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Tactics for handling unfamiliar situations

Even with a parent/supervisor's guidance, unfamiliar or difficult situations – like driving in the rain or driving new roads – can be scary for everyone in the car.

It's ideal to get as much experience as possible, but there's a limit to the number of different experiences a learner driver can have on their L's - you also need to learn adaptability.

Here are some tactics for becoming adaptable and learning to handle different situations quickly:

1) Proactive tactics – tips for planning ahead when you know you could be driving somewhere new or difficult.

2) Responsive tactics – tips for on the road, when you have time to think things through.

3) Reactive tactics – tips for when you feel under a lot of pressure.

Proactive tactics – when you can plan ahead

  • Plan and think through where you're going. Check a map and mentally practice the best route.
  • Match the route to your ability. For example, take some quieter roads if you think double-lane highways and roundabouts will stress you out unnecessarily.
  • Ask a passenger to help you navigate.
  • Use navigation technology if you have it and if it helps.
  • Tactics for handling unfamiliar situationsGive yourself more time than you think you'll need so you don't have to rush.
  • Try to drive at the safest time - avoid peak hour.
  • Practice in your mind how you will manage difficult situations before you get to them. For example, if you know you will have to turn right at a major set of traffic lights, mentally rehearse the each of the skills involved.
  • Make sure you have a very clean windscreen and that your seat and all your mirrors are adjusted for your height.
  • Reduce, or even better, eliminate distractions in the car - turn off your mobile, and don't eat, light up a cigarette or don't put on/change music while driving.

Responsive tactics - when you have time to think things through

  • Look ahead as far as you can comfortably see - you'll have more time to respond to any hazards or challenges up ahead.
  • Nearer the situation, respond earlier than normal - usually this means ease up on the accelerator.
  • Make yourself breathe slowly and deeply, relax your neck, shoulders and arms; this will help you think more clearly and drive more smoothly.
  • Keep extra space between you and the car in front.
  • Take note of situations that look a bit different to those you have already experienced. Rehearse in your mind how you will manage the situation.

Reactive tactics - when you feel under a lot of pressure

  • Keep driving with the flow of traffic.
  • Avoid sudden use of the brake, accelerator, or steering.
  • Ease up a bit on the accelerator, going slower gives you longer time to react.
  • Politely ask noisy passengers to be quiet - you need to concentrate.
  • Relax and breathe deeply and slowly.
  • If the anxiety levels are really high, look for a safe place to pull over and stop. Before pulling over, though, look behind and signal for at least two seconds.
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