The Basics

Cockpit Drill

When you get into a car you need to carry out a series of checks before you can start the engine and drive away, this routine is known as the cockpit drill. Once seated in the driving seat you have responsibility for the car and any passengers you are carrying.

DOORS: Firstly check that all doors are securely closed.

SEAT: Adjust the seat so that you are seated comfortably and are able to fully depress the clutch pedal with your left foot leaving a slight bend at the knee. To do this you may need to move the seat base forwards or backwards or even adjust the height of it. The seat back can also be moved forwards or backwards by turning the seat ‘rake’, usually located on the lower sides of the seat back. Don’t forget to adjust the head ‘restraint’ so that it’s furthest point forward is in line with the furthest point back of your head. That way should the car be hit from behind it will restrict your head being thrown backwards too much.

STEERING: Make sure you can reach all parts of the steering wheel with both hands freely, and whilst holding it in either the ’ten to two’ or ‘quarter to three’ position you should have a slight bend at each elbow. Some steering columns can be raised or lowered by first releasing a catch. Once adjusted ensure it is securely locked back in position.

SEATBELT: Put your seatbelt on making sure there are no kinks or twists in it and it lies flat across your chest. This should help prevent the belt injuring you in the event of an accident.

MIRRORS: Adjust your mirrors to cut down ‘blind spots’ surrounding the car. Whilst being seated the way you are intending to drive adjust the rear view mirror with your left hand so that you can see the whole of the back window, with it being slightly offset to the right to see more to your ‘offside’. Be careful not to get fingerprints on the glass as it will obscure your view once it gets dark and following vehicles headlight illuminate the prints! The glass in the rear view mirror is flat and gives a true picture of what is behind you without size or distance being distorted. Adjust the door mirrors with the horizon running horizontally across the centre of the mirror and the sides of your own car should be visible too. This is important so that you know where everything you see is in relation to you. Door mirror glass is often convex to give a wide angled view but in turn distorts the image making everything seem further away than it really is. Therefore never use your door mirrors to accurately judge another vehicles speed or distance.

To help you with the cockpit drill, remember D.S.S.S.M.

One final thing, before starting the engine, check the handbrake is on firmly and the gear lever is in neutral. (Some drivers leave the car in gear to prevent the car rolling away in the event of a handbrake failure).

Moving Off

Before you start the engine you need to carry out some precautionary checks. Make sure the handbrake is applied and that the gear lever is in neutral.

To start the engine, turn the key until the warning lights are all displayed. If your car is diesel you may need to wait for the orange coloured glow plug warning light to go out before starting the engine. Turn the key one more stage and the engine will start. Once started release the key and ensure the oil and ignition warning lights go out.

1) Clutch pedal down fully.

 2) Select 1st gear.

 3) Set the gas and keep it steady.

 4) Slowly bring the clutch up until your either hear the engine tone change or feel the car ‘jolt’ slightly. Then keep the pedal still.

 5) Observations using mirrors and right shoulder blind spot check.

 6) Put on a right signal if there is anyone around who will benefit.

 7) Release the handbrake.

 8) If necessary check your right blind spot again.

 9) Slowly bring the clutch up and the car will begin to move.

 10) Apply more gas as necessary.

 11) Bring the clutch up fully.

As you move away do so at an appropriate speed to join in and keep up with the traffic flow.

Ensure as you move away you are not causing anyone to have to alter their course or speed to avoid you.

Don’t sit at the side of the road with your right signal flashing. If someone stops to let you out you have in effect caused someone to alter their speed and so you will be faulted accordingly. Only apply your right signal if necessary when you are actually going to move away.

Once you are moving try to keep your left foot off the clutch pedal. If you are touching it you will be slightly engaging the clutch and it will suffer
premature wear as a result.


Before bringing the car to a stop you will need to select somewhere that is a Safe, Convenient and Legal Place (S.C.A.L.P.).

To give you an idea of where you can’t stop you should avoid, bus stops, driveways, bends, brows of hills, zig-zag markings, double yellow lines, red routes, school entrances to name but a few. Use your common sense and ensure traffic can safely pass you.

Use the MSM mirror signal manoeuvre routine.

1) Check mirrors.

 2) Signal if necessary (only omit if there isn’t anyone at all anywhere in view).

 3) Guide your car towards the side of the road.

 4) Cover the footbrake and clutch.

 5) Apply the footbrake gently to start slowing the car.

 6) Just before the car comes to a stop put the clutch down fully and keep it there.

 7) Apply the handbrake (push the button in so it is applied silently and release it to lock handbrake in place).

 8) Select neutral.

 9) Cancel signal if it was applied.

Use progressive braking techniques when stopping the car. To do this you need to brake very lightly to start with, and increase the pressure as necessary. As the car starts to slow right down almost to a stop, you release the pressure, not completely but enough to allow the car to roll on a little to a smooth stop. If you were to keep the fully applied pressure throughout, the car would come to a sudden halt as you slow, which can feel uncomfortable for you and your passengers!

When you apply your footbrake, you will illuminate red brake lights at the rear of your car to show following traffic that you are slowing. If you feel that you need to do this in advance of stopping, it only takes the slightest amount of pressure on the pedal for them to come on.

Try not to put your clutch down too early when stopping, only when you feel that the car is about to start stalling. If you do it too soon the car will be
rolling along for some distance. This is referred to as coasting, the stability of the car is compromised and the brakes have to work much harder to stop the car.

If you are driving along in say 4th gear and you are bringing the car to a stop at the side of the road, there is no need to change down through the gears. In the good old days drivers were taught to do this for engine braking to help slow the car down. Now cars are much lighter and have more efficient brakes, it is acceptable and in fact preferred for you to leave the car in whatever gear you are in and just stop. Once you have stopped you can then select neutral.


When a approaching a junction there is a routine you can follow to ensure you negotiate it safely. This is called MSPSL. Mirror, Signal, Position, Speed and Look. The following guide is using MSPSL, there is another system which can also be used known as IPSGA. Information, Position, Speed, Gear and Accelerate.

The steps below refer to 30mph roads.

Left turn minor to major

1) MIRROR: On approach about 10 car lengths away check your rear view mirror and left door mirror to check following traffic.

 2) SIGNAL: As soon as you have checked your mirrors apply your left signal. Ensure there are no other junctions or major openings on the left before the junction as your signal may give the impression you are turning into one of them. If so, delay the signal until you have passed them.

 3) POSITION: Keep to the left and follow the curvature of the kerb so when you come to a stop you are at an angle ready to drive away.

 4) SPEED: Brake progressively on approach to the junction so your speed reduces gradually to avoid harsh braking when nearing the line. Change gear if necessary. You should approach all junctions with the intention of stopping and only go when you can see it is actually clear.

 5) LOOK: You will need to look both left and right. Look to the left to see if there are any parked vehicles that will force you to turn onto the other side of the road. If so you will need to give way to traffic from the left. There may be parked cars on the opposite side of the road forcing traffic from the left to approach you on the wrong side. Again you will need to give way as to avoid a head on collision. When looking right you will obviously give way to traffic, but if someone approaches with a left signal to turn into your road and they are close enough to hit you should their signal be wrong then wait. Once you see a second sign such as the car slowing heavily or the car actually starting to turn then you will know for sure that it is then safe. If the vehicle is large such as a bus or lorry, be aware of vehicles behind it that are obscured from your view. They may try and overtake the turning vehicle, and you would be in danger if you are in the process of emerging. If you can’t see then don’t go. Think LADA.


ASSESS what you see.

DECIDE what course of action to take.

ACT upon your decision.

Right turn minor to major

1) MIRROR: On approach about 10 car lengths away check your rear view mirror and right door mirror to check following traffic.

 2) SIGNAL: As soon as you have checked your mirrors apply your right signal again checking for junctions or openings before the end of the road. Delay signal if necessary.

 3) POSITION: Keep near the centre line of the road you are on, and when you come to a stop keep the car pointing straight forward with your wheels straight.

 4) SPEED: Again brake progressively and approach with the intention of stopping and only emerge when safe.

 5) LOOK: Look left and right with the same considerations as above.

Left turn major to minor

1) MIRROR: About 10 car lengths away check mirrors.

 2) SIGNAL: Signal, again delay as necessary if there are any other openings.

 3) POSITION: Keep to your normal driving position about a metre from the kerb.

 4) SPEED: Brake progressively and reduce your speed, changing gear as necessary. If you are driving fast you would normally change down to second gear in order to turn. If a gear change is required you must ensure that as soon as the change is made you bring the clutch back up. If the clutch is left depressed the car will be rolling (coasting) and if left in this state you may find the car uncontrollable as you try and turn. Ideally your speed will be about 10mph as you make the turn.

 5) LOOK: Look into the new road to see if it is safe to turn into, if the road is narrow with parked cars you may have to wait for another car to emerge before you yourself can turn into it. If pedestrians are already in the process of crossing the road you will have to give way to them.

Right turn major to minor

1) MIRROR: About 10 car lengths away check mirrors.

 2) SIGNAL: Signal, delaying if necessary.

 3) POSITION: Position near to the centre of the road. You will need to give way to oncoming traffic. If you do have to come to a stop, try not to let the front of the car go beyond the centre of the road you are turning into as you may make it very difficult to negotiate. Also ensure you keep your car straight with the wheels kept straight, that way should you be hit from behind your car will be pushed forward. Sitting with your car at an angle or with the wheels turned can be dangerous. If you were hit, you would be pushed across the road head on into whatever vehicle is approaching you! If you are waiting to turn and not sure if you have time, ask yourself if you would have time to walk across the road, if so you would have time to drive it. Assuming that there are no approaching vehicles to wait for and you are free to turn, you must not turn too early and ‘cut the corner’, crossing over the centre line of the road you are turning into. To avoid this wait until the front of your car is nearly level with middle of the new road and turn. The main thing is, look into the road you are turning into and look where you want the car to go, and you will put the car in that place.

4) SPEED: If free to turn, again use second gear and do so about 10mph or as necessary.

5) LOOK: As above assess the new road.

if the roads are faster than 30mph you would need to start the process earlier, as it more about how much time you give to show your intentions as opposed to how far from a junction you are.

As stated above, approach a give way line with the intention of stopping and only go when you can see it is safe. That way if you can’t see then you are not going to pull out and endanger anyone. Your approach to the junction would also be very smooth and planned. Once you start thinking the opposite and approaching junctions with the intention of just going and only stopping if you see traffic will cause problems. Firstly your observations will be poor and should you see traffic you will most likely then brake very heavily, affecting your positioning and possibly resulting in your car being rear ended.

Junctions with limited visibility are referred to as ‘closed’ junctions. Those that have a clear view in both directions well before you reach a give way line are called ‘open’ junctions. Open junctions are usually the ones you can emerge from without stopping if clear because you can make that decision on your approach.

Some junctions have such limited visibility they will be marked with a STOP line and STOP sign. You are required by law to completely stop before emerging. On a test it is a good idea to apply the handbrake to prove you have actually stopped, it removes any doubt as to whether you stopped completely or not.

Not so common now are unmarked junctions. An unmarked junction is one without any road markings. Never assume you have priority, it’s best practice to assume you are the one giving way before proceeding.

It’s not essential for you to apply the handbrake every time you stop at a junction. When you first learn to drive you most likely will do it every time for practice and better control. Once you are proficient with the controls of the car then you can decide whether the junction necessitates the use of the handbrake. Apply the handbrake if there is the possibility of the car rolling backwards or you are waiting for more than 3-4 seconds for traffic, or for the sake of pedestrians or other vehicles around you to make the situation safer.

When turning left, remember that the rear wheels take a shorter route than the front, so if you are too close to the kerb the rear wheel may mount or strike it.

When emerging from a junction you are not to cause another road user to have to change course or adjust their speed to avoid you. Once you have emerged check your rear view mirror to see what is behind you. A fast approaching car will mean more urgency with your acceleration to get up to speed.

Failing a test for lack of observation at a junction is in the top ten of faults on a national scale. Probably because test candidates feel they need to be quick at a junction like most other drivers. There are so many accidents around junctions because most people don’t take enough care at them!! Play it safe and check properly before emerging.


Roundabouts are designed to keep traffic flowing, usually giving each road leading up to it an equal priority.

On approach to a roundabout use your MSPSL routine. It is important that you keep correct position as you negotiate a roundabout and signal your intention clearly so other road users understand where you want to go. This will ensure the roundabout flows smoothly and efficiently.

On approach check signage and road markings, which may dictate that you use a certain lane for a particular exit.

Remember you must give way to traffic from your right.

Here is a general guide.

Turning left 1st exit

MSPSL, using the left lane with a left signal. Once you have given priority to cars on your right and you drive on, check the road you are turning into is clear and proceed. Leave your signal on until you have exited.

Going straight on/intermediate exits

MSPSL, with no signal. Position yourself in the most suitable lane, again check for road markings. As you negotiate the roundabout maintain your position in the same lane you approached in until you need to alter course to exit. As you pass the exit directly before the exit you wish to take, signal left. If you were guided to use the middle or right hand lane, remember to check your left mirror for traffic, which may be on your left side.

Turning right or going full circle

MSPSL with a right signal, selecting the right hand lane or as guided by road markings. Maintain your course in the same lane you approached in until you need to alter your course to exit. As you pass the exit directly before yours signal left. Remember to check for vehicles, which may be on your left side.


Usually you will need to change down to 2 or 3 gear to negotiate a roundabout if there is no requirement to stop. Try and time your arrival at the roundabout to coincide with a gap. The busier the roundabout looks, the slower you need to approach to again arrive at a suitable gap. If this is not possible, then approach to stop.

If you are behind a car make sure when they move forward you see them drive away before deciding to go yourself. A common incident at roundabouts is when a driver thinks the car in front has gone, when in fact it has only moved forward, and the driver behind then tries to go only to hit the stationary vehicle in front of them!

It really is important that you approach a roundabout at a speed suitable to be able to read what is going on and make a decision as to whether it is safe to go or not. Usually the slower you approach, the more likely you are to be able to go. Driving on to a roundabout too fast cutting in front of cars is dangerous, but so is stopping at a roundabout if there is no traffic and is clear to proceed. If the driver behind can see it is clear, they will not be expecting a car in front to stop. You can imagine what would then be likely to happen.

Mini roundabouts

Mini roundabouts are usually painted on the road surface or are slightly raised. This is usually to allow large or long vehicles to pass over it, if they are having difficulty negotiating it. The same rules apply to mini roundabouts as they would any other.

The limited space means that you may not always have time to signal your intention to exit.

Ideally there shouldn’t be more than one vehicle at a time on a mini roundabout. If it is a double mini roundabout, treat each mini roundabout as a separate one. Try not to enter the first roundabout if your entrance to the second one is blocked by a waiting vehicle.

Be cautious at mini roundabouts, even some experienced drivers can get confused and see a mini roundabout as a junction instead!! This often results in them driving across your path or sitting and waiting when they have priority to go!!


Uphill  - Moving away from the side of the road uphill isn’t really anything you should worry about as long as you prepare for the extra burden of gravity acting upon the vehicle before you release the handbrake. Gravity will make the car seem ‘heavier’, so the engine has to work harder to get the car moving. You also need to use your clutch to good effect to stop the car stalling or rolling back. Here’s how:

1) Clutch down.

 2) Select 1st gear.

 3) Set the gas, the steeper the hill the more gas you need.

 4) Find the biting point, then keep your foot still. (tip look for the bonnet to rise slightly, if the bonnet rises the car is trying to move forward. As long as you keep it like that you shouldn’t roll backwards once you release the handbrake).

 5) All round observations including mirrors.

 6) Signal if necessary.

 7) Start to release the handbrake.

 8) Final blind spot check/observations.

 9) As you fully disengage the handbrake, return your hand to the steering wheel and bring the clutch up slowly and the car will move forward.

 10) Listen to the engine as you are bringing the clutch up, if it is dying apply more gas to compensate.

Downhill - Moving downhill is much easier as the car wanting to roll forward will aid you moving away. The use of the footbrake is to enable you to control the rate at which the car moves away.

1) Clutch down.

2) Select 1st gear or even 2nd on some slopes.

3) Depress the footbrake fully.

4) Release the handbrake.

5) All round observations including mirrors.

6) Signal if necessary.

7) Final blind spot check/observations.

8) Release the footbrake (slowly if you want to move away slowly!).

9) Clutch up as the car moves away (Don’t take too long as the car may start to roll faster and faster (coasting)).

Because it is possible for handbrakes to fail there are ways in which you can prevent your car from rolling away whilst you leave it parked.

Pointing uphill with a kerb on your left - Leave wheels turned to the right pointing into the road, if the car was to roll the front left tyre will be stopped by the kerb and the car will stay in still. Leaving the car in 1st gear will also prevent the car from rolling backwards. Ensure you put it into neutral before starting the engine!

Pointing downhill with a kerb on your left - Leave wheels turned left pointing towards the kerb, if the car was to roll the front left tyre will be stopped by the kerb, and the car will stay still. Leaving the car in reverse gear will prevent it from rolling forward. Once again you must ensure you put the gear into neutral before starting the engine!

Caution - Bearing in mind what has been said above, gears and wheels being chocked are no substitute for your handbrake, which should be fully engaged and in good working order. Many drivers leave cars in gear, which is why you should always check it is in neutral as part of your precautionary checks before starting the engine. It’s also best to check the handbrake first, if the gear really is holding the car still without the handbrake being fully applied the car will roll as you pull it out of gear and into neutral!

When you are moving away from the side of the road on a hill, bear in mind that large vehicles climbing a hill may have difficulty moving away again if you cause them to slow or stop. If vehicles are descending a hill it will be much harder for them to stop or slow to avoid you if you do not move away quick enough.