Learning to drive


You will learn two types of driving skills: ‘lower-order’ and ‘higher-order’ skills. Everyone develops these skills at a different pace.

When you first begin to drive, you will learn lower order skills, such as:

  • how to use the car’s controls (such as brakes, steering wheel and gears)
  • how to control the car’s movement
  • how to use the car’s controls without thinking about them.

Higher-order skills

As you gain more driving experience, you will learn higher-order skills, such as: perception, decision-making and having spare attention.

Higher-order skills require a lot of practice and experience. As you gain more driving experience, start challenging yourself by driving in new situations and conditions. For example, drive in different weather conditions, drive on gravel roads, do highway merges, identify and respond to hazards, and do more complex driving manoeuvres.

Some great learn to drive videos are available in English and four other languages. Use these to reinforce your knowledge of the road rules and find driving tasks to practice.

You can also download the latest Tasmanian Road Rules Handbook or pick up a copy from a Service Tasmania shop.

Breakdown of learning stages and driving manoeuvres

To make it easier to know what to learn when to build your driving skills, we have broken down the learner period into three stages. The learning stages page will give you goals, tips and you can also see a breakdown for your supervisor in supervisory driver tips.

Your full attention needs to be on driving while you are learning, so it is important you remove all distractions. This is particularly important when you are starting out driving in Stage 1 of your learning . Turn off the radio, turn off and put away mobile phones and other devices, and only drive with your regular supervisory driver if possible.

Once you have begun to build your skills and confidence and progressed to complex drives, you may slowly introduce some smaller distractions. Have an extra passenger or turn the radio on at low volume to build your experience with these situations before solo driving. However, you must always remain focused on the road, and remember that phones in hands-free mode cannot be used until the P2 stage.

If you use an automatic car when you pass the P1 Practical Driving Assessment (P1 PDA) you may only drive automatic cars. If you use a manual car when you pass the P1 PDA, you may drive automatic or manual cars.

Driving a manual car

  • Drive in a gear that helps you maintain control of the car. Having the car in too high or too low a gear will affect how it responds to the accelerator.
  • Keep your foot off the clutch unless you’re changing gears or stopping the car from stalling.
  • When approaching a corner, make sure you are in a suitable gear before entering the corner.
  • Use the correct gear. Over-revving or straining the engine can damage it.

Driving an automatic car

  • When stopped, keep your foot on the brake when moving the selector, for example from Park to Drive.
  • In some circumstances, you may override the automatic gear selection, for example when going down a long steep hill.
  • Use your right foot to brake and accelerate. Do not use your left foot.

Before you drive a car, you need to check:

  • it’s registered – this can be checked at www.transport.tas.gov.au
  • it’s roadworthy – for example, the tyres have enough tread and the horn, headlights, reverse lights, brakes and brake lights, steering wheel and windscreen wipers are in working order
  • its basic maintenance (such as petrol levels, there are no oil or fluid leaks, the windscreen is clear, oil and water are at the correct levels, and there’s enough air pressure in the tyres)
  • around the outside of the car for any dangers (like broken glass)
  • the direction of the wheels, to see which way the car will move
  • you and all your passengers have seatbelts on
  • that your seat, mirrors and steering wheel are adjusted for you.

Safe driving position diagram

You should sit in the driver’s seat so that your:

  • legs are apart and knees are slightly bent
  • feet can reach the pedals (clutch, brake and accelerator)
  • back is resting on the seat’s backrest
  • arms have a slight bend in them when holding the wheel.

If you position your seat so that you can sit back in it, then place the base of your palms on the top of the steering wheel with fully extended arms, you will have a slight bend in your arms when holding the wheel correctly for driving.

Mirrors

  • The rear window is in the centre mirror.
  • Side mirrors allow you to just see a small part of the side of the car and a level view of the road behind (half land, half sky).
  • The centre mirror should be adjusted so that you can see as much of the road as possible.

Steering wheel

  • The top of the steering wheel should be no higher than the top of your shoulders.
  • You can make a full turn of the steering wheel from where you’re seated.

Footwear

  • Shoes should be worn when driving.
  • Make sure shoes are suitable – thongs or high heels can make driving difficult.

Head restraint

  • The top of the head restraint should be level with your ears.

Driving position

  • Legs are apart and your right foot can operate the brake and accelerator.
  • The seat supports your legs, and you can fully press the clutch pedal with your left foot.
  • Knees are slightly bent.
  • Back is against the seat.
  • When holding the steering wheel, there’s a slight bend in the elbows when your shoulders are against the seat.

Seatbelt

  • Low, across your hips.
  • Flat with no twists.
  • Firm with no slackness.
  • Not tangled or caught on anything

Seat

  • Upright position that is comfortable.
  • The small of your back should be against the seat.
  • You can reach the pedals with your feet.
  • You can turn the steering wheel with your arms slightly bent.
  • Make sure you can still reach all the controls.

Other checks

  • Passengers wearing seatbelts.
  • Doors are properly closed.
  • Inside of the car is free of loose objects.
  • No ornaments blocking your view.

Driving can be a stressful activity, particularly while you are learning. Emotions such as fear, frustration or anger can affect attention, perception and response to everyday situations. This can limit your ability to make logical decisions and react quickly.

Feeling frustrated or stressed can also cause you to overreact, which makes things worse. You may also start to display aggressive behaviour towards others.

If you are feeling stressed or anxious during a driving session, talk to your supervisory driver:

  • tell them you need a break and find somewhere safe to pull over
  • ask them to take over for a bit to let you learn by watching their driving
  • end your driving session early.

Here are some ways to plan your next sessions so that they are less stressful:

  • do things before your session that will put you in a relaxed and positive mood
  • stick to skills, driving conditions and locations that you feel comfortable with, to rebuild your confidence
  • set a small achievable goal for your next session
  • only plan more complex sessions once you feel confident
  • talk with your supervisory driver about how they can help you feel calm when driving.

Learning to drive is a long process. Everyone develops their driving skills and confidence at a different pace. Everyone makes mistakes at some stage. Be patient with yourself, and take as much time as you need to become a better, more confident driver.

Before you can sit your P1 PDA, you must have a minimum of 15 hours driving experience at night (as part of the minimum 80 hours requirement), and record it in your logbook. Night includes any time from sunset to sunrise. Driving at night is not recommended until stage 3 of your learning .

When driving at night:

  • slow down so you can scan to the sides of the road for hazards, look especially for animals that might run onto the road
  • if your lights are on high beam, make sure you dip them at least 200m as other vehicles approach and when you are 200m behind a vehicle
  • dip your headlights at the crest of hills and intersections avoid looking directly into oncoming lights by directing your eyes to the left of the road
  • avoid glare from cars behind you by flipping the rear vision mirror to the night position (so that it gives you a reflection of the cars behind you)
  • keep a lookout for other road users including pedestrians and cyclists - it can be hard to see at night
  • keep your windscreen clean – it will make it much easier to see at night.

Remember, driving while tired can be dangerous. It is one of the leading causes of crashes on our roads. Although it is important to get practice at night, you should never drive while tired. If you show signs of tiredness, such as fidgeting in your seat or yawning, postpone your practice session.

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