Topic 9 - Vehicle handling

This multiple choice section will teach pupils how to drive in specific road conditions and how to handle these road conditions 

What is Vehicle handling ?

The ninth topic from the theory test is road conditions and vehicle handling. When you’re driving, there are various situations in which your ability to control your vehicle can be affected—from a change in weather conditions, to the time of day, to the surface of the road. You need to be able to identify these conditions quickly, in order to safely adjust your driving style accordingly.

Vehicle Handling

Before attempting to load your vehicles with people or goods, you should ensure that you know how to do so safely and the effects that carrying loads may have. There may be a tendency to think that as long as you have space in your car, it is safe to fill it. However, this would be incorrect and unsafe as you’d be putting yourself at risk of overloading your car. Overloading can seriously affect the vehicle’s handling, especially the steering and braking and therefore makes it much harder to drive smoothly, and respond to road conditions and hazards in a safe and timely manner.

In this section, you’ll learn how to maintain safe driving standards by learning:

Controlling your vehicle

Learning how to have full control of your vehicle at all times is a fundamental part of learning to drive safely. Your control of the car is reduced by keeping the clutch down or in neutral for any length of time (otherwise known as ‘coasting’). This is dangerous when steering and braking, particularly if you’re travelling downhill, as your vehicle will speed up when there’s no engine braking.

Your vehicle’s engine is a perfect tool to help you control your speed: For example, if you select a lower gear when you’re driving down a steep hill, the engine will act as a brake. Doing this helps avoid your brakes overheating which can lead to them becoming less effective.

It’s important to note that, when you’re driving up a steep hill, the engine has to work harder. You should change down to a lower gear as this will help prevent the engine struggling as it delivers the power needed to climb the hill. If you take your foot off the accelerator to reduce speed, you’ll slow down sooner than usual. You must be aware of this and use sufficient power to ensure you don’t roll down the hill. On single-track roads, be aware of the limited space available. If you see a vehicle coming towards you, pull into (or opposite) a passing place. Always match your driving to the road and weather conditions

Your stopping distance will be affected by several factors, including:

Weather conditions

Weather conditions are something that every driver has to learn to deal with. How your vehicle handles will be affected by conditions and, therefore, they will make a big difference to how you drive. You should always ensure that you leave yourself extra time for your journey in bad weather so you have plenty of flexibility should weather lead to delays.

Wet and rainy conditions

Learning to drive in wet weather conditions is a must! Wet roads affect your stopping distances as it takes longer for you to stop when it’s raining or when the road is wet. Therefore, you must leave at least double the normal stopping distance between you and the vehicle in front. This will give you time to counteract the road’s slipperiness and prevent the likelihood of rear-end shunts. As always when travelling on the road, it’s important to remember that if you’re following a vehicle at a safe distance, and another vehicle pulls into the gap you’ve left, you should drop back until you’re maintaining the correct stopping distances.

If rainfall has been particularly heavy, there may be deep puddles on the road and you should avoid these to prevent splashing pedestrians. Fords are something else that you need to be careful of as they’re likely to flood and become difficult to cross after heavy rain. You should carefully consider if crossing one is sensible and there may be a depth gauge to help you judge. If you do decide to cross it, you should do so slowly, in a lower gear and ensure that your brakes are working afterwards, testing them by lightly pressing your foot down on the brake pedal.

Foggy conditions

When’s it’s rainy, foggy or misty, visibility is likely to be poor. You should use dipped headlights to ensure that other road users see you, even during the day. Deciding when it’s appropriate to have your lights on is a judgment call for you to make, unless you can’t see for more than about 100 metres (328 feet) in front of you. In the latter case, it is mandatory for you to use your dipped beam headlights.

You should also seriously consider using your fog lights, if you have them. Remember to switch these off when conditions improve, to prevent dazzling other road users. Leaving them on also runs the risk of other road users behind you being unable able to see your brake lights clearly, or mistaking your fog lights for brake lights. In the event of this happening, they may not react in time to stop safely or slow unnecessarily, both of which are potentially dangerous.

If you’re travelling on the motorway in foggy weather, you should use the reflective studs help you to see the road ahead. Remember that red studs mark the left-hand edge of the carriageway and amber studs mark the central reservation. If you have to park on the road in foggy conditions, you should leave the parking lights on to ensure your parked vehicle is seen by other road users. Always keep your speed down in foggy weather and increase your distance from the vehicle in front, in case it stops or slows suddenly. This will ensure that you have more time to react to any potential hazards

Extreme weather

You shouldn’t travel in extreme weather, such as heavy snow or thick fog, unless your journey is absolutely essential. If you have no choice but to travel, you should allow plenty of time and be extra cautious.

Planning before you start your journey is essential to ensuring you arrive at your destination safely. You should make sure, before you embark on your travels, that:

Icy conditions

If you are travelling in deep snow, you should fit chains to your wheels to help prevent skidding by improving your grip on the road. In icy conditions, your stopping distance can be 10 times what it would be in dry conditions as, similar to wet conditions, the road will be slippery and your grip reduced. Keeping a safe distance helps prevent crashes and keep the roads safe.

It is imperative that you try to avoid skidding in wet or icy conditions. Even if a skid is minor, it can be hard to get your car back under control once you’ve started skidding. If you don’t have anti-lock brakes and your vehicle begins to skid when you’re braking on a wet road, you should:

Night driving

If you are driving at night, you need to be extra vigilant about ensuring that you can see and be seen. Your lights will be essential to this, but you must be aware of how how lights might affect other road users.

Do this by:

Dip your headlights if you meet other road users at night, so that you don’t dazzle them. This includes cyclists and pedestrians. When using a motorway at night you should be aware of how your visibility may be affected. If you are overtaking, you won’t be able to see as far ahead as usual and there may be bends in the road or other unseen hazards that you will be unaware of.

Therefore, you should:

Road surfaces and traffic calming

Traffic calming tends to be found in residential areas and is used to make the roads safer for vulnerable users by reducing speed. One of the most common measures is road humps (sometimes called speed humps) but chicanes, speed tables and road narrowing are also used.

You will be warned of traffic calming measures by road signs, but other systems such as rumble devices (raised markings across the road) may be used to warn you of a hazard ahead, such as a roundabout, which requires you to reduce your speed.

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