Published: 12 May 2021. Written by: Ben White.
As lockdown restrictions ease, many drivers are looking forward to getting behind the wheel again – and traveling further afield. Here’s how to ease yourself back into life on the road
Over the past year, most of us will have significantly reduced the number of miles we have driven, and this is especially true for longer journeys. According to the Department for Transport (DfT), between September 2019 and September 2020 overall traffic decreased by 18.9 per cent due to lockdown restrictions.
It’s natural that by driving fewer miles and encountering less traffic our skills might be a little rusty. So, as the rules are relaxed and you can think about taking that long-overdue trip to your favourite spot in the countryside, or seeing family a couple of counties away, it’s worth asking yourself: how can I prepare for driving out of lockdown?
1. You’re ready to drive, but is your car roadworthy?
When was the last time you checked your lights, tyres, oil, seating position and mirrors? We thought as much… Giving your car a quick once-over is a bit like doing some pre-workout stretches, enabling you to iron out any niggles before the fun begins. Remember that cars are designed to move around all the time, and their various mechanical and electrical parts can fail when they’re left sitting dormant – just like they might have been over lockdown.
Lights: Let there be light – ensure you can see where you’re going and others can see you too. Bulbs may have failed due to lack of use and the colder winter weather. Turn your car’s ignition on and check the sidelights, headlights (including main beams), tail lights and indicators. If you don’t have someone to help you, a reflective surface such as a window or garage door can be used to check brake lights, reversing lights and rear fog lights.
Tyres: Check your tyres are inflated to the recommended pressure (this information is usually found on a sticker inside the driver’s door). When cars are left standing, tyres can deflate all by themselves and – in extreme cases – develop flat spots, sometimes rendering them useless. Check there is at least 1.6mm of tread across the width of each, the legal minimum (the rim of a 20p piece can be used as a depth gauge). Bald tyres can incur a three-point penalty and a £2,500 fine per tyre.
Oil: Maintaining the correct oil level is vital to ensure your engine keeps running properly. Oil degrades over time, affecting its thickness, which means it can struggle to keep components lubricated. Use the dipstick to check your car’s oil level and top it up if you need to. You’ll find information on the correct grade of oil to use online or at the shop. If your car hasn’t had an oil change in a while, get it sorted.
Seating position and mirrors: The majority of us don’t give a second thought to our driving position. It might sound obvious, but you need to be sitting comfortably and safely to maintain proper control of your car at all times. Check you can reach all the controls easily and ensure your mirrors give you a clear field of view around the car. With your arms outstretched, your wrists should sit easily at the top of the steering wheel – if you have to stretch, move your seat forwards.
2. Are you road legal?
Your car might be roadworthy and raring to go, but is it road legal? Check that your paperwork is in order and that your insurance hasn’t expired during lockdown by typing your registration number plate into the Motor Insurance Database – it’s a free service and takes a matter of seconds to return a result.
An equally important check is to ensure your MOT is still valid. Your vehicle must get an MOT test by the third anniversary of its registration. During the first lockdown, six-month extensions were granted to vehicles with tests due on or after 30 March 2020, that may have thrown yours out of kilter with your expectations.
Find out if a vehicle has a valid MOT certificate – again you’ll just need the vehicle’s registration number plate – via the government website. It’s also free of charge.
3. Sanitise your car
Keeping your car clean and sanitised is as important as ensuring your house is a safe, COVID-free environment. In an ideal world, we’d employ the same scrupulous cleansing procedures that we use at home, but in reality that’s not always possible.
We all know people who treat their cars like a mobile dustbin, and others who wouldn’t miss their scheduled valet once a week. Strike a middle ground by investing in an anti-bacterial sanitising spray or an anti-viral car fogger. The latter works a little like a bathroom air freshener: you spray it inside your car and leave it to disinfect surfaces. Most car care manufacturers have added products like these to their ranges.
Lastly, ensure you have a good supply of hand sanitiser on board at all times. Regularly disinfect door handles – inside and out – and high contact areas such as steering wheels and gear knobs. Disposable gloves are useful when handling the pumps at the petrol station, too. The Shell Fill Up & Go app for your mobile phone allows contactless payment – removing the need for you to even enter the shop to pay.
4. Practise parking
One of the few benefits of lockdown has been that, when we have had to drive – for example, to the supermarket – car parks have typically been less busy. Such has been the reduction that between April 2020 and March 2021, York City Council alone reckoned it lost almost £6 million in parking revenue. As a result, the dark art of parallel parking might have fallen off your radar, but follow these steps and you’ll soon be an expert once again:
Make sure there’s enough space: It might seem obvious, but aim for two feet clear either end of your car to avoid performing your own rendition of the Austin Powers three-point turn scene from International Man of Mystery.
Indicate: Other traffic may not realise what you are doing at first, so indicate as you pull up, aiming to stop parallel to the car forward of the space.
Check all around: Don’t just rely on your mirrors. Turn your head to check your blind spots before moving and take extra care to spot pedestrians and people on bikes.
Go slowly: Take your time and don’t get flustered if you fluff the first attempt. Sure, you might feel the eyes of the driver behind burning into you as the beads of sweat begin to roll from your brow. But it’s not a race against the clock and those around you aren’t going to deliver marks out of 10 at the end, so use the opportunity to be meticulous.
Handbrake, mirrors, exit: Once you’ve completed the manoeuvre, apply the handbrake and check your mirrors and blind spots before exiting the car, especially when opening the door into the carriageway to avoid bumping into that Deliveroo cyclist and spreading food all over the road.
5. Master the motorway
Our number-one piece of advice for long journeys on the motorway is to plan ahead. Ensure you know your route and pre-load it into your sat-nav if you have one. Plan to stop for ‘a break of at least 20 minutes every two hours’, says Neil Greig of road safety charity IAM Roadsmart. This could be at a services, though we’d suggest finding an open area, such as a country park, near your route. Fresh air and space for a walk trumps soggy sandwiches every time.
Got the kids in the car as well? If you’re dreading them asking ‘Are we there yet?’, check out our top-tips on entertaining the little ones.
Whatever you do, don’t fear motorway driving. They are the safest roads, accounting for just three per cent of accidents. But there are a few key things to remember, according to West Midlands Police. First, drive in the correct lane and return to the left-hand lane once you have finished overtaking. Use the two-second rule, leaving a two-second gap between you and the vehicle in front. Finally, in adverse weather adjust your speed accordingly.
6. Enjoy yourself
Bored of staying on the roads you know best? Maybe it’s time to restart using them for pleasure.
Driving out of lockdown should be as much about the enjoyment of being able to visit people and places again. Arranging a walk around a local park or beauty spot with a friend will allow you to get some confidence-building miles under your belt and refresh your driving reflexes locally. If you are one of the one-in-five drivers who are more anxious about returning to the road after a lockdown – according to figures from IAM Roadsmart – it will also reassure you that you’re not far from home.
And, if you feel as if you’re on autopilot when driving locally, we’ve compiled some tips on how to avoid it.
Wherever you’re heading, don’t forget to try and enjoy the journey. Driving out of lockdown and getting back on the road again should be about embracing the opportunities that car travel can bring.
What are some of the benefits of driving? We asked a psychologist why driving can have a positive affect on mental health.
Want to discover about Vitality Car Insurance? You can find out more about how to get rewarded for your good driving and register your interest. Or you can head to Member Zone to discover more information.