It's critical that you learn to move off safelyIt's critical that you learn to move off safelyMoving off from the left is one of the most fundamental exercises you'll ever have to do as a driver. You'll probably do this exercise throughout your driving life more times than just about anything else.

Every time you nip into town, you'll usually park on the left unless you pay for a car park. Going to a friend's house down a side street? Chances are you'll have to pull over on the left to park up.

Along with stopping on the left, moving off from the left is so common that the examiner will watch you doing this on your driving test. It's certainly not unusual to have to do this manoeuvre 3 or 4 times on test.

Quiet often the examiner will simply ask you to "find somewhere to pull over on the left hand side please?", and then as soon as you're parked they'll say something like "thank you, now move off again when you're ready"

Often learners simply don't understand why they are being asked to do this. Even trainee driving instructors often have no idea why they've been asked to do this on test.

The reason this is so important is because moving off from the left encompasses all the skills of car control, safety, critical observation and decision making. It's very common for drivers to move off incorrectly or to fail to carry out good observations, and it's a major cause of collisions, particularly in busy streets and town centres.

A tutorial like this can never, and should never, replace plenty of practice with your instructor. As always, listen to your instructor and use tutorials such as these as a reminder or guide.

There's quite a bit of detail in this tutorial but don't let that fool you. It may seem a little drawn out but once you've got the hang of it you can do all of this instinctively and remarkably quickly. In time you'll be able to run through the whole routine in just a couple of seconds or so.

OK, so let's get to know how to do it with a sequence of events that you can memorise that will ensure you do everything you need to do to get this right.

I'm going to assume

  1. That you're already in an appropriate parking position on the left (using reference points if you need to), and
  2. The engine is running
  3. You are in neutral gear with no pedals pressed down.
  4. You are in a position with no obstructions directly in front, so you can move off smoothly.

There are two main 'phases' to moving off, and it helps if we separate them to learn the routine properly.

We have the controls of the car (clutch, gear, gas) to prepare as one 'phase' so we're in a position to move off without delay, but we also have the other 'phase' of this exercise which is good observations all around to make sure that it's safe to go.

Throughout, we also need to consider whether we need to signal our intention to move off. I'll talk about this separately later, as there's more to think about that most learners or trainee instructors realise.

Now, it's your turn to think.

Read the question and then click the link to reveal the answer.

What's the very first thing we should do? Prepare the car to move or carry out full observations?

Let's move on.

Preparing to Move Off

Make sure you get plenty of practice with your instructorMake sure you get plenty of practice with your instructorAs you've learned above, it's almost pointless carrying out our observations until we're prepared to move. We need to be able to move away without delay once that we've seen it's safe.

The very first thing we need to do is to prepare the car. Once the car is prepared properly, and with practice, you'll be able to move off instantly.

Here's the suggested sequence for getting the car prepared:

  1. Right hand on the wheel
    Have your right hand on the steering wheel in the normal driving position, so it's ready to control the direction of the car as soon as you decide to move.
  2. Clutch down
    With your left foot, press the clutch all the way down and hold it down
  3. Put the car into first gear
    Usually the gear stick needs pushing slightly to the left and then forwards into first gear, but you'll need to check in your instructors car. It's now really important to leave the clutch down and to control it carefully once the car is in gear
  4. Left hand ready on the handbrake
    Once in gear, you can immediately move your left hand onto the handbrake. Don't release the handbrake, don't even press in the release button. You need the handbrake on to keep the car secure until you decide to move, but having your left hand on the handbrake gets you ready to go.
  5. Set the gas
    This will all depend on your vehicle and the circumstances. It usually involves squeezing the accelerator pedal very slowly and gently, just raising the engine revs to slightly more than normal tick over rate. Having the gas 'set' like this makes it easier for the engine to get you moving once you decide it's safe to go. A common fault is to not set enough gas then to try to move off too quickly, which can easily lead to the car stalling.
  6. Find the 'bite point'
    The 'bite point' is the point at which you raise the clutch just enough that the engine feels like it wants to move the car forward. YOU MUST NOT actually move the car at this point as you haven't yet carried out any observations to make sure it's safe. Finding the bite point is so important that I'll write about it separately, many learner drivers do have some confusion about how to find it. Keep the handbrake on and do not move the car, not one inch. You need to keep full and complete control whilst the car remains still. No sudden lurching forwards as this will inevitably be seen as a serious or dangerous driving fault.
  7. Hold the car ready, at the bite point, so you can move off under control but without delay

You now have the car ready to go, but you're not quite done. The next 'phase' is to carry out our observations to make sure it's safe, but whilst you look all around it's important to keep the car prepared to go.

OK, so we're now sat at the side of the road with the car prepared and ready to move off. The car's ready but we most certainly aren't as we need to make sure that it's absolutely safe to do so.

So, what's next?

Critical Observations

Moving off is easy but you must get it right on your testMoving off is easy but you must get it right on your testThis is the most critical phase of moving off from a stationary position. We need to make absolutely sure that it's safe to move off before we budge even one inch.

We need to mindful of all other road users we can see and even those that we can't see but can reasonably anticipate that might interact with us.

What's important is that we look for the hazards, we don't want to become one.

A hazard is anything that can make us change speed or direction. We want to avoid making any other driver or road user change speed or direction because of us. If we do, we become the danger they have to avoid. That's not a good thing either on your driving test or at any time.

That's why it's so critical that we take excellent observations all around the car and that we only move once it's safe to do so.

It's also critical that we move immediately that we can do so, or we risk the situation around us changing due to the delay and we have to start the observations all over again.

That's not really a great problem and I've said before that I'd rather you wait than rush into something and take a risk. This is one of those situations where you need to have restraint, you need to know the difference between minor driving faults and serious or dangerous errors, and you need to understand why it's important to prioritise safety over getting things done quickly.

I keep saying "all round observations" so what do I mean by that? Just where should we look?

We have to look along the nearside for dangers on the pavement such as cyclists or pedestrians about to step out. We have to look behind us on the road for any other road users. We have to look ahead of us for any dangers we might move off towards, and we even really should check the mirrors to get a view further away and for anything we may have missed.

Phew, that's a lot to look for. Is there any way we can organise how we look so we have a systematic approach we can follow every time?

I'm glad you asked, because there is.

Where To Look And How To Look.

You can't look everywhere all at once, but we do need to know what's happening all around the car just before we decide to move off, so let's think about it a bit more.

It's your turn to think again. Read the next question, and before you select your answer spend just a few seconds just to think about it. The more you ask yourself questions, the quicker and better you'll learn.

At the very last instant, at the moment you move off from the left hand side of the road, is it more important to know what's happening on the road just behind your offside (drivers side)? Or is it more important to know what's happening on the pavement to your nearside?

All round observations are critical to moving off safelyAll round observations are critical to moving off safelyIt's very important to do the most critical observations last, just before we move. The reason for this is that the situation can change behind us almost instantly. Any delays in checking the safety critical areas could result in us failing to see a pedal cycle or another car approaching us.

We therefore need to check over our right shoulder, considering any blindspots, and into the driver's door mirror, just before we turn our attention ahead and move the car off to join the traffic.

Although we have to do these observations last, it's still critically important that we know what's going on all around the car. So, let's work out a routine to do all our observations, ending with those vital last second checks to our offside.

Remember, the car is already prepared and ready to move. You must keep it that way throughout your observations so you can move off the very instant you know that it's safe to do so.

This all seems very long winded as you read it, but I promise you that with practice you'll have the car ready and move off in seconds.

Because we need to do our checks to the offside last, we can start on the nearside first, then work our way around, ending with observations to the offside. Our sequence of observations could be:

  1. Over our left shoulder (consider blindspots) onto the pavement
  2. Into the left door mirror for an extended view down the nearside
  3. Scan ahead through the windscreen from left to right
  4. Glancing in the interior rear mirror
  5. Over our right shoulder (consider blindspots) for dangers on the road behind
  6. Check the offside door mirror for an extended view down the offside
  7. Look ahead and instantly move off if It's safe to do so

Effective observations before moving off are criticalEffective observations before moving off are critical

Notice that I've repeated here that we move instantly that it's safe to do so. Any delays could cause the road situation behind us to change, and it can change very quickly.

Is the left shoulder check really necessary?

I'd just like to add a little on this subject, because it's been discussed many times. I have had other instructors sometimes comment that the first part of our observation routine, the over shoulder check to the left, isn't actually necessary as you'll never have anyone on the pavement behind you that you could interact with.

They've even said that they don't teach their learners to do it as it's just making it more complex for them.

My first point is that there's nothing in the slightest that's complex or difficult about doing it.

My second, and far more important point is this. On a driving test you may get away with it if the examiner is so inclined, but believe me, the very first time you miss a pedal cyclist who's about to pass you on the left and pull into the road (it happens, I've dealt with many similar collisions) the examiner will be only too happy to fail you, and quite rightly so.

Here's the bottom line. Whether the examiner likes to see the left shoulder check or the instructor likes to teach it is completely irrelevant. You will not ever fail your driving test for carrying out the left shoulder check because it's not a driver error and only errors can be marked on the test. You run the very great risk of failing your driving test if you don't carry out the left shoulder check, so do it.

Signals

The cyclist may benefit from a signal, but what could the truck driver think?The cyclist may benefit from a signal, but what could the truck driver think?You may have noticed that nowhere have I yet mentioned an indicator signal for moving off.

That's because you need to consider whether a signal is necessary very carefully indeed before you give one.

You need to really think about this, because many learners on test simply put on the offside indicator as soon as they are told to move off by the examiner. They do this before they even look, before they even know if there's any other road users around them.

This is always a mistake and it's caused many, many driving test failures.

Think about it. If there's a pedal cycle just to your offside and a few yards behind you when you blindly and without thinking apply an offside indicator signal, what do you think the pedal cyclist will think?

Is it possible that they may be frightened that you're just going to pull out into them?

I'd say so.

What are they likely to do?

They could swerve to avoid you. They could slow down through the fear of being knocked off their bike. They may even come to a complete stop to wait for you to get out of their way.

All of these are disastrous on your driving test and will lead to a driving fault, probably a serious or dangerous one which means your test is failed regardless of how good the rest of your driving is. Read the page on how the driving test is marked and you'll discover that there's no place on the marking sheet for good marks. One fault that's serious or dangerous and quite rightly you will not pass your test.

What if it's not a pedal cycle behind you on the road. What if it's a car? The very same principals apply. You must not become the hazard for other road users to deal with, blindly applying a signal means that you're likely to become just that.

So, do we ever need to signal when moving off?

Not as often as you may think. It's almost always unnecessary.

Let's consider this a bit more. In the example above where I talked about a pedal cyclist or a car behind you and moving towards you, I said that applying a signal could cause you to become the hazard they need to avoid.

Would you really just move off before the cyclist or the other car had gone passed you?

I hope not, because if you do and you're likely to cause them to swerve or slow down they you've made a serious or dangerous driving fault.

If you're not going to move off until they've gone passed you, then what's the point in applying the signal? Are you helping them at all? Is the signal of use to them?

No, it's not. It's actually quite the opposite. It's entirely unhelpful, possibly bordering on dangerous.

Here's the thing. If another road user is so far away that it's impossible to cause them to slow down or swerve or perceive any danger at all, what's the point in signalling to them? If they're so far away you can just move off anyway.

Conversely, if they are so close to you that by moving you could cause them to slow down or swerve, you shouldn't be moving at all and the signal is equally as pointless and possibly even dangerous, so don’t do it.

The argument is exactly the same if there's a car on the opposite side of the road ahead of you coming towards you. If by moving you could cause them danger, then don't move and the signal is pointless. You'd be trying to tell them "I'm going to move off after you've gone, which I know is pointless as it's of no benefit to you, but I thought I'd let you know anyway"

The other driver may interpret your signal as though you mean "I'm moving regardless. Slow down or get out of my way".

Again, that's not good. Far better to wait for the car to go passed than to put on the signal at all.

So, do we ever have to signal for other road users?

Yes, but with great care for the reasons I've given above.

Think about a pedestrian on the pavement, on either side of the road. A signal may be of great use to them because they may be considering crossing the road.

Also, what about someone sat in the driver's seat of a parked car?

Absolutely we can signal to them to let them know that we intend to move off. That could be really useful, because they may also be thinking of moving. Once they see that we are they can adjust their plan accordingly. They're not moving yet so we don't have to wait for them unless you think it's obvious that they are about to move off. I'll clearly have to leave that to you.

If there are pedestrians who could benefit from a signal, but also other road users who may perceive it as a danger, the answer is simple. Don't signal and don't move. Wait until it's clear to move before doing anything.

How to Move Off

We've had the car prepared, our left hand should be on the handbrake ready, our right hand is on the steering wheel, the gas is set, we have the bite point and we're ready to go. We've done all the important observations and it's safe for us to move, so let's go.

To get the car moving (on a level road surface) is just a matter of releasing the handbrake whilst simultaneously gently squeezing the gas a little more and carefully and slowly releasing the clutch.

If you've had the car at the bite point properly, you'll usually find that it will start to move just a little as soon as you release the handbrake.

The interplay between gas and clutch will often be different for different cars, but you'll get plenty of practice at it with your instructor.

Once you get the car moving you can join the traffic and continue your drive.

Often, many learners and trainee instructors ask lots of 'what if?' questions about common driving faults, so let's answer some of them now.

Common Faults

There are some very common faults that happen time and time again. Often they can be simply driving errors that attract the appropriate mark on the test sheet but have no real effect on the test outcome.

With moving off however, lots of the common errors are quite rightly marked as dangerous our serious and they result in a test fail. It's impossible to say exactly what effect each of these will actually have on your test result as it depends upon the circumstances and the traffic situation that you're in. There's just no substitute for good lessons and lots of practice.

There are many errors that can be made in moving off from the left, and they can be made during any part of the procedure so get to know it inside out.

Here, in no particular order, are my top 10 errors to avoid:

  1. Signalling dangerously or without consideration.See above, often dangerous or serious.
  2. Failure to carry out all round observations, particularly right (offside) shoulder checks.
    Again, almost always dangerous or serious.
  3. Stalling by not controlling the clutch or gas
    Contrary to many learners beliefs, this is often just a minor error. Ask your instructor to teach you exactly what to do when you stall and you'll usually be fine.
  4. Unnecessary delays in moving after carrying out observations
    This is often caused by not having the car ready to move before starting the observations. Make sure you do it the right way round. This is often serious or dangerous.
  5. Failure to have the handbrake on at all
    Often the driver is asked to pull over on the left, they do so then try to hold the car on the foot brake without applying the handbrake. Don’t do it, this is often regarded as serious or dangerous.
  6. Moving or jerking the car forwards whilst still carrying out observations
    This is usually caused by poor control of the clutch, allowing the foot to move up slightly.
  7. Moving off to soon causing another road user to slow down or change position
    Always, without exception, a serious or dangerous error resulting in a driving test fail. This is usually the result of some misguided belief in slight hesitation being seen as unacceptable. This is wrong. Waiting for safety is not hesitation, it's common sense. Moving off too soon is not avoiding hesitation, it's unnecessary risk taking.
  8. Preparing the car but in the wrong gear
    This is very common. It's usually caused by going into third gear instead of first and often results in the car stalling. Is this just a driving fault or is it dangerous? It could be either and the examiner will consider all the circumstances. If you cause danger to another road user, or if you could have done if one was there, then I'm sure you can guess the answer.
  9. Moving off too quickly at what could be judged as excessive speed
    Often this is not intended by the learner and is caused through setting the gas too high and/or releasing the clutch too quickly. Sometimes it's intentional, and it's caused through panic in wanting to get moving rather than waiting for the circumstances to change. In both cases, particularly the latter, this is almost always dangerous or serious.
  10. Failing to release the handbrake either fully or not at all
    This is common. It's normally due to not making sure that the handbrake lever is pushed all the way down but sometimes learners simply forget about it and leave the handbrake on. This can cause the car to stall or not behave as it should, you'll need more gas to get going and move. This can be a driving error or a serious or dangerous fault, it all depends on the circumstances.