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How to Drive Safely in an Unfamiliar Vehicle or Location

May 30, 2023

How to Drive Safely in an Unfamiliar Vehicle or Location

Are you aware of the precautions you should take to ensure a safe drive in an unfamiliar vehicle or location?

As car-sharing and rental services become more popular, it's essential to be prepared for the challenges of driving an unfamiliar vehicle. And with summer travel expected to break records this year, it’s also crucial to stay alert and safe if you’re planning to drive in an unfamiliar environment. Fortunately, there are measures you can take to ensure safety for you and your passengers in unfamiliar driving situations.

10 Tips for Driving in Unfamiliar Circumstances

Know Your Controls

To ensure safe driving, it's vital to familiarize yourself with the different vehicle controls before hitting the road. Take the time to learn about core functions such as headlights, turn signals, windshield wipers, and climate controls. Don’t assume you know where they are, even if you've previously driven a similar make and model. 

Getting to know your new vehicle’s controls will help you operate the vehicle more effectively and avoid distracted driving, one of the leading causes of crashes worldwide. And don’t forget to put your phone in ‘Do not disturb’ mode while driving. 

Adjust Your Seat and Mirrors

To ensure your comfort and better vehicle control, adjusting the seat and mirrors to a proper driving position before hitting the road is crucial. Consider doing a practice drive in a safe area first. For example, you can look for an empty parking lot or a quiet residential street to familiarize yourself with the vehicle's controls and feel before driving on busy roads.

Adjust Your Steering Wheel

As with the seat and mirrors, you’ll also want to adjust the steering wheel to a comfortable position before driving. Many vehicles have a steering column that can be moved up or down to achieve the perfect angle. The wheel should sit about 10 inches away from your chest with your hands placed at 9 and 3 o’clock.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has advised against using the traditional 10 and 2 o'clock position while driving due to safety concerns.) Some cars have the option to move the steering wheel forward or backward, which can enhance control over the overall driving position. After adjusting the steering wheel, double-check that it’s securely locked into place to prevent any unintentional movement while driving.

Plan Your Route

When in an unfamiliar area, plan your route ahead of time. Even if you’re using a GPS navigation system, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the roads you'll be traveling on and your general direction. This way, if you get lost or need to stop, you'll better understand your surroundings and available options.

Know The Law

When driving in a foreign state or country, it's crucial to get acquainted with the local traffic laws and driving customs. Some regions mandate that you have specific items in your car, and their practices may differ from what you're accustomed to. In addition, it's essential to be aware of and follow the speed limits.

Give Yourself Time

When driving a new vehicle in an unfamiliar area, allow yourself enough time to get comfortable. Give yourself ample space to build confidence and ensure safe arrival at your destination. Remember to be patient with yourself and not let other drivers push you to go faster than you feel comfortable. 

Plan Opportunities To Rest

To ensure your safety on the road, take a break of at least 15 minutes every two hours of driving, particularly in unfamiliar conditions. Your mind can become overwhelmed with processing warning signs, road markings, and driving conditions, which can quickly deplete your energy. 

In case you feel uneasy or drowsy while driving, pull over and take a break. Unfamiliar driving conditions can be stressful, and it's always better to prioritize safety. Take some time to relax, gather your thoughts, and resume driving once ready.

Pay Attention

Paying attention to road signs is crucial, especially when driving in unfamiliar areas. These signs provide essential information about speed limits, directions, and potential hazards. Take note of the signs and conduct further research if unsure of their meaning.

Prepare For The Weather

Before driving in an unfamiliar place, check the weather forecast. Varying weather conditions can impact your driving experience, making preparation crucial. Ensure that your vehicle is equipped to handle the weather. Check that your tire pressures, lights, and fluids are all in good condition, and pack any necessary items in case of a roadside emergency.

Road Conditions

Adjust your driving based on the condition of the road you're on. Not all roads are the same, so don't make assumptions based on your past experiences. Beware that potholes can be challenging to spot, especially when driving at night

Be Aware of Other Road Users

It's possible that other drivers may not be familiar with the area you're driving in. Keep an eye out for other drivers on the road and give them ample room. If you feel rushed by another driver, find a secure spot to let them pass you. Never exceed the speed limit to keep up with them.

Remember The Smith5Keys®

Driving safely in an unfamiliar vehicle or location requires preparation, caution, and a mindful approach. By familiarizing yourself with the vehicle's controls, planning your route, and adjusting the seat and mirrors for optimal comfort, you can enhance your driving experience.

Additionally, knowing the local traffic laws, giving yourself time to acclimate, and planning opportunities to rest will contribute to a safer journey. Finally, always pay attention to road signs, prepare for weather conditions, adapt to road conditions, and engage with other drivers respectfully.

Remember, prioritizing safety is paramount, and taking breaks and seeking assistance if needed is better. By following these guidelines and always remembering The Smith5Keys®, you can confidently navigate unfamiliar driving situations and ensure the well-being of yourself and your passengers.

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