On your driving test, your examiner will be looking closely at your position on the road. Under this section of the mark sheet, there are two areas upon which they’ll be judging you. First: your road positioning. This includes how well you’re centred within your lane, and how you adapt your position when making a turn or overtaking. Secondly, lane discipline, and whether you can successfully choose the correct lane for your destination.
It might seem basic, but steering into the right position lays a good foundation for all your other driving skills. It's only once you've got the hang of this that you'll be able to pull off more complex manoeuvres and show your examiner you really know what's what.
Generally speaking, good road positioning means you should aim to keep your car in the centre of your lane. We say ‘generally’, because when you’re out and about, you need a dynamic relationship with the roads. As different hazards present themselves, you need to adapt your driving accordingly, and when you’re about to turn or overtake an obstacle, your road position will need to change.
There are a few reasons why your ideal road position is in the centre of your lane, and not too far to the left or right.
If you drive too closely to the left of the road:
Image source: Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash
Driving too closely to the line on the right presents other risks.
In a right-hand drive, your left leg is pretty much in the middle of your car. If you want your car to be in the middle of your lane, your left leg needs to be in the middle of your lane. So you might find it helpful to imagine you’re walking down the street, rather than driving. As a new driver, you’ll probably have better spatial awareness as a pedestrian than as a driver. If your left leg starts deviating from the centre of the lane, make sure you get it back on track.
Image source: mostafa meraji via Unsplash
Where we look when we’re driving has a big impact on where we drive. You can test this theory by looking to the left or right as you try to walk in a straight line. We bet you have to concentrate quite hard to keep on course!
It’s the same deal in the car: if the path you’re concentrating on is clear, you’ll gravitate towards it. But if there’s an obstacle in your line of vision, you’ll naturally try to avoid it. So, even though you might want to focus your vision on potential hazards, by doing this, you’ll end up veering away from them. That actually puts you in more danger—and can make you weave down the road. Neither your passengers nor your driving examiner will thank you for making them feel nauseous.
To avoid this pitfall, concentrate on the centre of your lane further ahead: this is where you want to drive. That doesn’t mean putting blinkers on; it’s important to remain aware of your surroundings. But it does mean that you’ll stay centred, even when things crop up to your left and right that shouldn’t have a bearing on your road position.
Image source: mac231 via Pixabay
It’s tricky trying to judge when to turn the wheel on a bend. Turn too early, and you’ll drift out of your lane; too late and you’ll end up having to turn very sharply to stay on the road.
If there’s a bend in the road, you still need to focus on your own lane. If you’re so caught up watching out for vehicles coming round the bend that your line of vision crosses over to the other side of the road, chances are your car will follow suit. You’ll end up cutting the corner—putting yourself right in the line of fire if you do end up meeting someone.
So, look as far as possible within your lane. Start turning only when you’re on the bend itself—if you can still see it out of your front windscreen, that’s a bit too early.
Up until now, we've seen drivers with good road positioning staying in the middle of the lane. This changes slightly when you want to make a left turn. Move slightly more to the left of your lane, so that you're prepared to go round the corner. However, don’t hug the kerb too tightly when you’re turning left; you don't want to clip it with your tyres.
As you prepare to turn right, you should move towards the right-hand side of your lane. Position yourself just right of the centre line. If the lane is wide enough, this keeps traffic flowing by allowing other vehicles to pass you on the left. It also demonstrates your intentions to other drivers and helps to reinforce the message you’re giving out with your vehicle indicators. It puts you in a better position to turn and stops anyone—particularly vulnerable road users like motorcyclists—from trying to overtake you.
Image source: Andy Wallace via Pixabay
When you need to overtake someone, whether that’s another moving vehicle, a cyclist or a parked car, you need to give them enough space. If the obstacle is on the move, they may change their position at any time, for example to avoid a pothole. You’ll only stay safe if you’re far enough away that they won’t collide with you.
Where you can’t give the obstacle as much space as you’d like, consider your options. Never risk overtaking a moving object (like a lorry or a cyclist) unless there’s plenty of room to do so. With parked vehicles, you can mitigate the risk caused by less space by reducing your speed.
To excel on your driving test, check that you know the theory, and can put into practice, the following aspects of good road positioning:
✓ Drive in the centre of your lane
✓ Move your road position to the left or right as you prepare to turn
✓ Give obstacles enough room when overtaking them
Image source: tinabold via Pixabay
Lane discipline has to do with which lane you’re driving in. To maintain good lane discipline, you need to be in the correct lane for your destination, and use a good road position, as we’ve covered above. You should also avoid changing lanes when it's not necessary.
You might have always thought of left and right lanes as ‘slow' and 'fast' lanes. If that’s the case, get it out of your mind straight away! The left lane is the default lane: you should always use it, except for when you’re turning right or there is road signage that says otherwise. The right-hand lane(s)—yes, middle lanes count as well—are for overtaking and turning right.
Middle lane hogging is a classic motorway offence from drivers who don’t have good lane discipline. After overtaking, they fail to move back into the left-hand lane. That causes other vehicles, who want to pass them, to go even further right to avoid undertaking. Changing lanes brings with it an element of risk, and it can also cause tailbacks, with a long line of drivers having to move out in order to overtake the vehicle in question. It’s no wonder, then, that you can be fined if you hog the middle lane.
Image source: Victor Sánchez Berruezo via Unsplash
Occasionally, a dual carriageway may encourage you to ‘use both / all lanes’. This helps to keep traffic moving. Don’t be tempted to weave in and out; sometimes drivers do this to try and keep in the lane that appears to be moving more quickly. It rarely makes your journey faster and can slow down the traffic for everyone. Just remember to get in the correct lane in plenty of time if you’re coming up to a junction.
Good lane discipline dictates that you should never straddle two lanes. Sometimes drivers do this accidentally, particularly when exiting roundabouts, as there aren’t always clear lines drawn on the road. However, it’s a really dangerous practice, as you risk cutting up other vehicles, or being clipped by cars travelling in either lane.
Image source: Robert Bye via Unsplash
To maintain good lane discipline, you need to know which lane to choose when you come upon junctions. Usually, you will be able to follow the default rules.
The exception to this is where there are signs or road markings that tell you otherwise.
As you approach a junction, there might be a sign indicating which lane is used for turning in a particular direction, and there may also be white arrows on the road. You’ll often see these at bigger roundabouts, where there are lots of exits. It’s important to get into the correct lane early because switching lanes is hazardous. There are lots of factors that could cause problems, from missing vehicles in your blind spot to straddling two lanes as you try to move across.
Sometimes these signs may mean you have to do something different from the norm. For instance, you might be instructed that the left lane is only to be used for left-turning traffic. So, if you want to go straight on, you’d need to move to the right-hand lane.
Always look out for vehicles who are wanting to change lanes as you approach a junction.
Image source: Tabea Damm via Unsplash
Mistakes do happen, and sometimes good lane discipline goes out the window when you choose the wrong lane at a junction. Upon realising that you’re not where you want to be, the most important thing is to stay calm. It will depend on the specific circumstances as to whether you can switch lanes safely or whether the best thing to do is to go the wrong way and find an appropriate place to pull over and turn around or find a new route.
As a learner driver, get used to saying your decision-making process out loud. For example, “I know I’m in the wrong lane to turn right. I’ve checked in my mirrors and I don’t have space to move into the correct lane before the junction. I’m going to follow the road round to the left and use road signs to guide me back onto the right route.” This will really help in your practical test because going the wrong way won’t automatically cause you to fail. In real life, drivers go the wrong way all the time! Your examiner will really be looking at how well you react to the situation.
During your practical test, your driving examiner will be looking out for good lane discipline. Specifically, they’ll want to check that you can:
✓ Keep to one lane unless switching lanes (no straddling)
✓ Use the left lane as default and the right-hand lane for overtaking and turning right
✓ Follow signs and get into the correct lane on approach to a junction
✓ Stay calm if you are in the wrong lane