How to Drive Step by Step

adjust mirrors

Learning How to Drive

When you're learning to drive, sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Learn the most important rules of the road that will help you pass your driving test with a combination of images and text.

Note that the following instructions are for driving an automatic car. For manual cars, try these steps instead.

When you first get into a car, go through this short checklist, every time.

  • Adjust your rearview and side mirrors so you can easily see behind the vehicle.
  • Adjust the seat, so your feet comfortably touch the pedals.
  • Always put on your seat belt and make sure it works properly.

Unless you share a car with other family members or roommates, you probably won't need to adjust the seat or mirrors very often, but you should always make sure the position is comfortable for your height before you start driving.

ignition

Starting the Car

Unless you're using a keyless start option, insert and turn your key and start the engine. The important point here is to turn the key only as long as necessary for the engine to start firing, then let go. If you keep the key pressed longer than necessary, in many vehicles you'll hear a terrible grinding sound. Doing this too often can eventually ruin your car starter.

Most newer vehicles will start within one to three seconds, while older vehicles can take longer. If your older vehicle isn't starting quickly, look into having the engine serviced. Sometimes a simple tuning (replacing spark plugs and wires) can make the engine start like new again.

keyless start

Keyless Start

If your car is newer, you may have the keyless start option. In that case, you may leave your key in your purse or pocket and simply press the Start/Stop button while your foot is on the brake. To turn the car back off, you'll need to:

  1. Stop
  2. Put the car in park
  3. Keep your foot on the brake
  4. Press the button again.

Consult your car's manual for specific instructions. When your foot isn't on the brake, and you press the button to start the ignition, your car will enter accessory mode, which means you can use the radio, windshield wipers, and other features, but won't be able to move the car.

brake pedal

Using the Brake

When you're driving a car with an automatic transmission, there are two pedals: the gas and the brake. The brake is the one on the left. Unless you're in a situation where you'll hit something if you don't stop immediately, never slam your foot down on the brake and make a sudden stop. Instead, move your foot from the gas pedal to the brake and press it slowly but firmly until it's pressed to the floor and you're at a complete stop.

Slamming on brakes can wear the brake pads down more quickly and cause damage as well as create an unpleasant experience for you and your passengers.

gas pedal

Using the Gas

Treat the gas pedal (on the right side) in a similar way. Never slam your foot down onto it unless you're required to accelerate quickly to escape danger (even then, use caution with the amount of sudden pressure you apply). Instead, use firm, slow pressure, gradually pressing it closer to the floor until you reach the desired speed. Then maintain that pressure to remain at that speed. Glance at your speedometer often to make sure you are going the speed limit. Adjust the pressure on the gas pedal accordingly. Remember to use just one foot to drive unless your car has a manual transmission to avoid accidentally pressing down the brake and gas at the same time.

reversing

Driving in Reverse

If you are parked in a parking lot or forward in a driveway, you'll need to drive in reverse first. However, the same guidelines apply if you're driving forward. Press the brake all the way to the floor with your right foot and then move the shifter to the "R" position for reverse. Once your foot is off the brake, the car will start moving (even without using the gas pedal), so be sure there's nothing behind you. Allow the car to move slowly and use the brake to slow when necessary. You can lightly press the ball of your right foot on the gas pedal if you need more speed or power.

Turn the steering wheel in the direction you want the car to go, whether you're moving forward or in reverse. For example, if you're backing out of your driveway and need the rear of the car to go left, turn the wheel counterclockwise (to the left). When moving forward, this will probably feel intuitive, but going in reverse may require more thought and practice.

parking lot

On a Driveway or Parking Lot

It's always important to drive slowly and remain aware of your surroundings, but especially when backing out of driveways and in parking lots. Be careful! Always try to leave a driveway or parking lot without having to back into a busy street. In fact, in some states doing so is illegal. As you exit the driveway, stop at the edge of the street, leaving enough room for pedestrians walking along the sidewalk. First, make sure the road is clear on your side of the street first. Once there are no cars in that direction, check the other direction. When that side is clear, recheck the other direction again before taking off.

merging

When and How to Accelerate

Whenever you need to bring your vehicle up to the normal speed limit, it's always a good idea to do so gently so as to reduce wear and tear on your car and your engine. Sometimes, however, you'll need to accelerate quickly for safety reasons. For example:

  • A vehicle is approaching too quickly behind you
  • You are trying to merge onto a busy highway
  • When passing another vehicle on a two-lane road
  • You need to get out of the way quickly to avoid an accident

In these situations, return to the posted speed limit as soon as possible if you had to exceed it. Do this by slowly taking the pressure off the gas pedal until you reach the desired speed.

stop sign

Handling 4-Way Intersections

If you and one or more cars arrive at the intersection at the same time, the car furthest to the right should go first. This means if you got there at the same time as the car to your right, they get to go first. If a 3rd car to their right got there too, that car goes first, then the car to your right, and then you. If four people get there, then one person needs to go first, and the rest go in a clockwise pattern. Unfortunately, most people don't know or follow the rules, so when it's your turn, proceed carefully and make sure no one is going through the intersection even though it's your turn.

stoplights

Intersections With Stop Lights

In most states, you are allowed to make a right turn on red at an intersection with a traffic light after stopping. Check for signs that prohibit this and yield to traffic coming from your left or across from you if they have a green arrow.

If you're turning left, you may have a green arrow telling you when it's your turn to go. If there is no arrow, you will be able to turn left only when the light is green, however, you must yield to oncoming traffic when doing this. If you're going straight, wait for the light to turn green and then continue (look both ways to make sure no one is running a red light before proceeding).

Be sure to check the markings on the road near the intersection to ensure you're in the correct lane as early as possible.

T-intersection

Navigating T-Intersections

A T-intersection is a three-way intersection, usually where a minor road meets up with a major one. You'll be forced to turn right or left at the end of the minor road. Come to a full stop before attempting to make a turn in either direction. If the intersection is uncontrolled, meaning there is no light to stop the traffic coming from the left and right and tell you when it's safe to turn, you'll have to yield to all of the other traffic before turning.

turning

Making a Turn

To turn right, you should be in the right lane and turn onto the right lane on the new street. To turn left, start in the lane farthest to the left (if there are multiple lanes). If you're turning left onto a road with more than two lanes, aim for the closest appropriate lane rather than crossing lanes unnecessarily as you turn.

Keep your speed and the speed at which you turn the wheel consistent throughout the turn. Give the car a little gas as you begin to turn. To go left, grab the top of the wheel with your left hand, loosen your right hand's grip, then pull the wheel until your left hand is at the bottom. Briefly grasp the right side with the right hand while you reposition your left hand at the top of the wheel, then pull down again and hold until you're in the center of the target lane. Loosen your grip just enough for the wheel to spin back into proper alignment once you've completed the turn and are on the new street. To go right, do the same thing but use your right hand to pull the wheel down.

unprotected left turn

Making an Unprotected Left Turn

If you want to make a left turn but don't have an arrow or traffic light at all to help, first make sure you're in the lane farthest to the left on your side of the road. Check for cars behind you to make sure no one is coming up too quickly for you to slow down and stop safely. Turn your left blinker on. Slow down and come to a stop so you can yield to oncoming traffic. If there is a light at the intersection, you can only go when it's green. Wait until there is a big enough gap in traffic for you to make it across and complete your turn safely, but don't do so until you've checked for other vehicles or cyclists in your way and pedestrians in the crosswalk. Glance up to make sure the light is still green right before you make the turn.

in the lane

Stay in Your Lane

To stay in your lane, look as far into the distance toward the center of your lane as you can while still being aware of the other cars around you, curves and bumps in the road, etc. Don't get "tunnel vision" and only focus on the back of the car ahead of you. Look toward the horizon and glance around you as you go, so you know where other cars and obstacles are. Some drivers make the mistake of concentrating too much on the lines on either side of them, which makes them drift too far to one side or the other. Looking ahead at the center of the lane is a quick fix.

Also, note your hand position on the steering wheel. If the steering wheel were a clock, you'd need to have your left hand where the ten would be and your right hand where the two would be to create balance and avoid pulling the wheel too far to one side.

getting pulled over

When You're Pulled Over By a Cop

If a cop is pulling you over, go to a safe, well-lit area with enough room for both cars. On a highway, pull over to the right side of the road. If you can't slow down and pull over immediately, turn on your emergency lights to let the officer know you will pull over as soon as possible. Once you pull over, roll down the window, turn off the car, and keep your hands on the steering wheel. If the cop is in an unmarked vehicle, you may wish to keep the window rolled up until you see their identification.

Be calm, polite and respectful, not defensive. When the officer asks to see your license and registration, let them know where they are before reaching for them.

You may or may not get a ticket. When the officer is done issuing the ticket or warning, use caution when making your way back onto the road.

parking on a hill

Parking Basics

While you're learning how to park, practice in an empty part of the lot or between cones rather than near other cars.

Angled spaces are easier to get into than 90-degree ones, but the parking guidelines are about the same. Once you've found your spot, use your turn signal to let other drivers know your intention to park there. Make sure there are at least six feet between your car and the parked cars. Slowly move forward until your bumper is even with the center of the spot, then turn the wheel sharply in the direction you need to go, about half a turn. Ease your foot off the brake and then slowly keep turning into the spot. Once you're in it, straighten the wheels, press the brake, put the shifter into Park, and turn off the car. If you're parked on a hill, engage the emergency brake.

Parallel parking is a bit more intimidating than parking in a regular lot. Practice the guidelines instead of trying to drive straight into a spot, and you'll be able to park anywhere.

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How to Drive Step by Step