Tips for driving in heavy traffic

Lesson Type
Last updated: 12 Nov 2019

If you’re taking driving lessons in a busy town or city, driving in traffic is something you’ll soon get used to. Driving in heavy traffic can be frustrating and you might find other drivers become more impatient when stuck in a jam, so it’s good to know how to deal with driving on busy roads.

Clutch control

Your clutch control skills will be tested a lot when driving in heavy traffic. There will be a great deal of stopping and starting to contend with, so being able to master finding the biting point is essential.

Some modern vehicles have stop start technology, meaning your engine will stop running when you’re at a standstill and will start up again when you depress the clutch to signal you’re about to move again. This is a really economical way to conserve fuel and may be a feature on your driving instructor’s car.

When at a standstill, place your vehicle into neutral and apply the handbrake. This will secure the vehicle and allow you to have a break from holding your foot on the biting point.

Be a defensive driver

Defensive driving is a skill which all learner drivers should be getting to grips with throughout their driving lessons, and, when driving in heavy traffic, is essential. Being a defensive driver means that you expect the unexpected and that you’re prepared in the event that, for example, someone pulls out in front of you.

Heavy traffic often makes people impatient and erratic. You might find that fellow motorists try to squeeze into tighter spaces than they normally would or that cyclists and motorcyclists weave in and out of traffic to beat the jams. You also need to look out for pedestrians crossing between stationary vehicles. Be sure to use your mirrors regularly when driving in slow moving traffic and make sure that you’re always aware of what and who is around you.

Finding a gap

Hesitation is something which many learner drivers unexpectedly get pulled up on in their driving tests. Whilst it’s important to make sure you don’t pull out into a space which is too small, it’s also important to ensure you don’t hesitate for too long at a turning or junction. Keeping up with the flow of traffic will be something that you’re marked on in your driving test, and being able to contend with slow moving traffic might be part of this.

When waiting at a junction or turning, look out for spaces in the traffic flow which you will be able to fit into safely. Your priority should still be to wait for a safe gap to pull out into, but you might find that drivers signal to let you out if the traffic is particularly slow moving. Never assume it is safe to pull out because another motorist has signalled you to do so. Ensure you check first yourself before pulling out from a junction or side road.

Leave plenty of space

When driving in stop start traffic, you need to make sure you leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front. When the speed of traffic flow is erratic, you might find that the pace picks up then you suddenly come to a standstill again.

This can be risky if you’re travelling too close to the vehicle in front, as you might not have time to react if they need to brake suddenly. It’s recommended that you leave at least a 2 second gap between you and the car in front in normal weather conditions, and at least 4 seconds in wet weather. To calculate a 2 second gap, use landmarks like a road sign or a parked car and count two seconds from the point at which the car in front passes it. You should pass the landmark at 2 seconds. If you pass it in under 2 seconds, drop back to widen the gap.

Leaving this 2 second gap (or at least 4 in wet weather), will give you enough stopping distance between you and the car in front. If you think that the car behind you is traveling too close, gently drop your speed down to increase the gap in front and to force the car behind to slow down too.

Keep clear

If you’re sitting in a traffic jam, it’s important to make sure you’re not blocking any turnings, junctions or pedestrian crossings. Look out for yellow hatched marking and ‘keep clear’ signs painted on the floor, and ensure you don’t stop in them.

You should also keep well clear of pedestrian crossings, as stopping across one can force pedestrians to weave in and out of vehicles. Keep well back from the driver in front to leave yourself enough decision making time.