Car ownership

Being a passenger: how to help the driver stay safe at the wheel

Passenger

Passengers can be a hindrance or a help to drivers

You’re the passenger in a car. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride while your driver whisks you to your destination. That might be true if you’re the Queen. But for mere mortals, being a passenger – particularly in the front seat – is a responsible role.

Passengers can be responsible for distracting the driver, with disastrous consequences. But it need not be like that. Read on to see how you can actively engage in getting from A to B as swiftly and safely as possible – without being behind the wheel.

Think of yourself as the co-driver

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How to set Do Not Disturb While Driving mode for Apple iOS and Google Android smartphones

How to set Do Not Disturb While Driving mode for Apple iOS and Google Android smartphone

Mobile phones have come a long way since the first call was made using one in the 1970s. Then, the Motorola handset used weighed more than a kilogram and could only make calls for 30 minutes before the battery needed charging for… 10 hours.

Today’s smartphone is packed with features, making it a computer, camera, music and media player, games console, diary and so much more besides. Many sync with a car and give the driver control through a touchscreen or voice commands. However, such features can be a dangerous distraction.

That’s why it’s important every driver knows how to enable the ‘Do Not Disturb When Driving’ mode. Earlier this month, Apple announced a bespoke safety feature for iPhones, to tackle the growing problem of driver distraction. And Google Android phones also offer a do not disturb setting. Here’s how to set them up and stay safe behind the wheel.

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Expert advice: all about air-conditioning and how to keep cool this summer

air-conditioning

You’ll quickly know if the air-con is working or not in hot weather

Air-conditioning in our cars is something we’re beginning to take for granted. But for many drivers the hot summer sun is going to expose a problem they didn’t know they had: their air-con isn’t up to the job.

The reason for this, and something not every car owner realises, is that air-conditioning needs regular servicing. And it’s not usually attended to when a car has its regular service.

Why does air-conditioning need servicing?

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What does a speed awareness course cover and will it save money?

Speed awareness course

If you’re caught exceeding the speed limit by a little, you may have the option of a speed awareness course

Drivers who get caught speeding can be offered the chance to take a speed awareness course rather than having their licence endorsed with three points and taking a fine. The classes, known as the National Speed Awareness Course (NSAC), are part of the National Driver Offender Retraining Scheme (NDORS).

Speed awareness courses first started running in 2006. But they were only operated at a local level and nationally there was little consistency behind them. The national scheme addressed this and has been in action since 2008. Last year, 1.19 million drivers in the UK attended one of these courses. With the increase in the number of drivers being caught speeding, that’s up by 165 per cent since 2010. Read on to find out more about the NSAC.

What is a speed awareness course?

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How to check that off-site airport valet parking is safe, secure and insured

How to check that off-site airport valet parking is safe, secure and insured

For many drivers, the easiest way to travel to the airport for a holiday is to take the car. It’s often cheaper than taking a taxi. And with family and luggage to carry, it can be less stressful than the train or coach.

Thanks to the boom in valet parking, driving lets you pull up conveniently outside departures. You can then unload and hand over the car for safe keeping at an on- or off-site location.

But with the summer holidays fast approaching, how do you tell if an airport valet parking operator is safe, secure and properly insured? Here’s what to look for.

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Driving licence points: how long do they stay valid for?

Driving licence

The number of drivers banned from the road for dangerous driving rocketed last year. Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) figures show that 5179 drivers lost their licence for driving dangerously in 2016. The figure was up by nearly a third (29 per cent) compared with the year before.

The stats show that young adults between the ages of 26 and 35 are the most likely to be disqualified. The Highway Code states: “In the case of serious offences, such as dangerous driving and drink-driving, the court must order disqualification.” The ban is for 12 months. Drivers can also be slapped with an endorsement on their licence of between three and 11 points. But how long will those points stay there after their ban is over? Here’s all you need to know.

How long are points valid?

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Expert advice: premium or budget tyres – which should you go for?

Budget tyres

For most of us, whether we’re talking about premium or budget tyres, a tyre is simply, well, a tyre. They’re round, black, and have a patterned tread on them. But that’s not the full story. For a start, tyres are the only direct connection your car has with the road. That little area at the bottom of the tyre – called the contact patch – dictates how your car goes round corners, how quickly it’ll stop on a wet road and even how much fuel it uses.

A car engineer once told me that the tyre can contribute as much as 50 per cent towards the way a car behaves when you drive it. So tyres are vitally important, but it can be difficult to tell the difference between the various kinds. After all, the most expensive tyres in the world can look very similar to the cheapest, so how do you know which to buy?

Start with the label

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HGVs: How car drivers can stay safe around lorries on the road

 

It makes for shocking viewing: an HGV swipes a tiny Nissan Micra in its blind spot then pushes it along the road. In another film, an articulated truck crunches onto a Toyota Yaris and drags it round the corner. They’re graphic proof that car drivers need to be aware that sitting in the blind spot of a large lorry can be very dangerous.

Put yourself in the cab of an HGV for a moment. Lumbering, unwieldy, and as athletic as a pile of logs, vision towards the rear is restricted and the thing you’re driving can weigh as much as 40 tonnes and might be nearly 19m long. In addition, it folds right behind your head. And anyone who’s ever towed anything in a car will know the problems that can present. So how can we as car drivers do our bit to help? We asked Laurie Moore from HGV driver instruction company Tockwith Training.

What’s the most common mistake car drivers make?

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Car safety equipment: the key kit drivers want to be fitted as standard

Car safety equipment

Car safety equipment such as self-braking can stop cars crashing if the driver isn’t paying attention (Picture © Thatcham)

More than four out of five drivers want safety equipment such as automatic braking to be standard on new cars. And safety campaigners are urging drivers to buy only cars with it fitted as standard. They hope this will pressure car makers into fitting the tech more widely.

Currently, only one of Britain’s top 10 best-selling cars – the Mercedes-Benz C-Class – comes with automatic braking as part of its normal equipment. But research has found that when it’s an optional extra, car buyers ignore it. Instead they favour more tangible everyday kit such as sunroofs or upgraded sound systems. And according to studies, a fifth of car buyers refuse to pay extra for safety equipment.

Despite this, researchers for Stop the Crash found that 83 per cent of drivers actually want safety kit such as automatic braking to be standard. Chairman of Stop the Crash David Ward said: “This research shows how important safety is to the consumer. But it highlights how this often fails to translate into safety options being purchased in the showroom. Manufacturers must offer safety systems as standard with proven ability to save lives.”

What is automatic braking?

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Bright idea: how to change or upgrade car headlight bulbs

Headlights

Whether driving at night or motoring in the rain, fog or snow, one of a car’s most important safety features is its lights. The headlights in particular are a vital component for keeping drivers secure on the road. They dictate the view of the road ahead and surrounding environment, and help other road users see the approaching vehicle.

But as cars age, so do their bulbs. And nobody can have failed to notice that lighting technology has raced on over the past decade. The latest cars have ultra-bright LED lights. These can often make traditional halogen bulbs seem no more effective than a candle in a lantern.

If you’ve found yourself cursing your car’s lighting performance, or felt a pang of envy as you’ve shielded your eyes from other cars’ dazzling headlights, there is, ahem, light at the end of the tunnel.

Upgrading a car’s headlights is one of the simplest maintenance jobs drivers can tackle. It’s also highly affordable. And when you consider the safety benefits of changing a car’s bulbs for brighter items, it’s little wonder that sales of aftermarket bulbs are booming. Here’s how to do it.

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