Welcome to autoTRADER.ca’s finishing school, the perfect place to learn all the social and car-cultural graces so you can be a safer and more courteous driver. Following these tips will separate you from the classless Neanderthals clogging up the roads, with their incessant honking, Mad Max–worthy driving behaviour, and blood-pressure-raising speeds.
1. Use Your Signals
The smallest details can make the biggest difference. Whether it’s changing lanes, picking a parking spot, or turning into an intersection, make your intentions known because your fellow drivers (and pedestrians too) will appreciate the heads-up.
In case you need a refresher on how to change lanes the proper way: signal, check that the space is free and clear of any cars closing in next to you, then change lanes and click off the signal.
Some drivers have the habit of just signalling and changing lanes without checking their blind spot. Remember you’re not entitled to that space just because of your signal. Be patient and wait for a safe opening.
2. Know How to Handle Intersections
Intersections are usually an easy thing for drivers to navigate, but unexpected or last-second manoeuvres can cause headaches or collisions. For example, changing lanes in the middle of an intersection can confuse other drivers entering it, be it those proceeding with you, making a legal U-turn, or those waiting perpendicular to take a right on a red.
It’s also important when turning that you enter the correct lane. Turning from the innermost lane means you should end up in the inner lane as well, rather than arrive in the outer lane. Similarly, beginning in the outer or middle lane means you should end up in the outer lane as well. Changing lanes unexpectedly or making a wide turn can could put you on a collision course with another vehicle.
3. Practice Lane Discipline
Left-lane bandits are among the worst offenders on the road. These are drivers who camp in the left lane going below the speed limit, impeding passing traffic or forcing others to pass around them on the right, which can be unexpected and problematic for other motorists. Unless there is heavy traffic, you should be using the left lane for passing only, and once you’ve finished your pass, return to the right.
Another offensive tactic we see more often is impatient drivers using turning lanes or merging lanes to bypass traffic, kind of like butting in line. Not only is it rude to butt in line, but it’s also dangerous and illegal to behave like this in turning lanes, merging lanes, or shoulders.
4. Don’t Block Intersections
In busy cities, intersections can be jammed up pretty badly, meaning if you were to enter without room to clear the intersection, you might get stuck in the middle of it, well beyond your light cycle. This impedes the progress of other motorists by creating gridlock and can impact pedestrians, cyclists, and emergency vehicles. You should only enter an intersection if there’s room to safely clear the pedestrian crosswalk. Be conscious of the space you’re entering, and ensure you aren’t inconveniencing others with your actions. The road is meant to be shared so don’t mess it up with short-sighted actions.
5. Be Smooth
Something that can infuriate drivers is a motorist who hits the brakes or speeds up without rhyme or reason. Every time you touch your brakes, your tail lights illuminate, triggering other drivers behind you to do the same, lest they risk rear-ending you. Erratically tapping your brakes or speeding up just to quickly slow down again impacts everyone else around you – and also costs you more at the fuel pump.
6. Keep Your Distance
Tailgating is a cardinal sin on the road. You may have faith in your reaction times, tires, and brakes, but you can’t be sure that the folks behind or ahead of you have the same confidence. Tailgating also stresses out other drivers and restricts people trying to change lanes. If you want to avoid being unsafe and looking like a jerk on the road, leave plenty of space between you and the car in front, or you might end up rear-ending someone. (That extra space will also let you be smoother on the throttle and your brakes, which in turn saves you money.)
7. Use Your Lights Properly
Know when to turn on or off your lights. Forgetting to turn on your lights at night makes you a hazard on the road and frustrates other drivers. As a general rule, you should turn on your lights between dusk and dawn, in bad weather, or anywhere where it might be dark, like a parking garage.
Also, forgetting to turn off your high beams is dangerous and annoying because it can blind oncoming traffic or drivers in front of you. Fortunately, many new cars offer automatic headlights and high-beam assistance to help you out with this bit of driver etiquette.
8. Don’t be Distracted
In case it isn’t clear, being a courteous driver is all about being aware of what is happening around you. That means keeping your eyes on the road and being aware of the signs and lights. Too many drivers use time at a stoplight to check their phones and get caught up in responding to texts, checking emails, or looking at Instagram. This means they’re not aware of the light changing, which can irritate drivers behind them, especially if it’s an advance green. Throw that phone in the glove box or centre console and get to it when you’re no longer driving.
Keeping it out of reach serves double duty to prevent a phone from distracting you while you’re on the road too. Using a phone while driving is not only illegal but dangerous. You’ll rack up fines and demerit points, leading to higher insurance and potentially losing your licence. Simply put, leave the phone alone until you’re parked.
9. Park Properly
We can’t tell you how many times a perfect parking spot has been ruined by a driver in the adjacent spot not parking straight or parking outside their line. Parking spaces are perfectly sized to fit your car, so try to give equal space for the people beside you, unless you want them to try and squeeze in next to you and cause some scrapes or door dings.
Another thing that frustrates other drivers is improper use of designated spots. This means not parking in a handicap spot if you don’t have a valid permit. Similarly, people who aren’t pregnant shouldn’t use expectant mother parking. Finally, some spots feature electric chargers, and these are meant for electric or plug-in vehicles, and gas- or diesel-powered cars shouldn’t park there. If you do have an EV, but it has a full battery, consider parking somewhere else, so someone else can charge their vehicle.
Furthermore, parking in space that isn’t designated as a parking spot will impact the flow of the parking lot around you. You may be double-parking someone or blocking access for emergency vehicles with this selfish act.
10. Keep Your Eyes on Others
It’s a good idea to be patient when driving in the city and you should double- or triple-check your mirrors for everyone else you’re sharing the roads with. Pedestrians, cyclists, motorcycles, electric scooters, and more are all using the road with you, and it is ideal to keep an eye on them and give them space. Make eye contact with pedestrians, do shoulder checks often, and move over to give cyclists some space.
Take note of their hand signals – don’t you appreciate it when they give you a heads-up about what direction they’re heading?
Move Over for Emergency Vehicles
Usually you’ll hear the sirens of an emergency vehicle before you see them, so be sure to get your eyes up and see where the police, ambulance, or firefighters are coming from. If they are behind you, be sure to move over to your right. These vehicles are responding to an emergency, and getting out of their way is vital. Imagine if you were in need of medical attention and didn’t get it because someone refused to get out of the way of an ambulance.
If you want to really fit in on the road, don’t be afraid to show thanks and gratitude when someone goes out of their way to help you along your way. If someone slows down to let you into their lane, be sure to give them a friendly wave. If someone lets you pass them on a two-lane road, tap the four-ways to let them know you appreciate them sharing the road.