Mirrors, Mirrors, Mirrors!!!
There has, of course, always been and emphasis on the mirrors. Learners, from as long as there have been driving tests, have been told to check their mirrors. Before signalling, mirrors!! Before stopping, mirrors!!, etc.
This is all well and good, but people still frequently fail their tests for not making proper use of mirrors.
Because a lot of the time, people are taught to check their mirrors at certain times, but not to actually use them.
Checking mirrors and using them are not the same thing.
For example, approaching a junction you might check your mirrors just before you signal and then you perhaps start slowing down. This might happen in the same robotic way at the same kind of time, regardless of what is happening around you. The way you do it might suit the situation if the closest thing behind you is a brand new Ford Mondeo, 100 metres away. But what if it’s a 20 year old Transit van, full of builders, sitting very close to your rear bumper?
For this reason, it’s no good just looking towards that bit of glass right before performing your next action. None of this is just a performance for the driving examiner. The important thing is that you need to decide how the behaviour of that following vehicle will affect your plans for the situation ahead of you. If, for example, that vehicle poses a greater threat if you surprise them with a sudden change of speed or direction, just do everything you can to give them plenty of warning. This includes if, when and how you signal, how early you change your position and when you start reducing your speed. This extends to approaching more volatile hazards, like pedestrian crossings or traffic lights. Here, the brake usually needs to be covered at some point in case you need to stop, but a vehicle that is large or close (or both!) will increase your safe braking distance. So the brake would need to be covered earlier. But this means that you may lose more speed in the process. So if there is nothing too close behind, you can afford to cover the brake a little later. You’ll do yourself a favour by reading up on your stopping distances in the Highway Code.
On the other hand, you might find someone tailgating (following too closely behind) you very intimidating. You might feel the urge to go faster to get away from them so they don’t get angry with you. This is a very common thing for new drivers and is quite natural. But this emotional response does more harm than good. The result is that the following vehicle will also speed up and when you brake, you’ll have to brake harder, making that following vehicle even more of a danger. If they have decided to put themselves too close to you, it says more about them than about you. So, the more practical response would be to just be prepared to extend your forward safety margins to give yourself and them more time until one of you goes elsewhere.
Another thing to remember is that you need to check behind before you increase your speed, too. Why? You need to ask yourself a very specific question: Am I being overtaken? You’ll find out by checking the interior and door mirrors. If someone is moving out to pass you, even if it’s not the safest place to do so, the safest thing for you to do is ease off the gas and let them overtake you more quickly.
The interior and door mirrors have different uses. The interior mirror shows what’s directly behind you and their true distance. That’s why they are made of flat glass. The door mirrors are normally convex (curved) glass and tell you more about the position of the vehicles around you. Because they are convex, you get a wider field of vision, especially if you are about to change direction, or if the road changes in width. But the result is that the images are reduced so that things are actually closer than they seem.
So the best time to check behind is when you see the thing that might cause that change of speed or direction. This will give you plenty of time to act on the information.
More driving advice on driving can also be found here: