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Oncoming traffic [Sunday 20th April 2014 at 12:00 am]

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Tuesday's driving lesson was all about dealing with oncoming traffic! More specifically, it was about how to handle passing parked cars both with and without other traffic going the other way. It turns out that it's all about road position.

This is written a few days later than usual (due to real life suddenly happening at great speed) so hopefully I've remembered it correctly.

The simplest is when there's a parked car on the right, and no oncoming traffic. In this case you have priority (as in the UK we drive on the left) and can just go as the road ahead is clear. If there's an oncoming car, then it depends on where he is. If he's some distance away you still go as you have priority... but if he's closer and has moved out, then he's committed to passing the car and you really ought to let him through. This means you stop before the parked car (leaving space), and position yourself to the middle of your lane (if you move to the left then a car behind might think you're parking and try to go past you, which will not end well for the oncoming driver). So far so good.

Now, if the parked car is on the left then you don't have priority. Again if the road is clear you just go, but this time you have to check the mirrors before moving over to the other side of the road (in case there's a twit on a moped). Notably you don't indicate - as indicating means you're turning right and could well confuse other drivers (is there a right turn they can't see? Is there a right turn you can't see?) into thinking you're doing something else. Anyway, if there's someone else coming then since they have right of way you stop (unless you've already committed to the move), and this time position yourself to the right of your side of the road - this makes it easier for the oncoming driver to see you as you're not hiding behind the parked car, and shows people behind you that you're intending to pass a parked car that they might not be able to see.

Things get more interesting if there's cars on both sides of the road. The question of priority is easy enough to answer - your priority is based on where the closest parked car is, and in the case of a tie the person that's closer to the pinch point wins (and if you're still tied, then be very clear with your signalling - which does not involve indicators!). Once that's solved then just apply the rules above.

Of course here in the UK we have a lot of on-road parking (a legacy from Victorian terraces pre-dating mass car ownership, combined with the rise of two-car families) and any residential street will invariably become a slalom course. Our roads aren't generally that wide either - while a main road can fit parked cars along each side and a single lane down the middle, back streets won't. So, what to do if there's a whole string of parked cars? Well, you keep track of the changes in priority as you head along it. This means ducking into a space when you lose priority to someone else, and being careful not to follow people in if doing so would block the road. It also means paying more attention to position - earlier I said that for a car on your side you position yourself to the right, but here you might have to be over to the left so as to leave enough space for oncoming cars to pass. This does raise the question of how cars behind know you're not parked - you still don't indicate (for the same reasons as above), but you have more than just indicators on the back of your car. You also have brake lights which someone behind you waiting to run the gauntlet can see.

There was a bit on manoeuvring for this as well. The aim when ducking into a space is to have the car pointing straight. To do this you turn left to head into the space, then turn right, which seems wrong but swings you car back round. You then straighten up. Yes, this involves some rather frantic steering! Finally, if you need a little more space you can always fold your wing mirrors in, and the car I'm learning in has a button on the mirror adjustment knob.

After that it was time for another tour of Gosport. There were a few moments along it - approaching one roundabout my instructor said "at the next roundabout go straight on, in the left lane" at which point I latched on to the "left" and so aimed at the first exit, confusing her no end. Later on as I was approaching a blind junction she pointed out that as well as looking for traffic, and looking for moving reflections in parked cars, you can also wind the windows down a little and just listen. Unfortunately while going over this and then listening for traffic neither of us realised I was still in 2nd gear, and wouldn't you know but a little 1-litre Ford Fiesta does not do pulling away in 2nd. We agreed that was even honours as we'd both missed that :)

A bit of random trivia on Gosport: the area we parked in to go over the lesson is a quiet residential street, but with unusually wide roads (you could fit four cars across with ease). The reason for this is the roads were actually built to be wide enough for tanks. And the reason they were built for tanks was for the D-Day landings, some of which embarked from Stokes Bay.

Anyway, on to next week. I've now covered all the going forwards parts, and the next lesson is on going backwards! Though my instructor's not sure how much of reversing we'll cover next week, as what we might do is more practice at junctions and roundabouts (which I certainly feel I could do with!).
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