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Just got your driving licence? 15 tips for a new driver

Congratulations on getting your driving licence!

After endless hours and money spent on driving lessons, taking – and maybe failing a few times – the practical driving test, you have finally got that longed for piece of plastic. Achieving this milestone opens up an exciting world of independence and adventure!

But wait! It turns out going on the road, especially the expressway, on your own can be a nerve-racking experience without the assurance of your driving instructor sitting next to you. Plus, other motorists can seem downright nasty; what’s with the honking, refusing to give way and glaring at you anyway?

As a new driver, you need to build confidence to navigate Singapore’s roads in a stress-free, responsible, and safe manner. Here are some ways you can go about it.

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1. Display your P-plate

Remember that you are on probation for 12 months after getting your driving licence. During this period, it is compulsory to display a P-plate (probationary licence plate) at the front and rear windscreens of the vehicle you are driving. You can purchase a pair of these triangular P-plates from petrol stations and some supermarkets or convenience stores.

How to display the P-plate?
If you look at your car from the outside, you need to stick one P-plate on the top right side of the front windscreen, that is, on the front passenger side (picture above). You also need to stick the other P-plate at the top right side of the rear windscreen if you are looking from the outside.

The P-plate is not some scarlet letter branding you as a noob driver – even if you are. New drivers typically lack the experience and skills of more seasoned drivers. P-plates serve as a visual cue to other drivers that they should exercise caution around your vehicle, and they could give you more room and time to filter or park, for example. That said, not all motorists are courteous or patient. Don’t be flustered or antagonised by them.

2. Start with short solo drives:

Now that you have your licence, driving solo might seem intimidating at first. Begin with short and familiar routes to build your confidence. Take your car out during non-peak periods or when the roads are quieter. Gradually venture into new areas and get use to different traffic conditions.

Exposure to various road types and scenarios will enhance your ability to handle diverse traffic conditions and different terrains.

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3. Practise your parking skills:

It can be very stressful if you find an empty parking lot in a crowded place but need quite a bit of time and effort to get your vehicle into it. In the meantime, a line of cars is bunched up waiting for you to park. It can feel like you are taking forever with all those impatient and judging eyes watching you.

To avoid such situations, find quiet places to practise parallel parking and manoeuvring into tight spaces to enhance your parking prowess. Confident parking skills not only minimises stress but also reduces your chance of damaging your car or other people’s vehicles.

If you are woefully bad at parking, you might want to consider a car with a parking assistance system.

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4. Get used to night driving:

Driving at night can be challenging for new drivers due to reduced visibility and different road conditions from daytime driving. If you haven’t had much experience driving at night, start with short night drives.

What to look out for when driving at night:

Remember to switch on your headlights as visibility is significantly reduced at night. While Singapore roads are often well lit, having your headlights on helps to illuminate the road ahead, making it easier for you to see and identify obstacles, pedestrians, and other vehicles. Headlights also make your vehicle visible to other road users, which helps prevent accidents.

Adjust your rearview and side mirrors to minimise glare from headlights behind you. When faced with bright headlights from oncoming traffic, look slightly to the side of the road to avoid the glare. If necessary, you can use the centre line or edge of the road as a guide.

Remember that driving at night requires heightened awareness and caution. Always prioritise safety, and if you ever feel too tired or uncomfortable driving at night, find a safe place to stop and rest until you are ready to continue.

5. Take extra care when driving in the rain:

Singapore’s weather can be temperamental at times, with sudden showers causing wet and slippery roads. During rainy conditions, reduce speed and ensure your headlights, tail-lights and wipers are on for optimal visibility. Maintain a safe speed and distance from other vehicles to prevent hydroplaning or skidding.

Cars on wet roads in Singapore rain

By the way, one of the most dangerous times to drive is immediately after it starts raining. Vehicles leave behind oils and other residue on the road. When it starts to rain, this residue becomes a thin and slippery layer of film that can reduce your car’s traction and cause it to skid. As the rain continues, the oils are usually washed away but even then, one should continue to exercise extra caution when driving in the rain. As a safety precaution, always have well-maintained tyres that give you the best possible traction.

>>READ: Tips for driving safely in the rain

6. Minimise distractions:

Minimising distractions while driving is important for all drivers, but it is crucial for new drivers who are still building their skills and experience.

New drivers are often less adept at handling unexpected situations on the road. You will not have developed the muscle memory and reflexes that come with years of driving experience. Distractions can disrupt your concentration, lead to errors in vehicle control or impair your ability to react quickly.

The most significant distraction for many drivers is the mobile phone. Put away your phone and if you need to respond to an urgent call or text, find a safe place to pull over.

7. Know how to navigate roundabouts:

In many other countries, roundabouts are used to manage intersections and control traffic flow. One of the most famous and challenging to navigate is the 12-lane Arc de Triomphe* roundabout in Paris.

>>READ: Useful tips for driving in Europe

You may encounter roundabouts in Singapore, including the infamous Newton Circus. Unfortunately, many drivers do not have a clear understanding of right-of-way rules in a roundabout. Hence, there are now traffic lights in operation during certain hours at Newton Circus to regulate the traffic flow.

How to drive in a roundabout:
Enter a roundabout only when there is a safe gap to do so. Remember that drivers inside the roundabout have the right-of-way, so you should give way to any oncoming vehicles.

Choose the right lane based on your intended exit. When you approach your desired exit, signal your intention to exit and merge into the appropriate lane. Yield to any vehicles in the lane you are merging into.

Do note that according to the Singapore Traffic Police, failing to give way at a roundabout could cause you to incur 4 demerit points!

While it may seem rather chaotic at first, as you gain experience, you won’t feel like being given the run-around when navigating roundabouts.

(* Unlike most cities in the world, vehicles entering the Arc de Triomphe roundabout in Paris have the right of way instead.)

8. Be familiar with your vehicle and have it serviced regularly:

Take time to understand your vehicle’s features and controls. Adjust your mirrors, seat and steering wheel before setting off. Being comfortable and familiar with your vehicle improves your driving experience, comfort and confidence.

Ensure your vehicle is well-maintained with regular servicing. Check tyre pressure, brakes, lights, and fluid levels to prevent breakdowns and ensure your safety on the road.

After a while, you will also become more sensitive to anything that feels off about your own car. This can save you from any potential accidents if you can identify issues early on.

9. Be prepared for emergencies:

Always drive defensively, which means being aware of potential hazards and being prepared to react safely. Anticipate the actions of other drivers, stay alert, and maintain a safe following distance.

Change flat tyre

Keep an emergency kit in your car. This should include items like a flashlight, first-aid kit, a jack kit, jumper cables, and other basic tools. It is also useful to know how to change a flat tyre or jump-start your vehicle if the need arises. Knowing what to do in case of a breakdown or emergency reduces your stress and enhances your overall driving preparedness.

>>READ: How to change a flat tyre

10. Get the latest traffic updates:

Better be prepared than regret.

Navigation apps like Google Maps or Waze can be incredibly helpful for new drivers. They provide real-time traffic updates, alternate routes, and estimated travel times. Being aware of road closures, accidents, and traffic congestion allows you to plan your routes effectively. This way, you will steer clear of delays, have a smoother drive, and arrive at your destination on time.

However, use these apps responsibly – mount your phone securely and avoid checking it while driving.

11. Check your mirrors and blind spots:

One of the fundamental rules of safe driving is to look at your mirrors and check your blind spots to know what is going on behind you and in the adjacent lanes. Regular mirror and blind spot checks help you identify vehicles or objects that might be in your path when you make a turn, change lanes, reverse park or exit a parking space.

While many vehicles these days come with driving assistance systems such as lane change or blind spot warnings, you should always take responsibility behind the wheel and be aware of your surroundings.

12. Use your indicators and signal early:

Indicators and turn signals are a critical means of communication between drivers on the road. They let other motorists, pedestrians and cyclists know of what you intend to do. This allows them to anticipate your actions and gives them time to react and adjust their driving or crossing accordingly. It reduces confusion and the likelihood of accidents.

Signalling your turns and lane changes is also courteous and considerate behaviour on the road. It shows respect for other drivers and helps create a more harmonious and less stressful driving environment.

13. Be calm and patient:

Singapore’s roads can get busy especially during peak periods, and traffic jams are common.

Stick to your designated lane and avoid unnecessary lane-hopping. This not only prevents confusion but also demonstrates your commitment to responsible driving.

Use your indicators to signal lane changes early on. Do not be upset by irresponsible drivers who speed up to block your lane change. It seems to be a thing in Singapore!

If you are being tailgated, do not get flustered and let the other driver overtake. Don’t put your life at risk just because you feel pressured to speed up.

It is better to stay calm and handle the situation patiently than panicking just because you were honked at or worse.

>>READ: Improve your driving experience
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14. Watch those demerit points!

In Singapore, you get slapped with demerit points with each traffic offence you are caught committing. These demerit points are part of the Traffic Police’s efforts to identify and rehabilitate errant drivers through a system of rewards and punishments.

As a new driver, if you were to chalk up more than 12 demerit points through traffic offences during your 12-month probationary period, your driving licence will be revoked. Depending on the severity of your traffic offence, you may also be fined or prosecuted in court.

What are some demerit points handed out for traffic offences in Singapore?

Examples include:

  • Failing to wear a seat belt or secure a child properly: 3 demerit points
  • Obstructing the flow of traffic: 4 demerit points
  • Exceeding the speed limit by up to 40 km/h: 4 to 12 demerit points
  • Driving on the shoulders of expressways: 6 demerit points
  • Using a mobile communication device while driving: 12 demerit points
  • Reckless or dangerous driving: 24 demerit points

Your driving licence is hard-earned! Do not throw it away through careless or dangerous driving, or because you are ignorant of or choose to ignore traffic rules.

15. Stay cautious around pedestrians:

Always give way to pedestrians at traffic crossings even if the light is in your favour. Be especially cautious around school zones and residential areas.

According to the Singapore Traffic Police, motorists who commit specified offences at pedestrian crossings or that which endanger the safety of pedestrians at School or Silver Zones will incur two additional demerit points.  There will also be a composition fine on top of the original fine doled out for the offence.

Take time to get better

Every experience behind the wheel is an opportunity to learn and grow. Becoming a proficient driver in Singapore requires a combination of knowledge, skill and responsible behaviour. By familiarising yourself with traffic rules and honing the essential driving skills, you can develop into a confident and skilled driver over time. You will also contribute to the overall safety of everyone on the road.

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