Before you open the door to get into a car, always look round to make sure it is safe. In particular make sure that you don’t swing the door open into the path of any cyclists who are not only more difficult to see than other vehicles, but they also may approach silently!
Once inside, the ‘cockpit drill’ should begin with the simple check of ensuring that the doors are properly closed; they do not always catch first time. In the event of having to re-close the door, always look round before opening it. Make sure that you do not open the door if something or someone is about to come past you.
The Driving Seat
You now need to get into a comfortable seating position. The most important thing about adjustment of the driving seat is that you can reach all the controls without difficulty. If you correctly position the seat, you should be able to depress the clutch pedal fully (the one the left) without stretching or being cramped; your leg needs to be relaxed and slightly bent at the knee.
To check the rake (back) angle of the seat, place both your hands on the steering wheel at the 12 o’clock point – you should be able to reach the wheel without stretching. Also, do not sit too close, you need room to move your arms comfortably when steering. A lever or wheel at the side or rear of the seat will allow you to move the back of the seat.
Some people may have a problem reaching the controls if they are particularly small. To compensate for this, use a cushion to boost your position upwards or forwards if necessary.
If your car has an adjustable steering wheel, move this up or down as necessary. There may be a lever attached to the steering column which allows you to do this.
The Head Restraint
The head restraint is not a ‘head rest’ it is there to protect you. Rear end shunts from following vehicles are one of the commonest types of accident, and learner drivers who may be slow to move away or stall at junctions are particularly at risk from this. A properly adjusted restraint can help prevent whiplash injuries; make sure you adjust it so that the back of your head between your ears makes contact with the middle of the restraint.
Finally, make sure you fasten your seat belt! Part of your cockpit drill is to make sure that the belt moves smoothly when you pull it, and if you tug it hard it should lock. Make sure there are no twists in it as you put it on.
Mirrors come next, one of the most important aids to safe driving. I cannot over-emphasise how important it is to learn the proper use of mirrors. Adjust the main rear view mirror to get the fullest view through the back window. You should adjust both door mirrors so that you can see what may be alongside the vehicle on both sides; the back of your car should just be visible on the inside of the mirror.
Mirrors need to be used regularly when driving, particularly before signalling, changing speed or direction. Is it very important that you are always aware of what is around you. Just looking is not enough however, you must use mirrors early enough in order to judge what may happen, and to act safely on what you see.
You also need to be aware of blind spots, as your mirrors do not cover everything. These include the door pillars, the areas the mirrors don’t show up, and even the mirrors themselves at times. Move or turn your head when necessary to ensure that you eliminate these blind areas.
Having completed the cockpit drill, next thing on the agenda is to learn about the controls of the car, where they are and how they operate.