as older second hand vehicles available tend to be manual.
Unsure which to choose or in need of more advice? Please get in touch with us – we are always more than happy to help. You can find our contact details here: http://www.geoffcapesdriving.co.uk/contact-us/
1st Driving Lesson

What to expect from your first driving lesson

What to expect from your first driving lesson Getting behind the wheel for the very first time is often made out to be a daunting experience, which can frighten learner drivers and put them off. Of course it’s a big deal - but for all the right reasons! It’s actually a positive first step towards independence - and with the right instructor by your side, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. If you're feeling anxious about embarking on your first trip on the road in charge, then take a look at our tips below to help put your mind at ease. You may even look forward to it instead!

There's no pressure You won't be expected to demonstrate any skills on your first lesson, nor will you necessarily be learning anything concrete. You'll simply be going over the basics - with an introduction to the car and how it works, the fundamental steps to operating the car and a few safety bits and bobs so that you know what to do and what not to do. Most importantly, you will learn that your instructor is looking out for you, and how they do that. The pressure to be most aware of is the pressure you may put on yourself. It's likely you'll feel frustrated and want to be better at driving straight away, berating yourself for any little mistake - especially if you are keen to pass your exam and have seen friends and family driving with ease. But try not to be so hard on yourself, and take it all one step at a time under the instructor’s careful guidance. If there’s something you're struggling with, they'll go over it with you until you're happier with it.
You're in safe hands Your fully qualified instructor has undergone intensive training to be able to teach you and others to be able to drive. They are responsible for you when you are in the vehicle and will use something called Dual Control to ensure that if you don't feel able to continue or in an instance where they need to step in, they can keep you both safe. Whilst it’s important that you are concentrating fully on what you are doing and on what is happening around you, your instructor is also your eyes and ears whilst you learn to keep the level of awareness needed when driving. Before we learn to drive, we're not used to being so acutely aware of our surroundings and able to take action at any minute, whilst concentrating on operating a vehicle which is so alien to us. With that in mind, until you learn to do all of these things simultaneously with confidence, your instructor is always looking out for you in order to keep you and other road users safe whilst you are learning the ropes.
You'll be taking baby steps You may get to drive on the first lesson, but only on side roads, and you won't be asked to drive far or to venture out onto busy main roads with so little experience! First you'll get to know the car you are learning to drive in, and how everything works in it. Before you go anywhere, you'll learn how to adjust the settings in your car such as your mirrors, and get to know where vital instrumentation is situated such as the switch for the lights, windscreen wipers and seat adjustments.
It might even be fun! Chances are once you've been going a little while and feel more comfortable, you might actually enjoy the lesson. Driving is all about being experienced, aware and most importantly, comfortable. If you're not comfortable, then you'll be feeling tense and anxious about what you're doing and will find it harder to concentrate. Whilst consciously trying to relax will often make you more stressed, a good driving instructor will do their best to put you at ease and keep you feeling calm and safe. There’s nothing to be worried about when you’re learning with Geoff Capes Driving School. Take a look at our recent passes and more information on how we can get you on the road here: http://www.geoffcapesdriving.co.uk/