How to Drive a Car
Learning to drive a car is a process most of us go through at some stage. Some learners love every moment of it, whilst others dread every second of being behind the wheel.
This tutorial covers the basics in terms of the legal and safety aspects and the process involved for driving a car with a manual transmission.
In order to drive on UK public roads, a driver must be at least 17 years of age and to have physically received their provisional driving licence. To ensure you receive your licence in time for your 17th birthday, you may apply for it up to 3 months before the day you turn 17. See learning to drive for further details.
There are no age restrictions or licence requirements for individuals who have access to driving a car on private land. Certain driving schools who have access to off-public road facilities offer driving courses for individuals under 17. See driving at 16 for information.
Setting up the Car
Before we begin covering how to drive a car, you’ll need to get the car set up for you. We are all different sizes and heights, so setting up the car in order to easily reach all the controls is important in terms of safety.
This procedure is called the cockpit drill and what we need to do can be remembered by DSSSM. That is:
- D (doors) – Check that all the doors a shut
- S (Seat) – Move the seat forwards or backwards to that you can press the clutch pedal to the floor but maintain a slight bend in your leg.
- S (steering) – Adjust the steering or the back of the seat to that you can place both hands at the top of the steering wheel but maintain a slight bend in your arms. If you can comfortably grip the top of the steering wheel, you can easily reach every other control.
- S (seat belt) – Secure your seat belt and ensure there are no twists. Ensure passengers are securely belted.
- M (mirrors) – Adjust the interior and door mirrors. For help setting up mirrors, see mirror adjustment.
The cockpit drill tutorial covers all of these safety procedures in much more detail. Once you have the car set up, you can begin learning how to drive a car.
Before You Drive
The following instructions are for how to drive a manual car and are for beginners with little or zero experience. If it is your first time behind the wheel:
- Choose a quiet residential street. Avoid using a country road as these can in fact be dangerous, particularly for a novice driver.
- A road that is ideally as straight and as flat (to avoid rolling) as possible
- Start from a normal parked position on the left facing the flow of traffic.
What we are going to do is to drive the car from a stationary position for a short distance and then pull up on the left, secure and park the car. Ideally you are confident with vehicle setup (DSSSM) and the main controls detailed within the cockpit drill tutorial.
Finally, ensure your seat belt is secured, the handbrake is applied and the gear stick is in neutral (see how to change gears for further information if necessary). Now, before you drive, take a look into your left door mirror; look at how parallel the car looks with the kerb and how far away the car is from the kerb. Take a mental photo of that as you’ll need to recall it later. Right, let’s drive.
How to Drive a Car
- 1. Starting the Car
Start the car by turning the key clockwise till it stops for 1 to 2 seconds. Once you hear the engine fire up, release the ignition key.
- 2. Depress the Clutch
If you’re a little unsure of which floor pedals do what, think from right to left A, B and C; Accelerator, Brake and Clutch. Using your left foot, press the clutch down all the way to the floor and hold it there.
- 3. Select 1st Gear
From neutral, using your left hand push the gear lever all the way to the left and once it stops, push it straight up into 1st gear. Now place that hand onto the handbrake lever.
- 4. A Little Gas
Give the engine a little power by ‘setting the gas’. Gently and slowly press the accelerator pedal. You only need to press it a small amount, think roughly around 1 cm. Steady the pedal once the rev counter reaches approximately 1500 rpm.
- 5. Find the Bite Point
The clutch allows you to change gear, so think of the clutch as two plates that can join and separate. One plate is connected to the engine and the other is connected to the wheels. When you put the clutch down it separates the plates allowing you to change gear. You need to find the clutch bite point – the point in which the two plates begin to join and connect the engine, gears and wheels. As you lift the clutch, the plates will begin to come together and you will hear the engine change its tone and the car may creak a little. As soon as you hear this, hold the clutch right there as it’s the bite point.
- 6. Handbrake
You now need to release the handbrake. Slightly raise it and pull in the button on the end. Now release the lever all the way down and place your hand back onto the steering wheel. If your car has an electronic handbrake (parking brake), there will be a button that requires pressing.
- 7. Moving the Car Off
Very slowly and very slightly press down on the accelerator, whilst simultaneously releasing the clutch. It’s important at this point that you release the clutch slowly else it will likely result in stalling the car. Shortly after the car has moved off and has gained momentum, you can fully release the clutch all the way and remove your foot from the pedal.
That’s the basics for learning how to drive a car by moving it off at its simplest. Don’t worry if you stall, most learners do, just start again until you get the hang of it. For further information, see how to stop stalling the car.
Finding and using the clutch bite point is an excellent method for new drivers to move off and minimise the potential of stalling. This method does however increase clutch wear. As you progress and gain confidence in clutch control, try releasing the handbrake, increasing the accelerator and bringing up the clutch from the floor simultaneously without holding it on the bite point. To avoid stalling, you’ll need to slow lifting the clutch pedal at the bite point area, but can lift it quickly once the car has gained momentum. This takes a little more practice, but is easier long-term and reduces clutch wear.
Driving Safety Procedures
Part of the process of learning how to drive a car are safety observations and procedures. Your supervising passenger will help you initially with safety observations, but as you progress with moving off, you should include these observations:
Just before you move the car off, the final thing you need to do is check the mirrors. This is the internal mirror followed by the right door mirror. If there are any vehicles approaching from the rear, wait till they pass and check your mirrors again. If all clear, check the:
- Blind Spot
The blind spot is the part that you cannot see in your mirrors. A cyclists or a small vehicle can easily be concealed in the blind spot, so take a look over your right shoulder to ensure all is clear. Finally:
- Look Ahead
If there are any vehicles or cyclists approaching, give a right signal before moving off. If there are no road users or pedestrians that may benefit from a signal, then you may still signal if you wish, or simply not do so. This is also acceptable on a driving test.
As you move off, steer half-turn of the wheel to the right and once you reach the centre of your side of the road, straighten the wheel once again. Keep the car very slow (5 – 10 mph) in 1st gear and cancel the signal (if applied) if it didn’t automatically do so.
Stopping the car
We need to stop the car and park up on the left, similar to how it was before we had a drive, ensuring it is a safe, convenient and legal position. Remember the left door mirror mental photo? That’s where we’re heading. Before moving back over to the left:
- Check the internal and left door mirror
- If there are any road users or pedestrians around, signal to the left. Again, if nobody is around, there’s no need, though this is up to you.
- Cover the brake and the clutch. This means place your feet on top of the pedals but do not press the pedals down. This is preparation to use the pedals and to be in the correct position when doing so.
- Begin to slightly steer to the left. Avoid doing so harshly else you’ll hit the kerb. As the left door mirror ‘mental photo’ comes into shot, start to straighten out the steering again and adjust accordingly.
- Depress the clutch quickly to the floor
- Gently apply the foot brake until the vehicle comes to a standstill
- Keep your feet / pedals as they are and apply the handbrake
- Select neutral and cancel the signal if you applied it
It’s often difficult for new drivers to judge where the kerb is in relation to the vehicle. The kerb parking / pulling up on the left tutorial offers information and reference points.
That is essentially the first lesson for learning how to drive a car. Keep practicing and as you gain in confidence, increase your speed. To do this, you’ll need to change gears. See the changing gears tutorial for help. You will of course need to progress from there but it’s important to learn step by step and to not rush it. Below continues from the basics by pointing you to tutorials that will prove beneficial.
- Passing parked cars – Learning how to drive a car requires an understanding of safe passing distances. This tutorial helps with passing parked cars.
- Cyclists and cycle lanes – As you learn to drive, you will encounter many cyclists. This tutorial helps you understand how to safely deal with cyclists and the use of cycle lanes.
- Road positioning – Ensure you are positioned correctly whilst driving.
- Lane discipline – This is all about know what lane for where you need to go.
- Junctions – Statistically it’s at junctions that fail the most driving tests. Check out these tutorials to ensure you do it properly.
- Crossroads – Crossroads can become complex, particularly busy busy yellow box junctions.
- Roundabouts – Roundabouts scare many learners, but really they’re not that bad when you get used to them.
- Left and right turns – You’ll need to know the correct procedure for making left and right turns.
- Emergency stop – Whilst learning how to drive a car, it’s essential you know how to stop it safely and in good control in a emergency situation.
- Dual carriageways – As your driving skills progress, you will need to learn how to deal with joining dual carriageways, driving on them and exiting them.
- 2 second rule – Driving too close to another vehicle is a common cause of accidents. The 2 second rule is an easy to remember system for keeping a safe driving distance.
- Country road driving – Statistically, the most dangerous roads are country roads. This tutorial provides safe driving tips.
Driving School or Private Lessons
If you decide to use a driving school from the start, the instructor will start off by covering the cockpit drill on your first driving lesson. They will also use many routines which are covered on this site. Learning these and their meanings will help to reduce time and costs. The following routines are:
Once you have a reasonable ability for driving a car and if you are planning on taking the UK driving test, learn the driving test manoeuvres as soon as possible. They are used in the driving test to demonstrate to the examiner that you have a good level of control of the car. They require excellent observations, technique, vehicle control and clutch control. The tutorials can be found in the driving test manoeuvres section.
When learning how to drive a car, an essential part of training is how to deal with pedestrians on pedestrian crossings from a drivers perspective. Read our pedestrian crossing tutorials to gain an understanding on how they should be dealt with as a driver. See pedestrian crossings for tutorials.
Learn the driving test routes
As you progress in your driving, start incorporating the driving test routes for the driving test centre of your choice. The sooner you become familiar with these routes, the better as this will increase your chances of passing the driving test.