Have you ever struggled to get your car into the correct position for a bay park? Do you sometimes wonder if your car is in the correct position for turning right into a junction?
It's completely normal for learners who've just started out to have difficulty knowing exactly where the bonnet of the car is with regards to the give way lines at the junction they're driving up to. They don't want to overshoot the junction, but stopping too far back makes it difficult to see into the new road and get moving again.
All of these are examples of situations in which a reference point can be very useful, but what do I mean by a reference point?
Take the example of being unsure where the front of the car is with regards to the give way markings on the road. It's normal for there to be double white dashed lines on the left side of the road and single dashed lines across the other side of the carriageway.
You can often use a fixed point on the car as a reference against these white lines so you know exactly when you're just up to the junction. Many drivers find that by looking just below the driver's door mirror they can see where the white lines across the carriageway intercept the door mirror. That gives them a reference point. Make sure the lines are in the same position next time and the car will be in the right place on the road.
Similarly, many people have trouble judging where the kerb is and how far away the nearside tyres are to the kerb when pulling over to stop on the left. Once you're parked in the correct position, and both you and your instructor are happy with your parking distance, you can look at the point where the road meets the kerb and see if you can identify a position on your bonnet or windscreen wipers that they intersect.
In future, getting the car into the same position is just a case of making sure that the same point where the road meets the kerb intersects your chosen reference point on the bonnet or the windscreen wiper or whatever point you chose.
Reference points can be remarkably useful but you'll probably not need them for very long. As soon as your instinctive sense of position develops, and you 'just know' where the car is, you'll not need them any more. Until that point, they can be your best friend, but the aim is to rely on them only until you develop your positional awareness.
Never forget that reference points help you into position, but you always use the MSM routine to get there and to move again.
Sounds simple, but there's a few things to be careful of.
Fixed Reference Or Imaginary Reference
Make sure that the position on your vehicle that you use for a reference point is fixed for you. It's pointless your instructor trying to get you to use exactly the same reference point as everyone else as you may be shorter, taller, have the seat adjusted higher, lower, further back, closer to the wheel. I could go on but the point is obvious, make sure the reference point works for you and try to choose it yourself so you remember it.
You also have to make sure that the point on the road or parking bay etc. that you are trying to get into position for is also fixed and unmoveable. If either the reference point on your car or the reference point on the road surface can be moved, it renders it almost useless to you.
Let me give you an example. Suppose you're doing a bay park and you decide to start turning the steering wheel just as the front corner of the car in the next bay appears in the corner of the rear side window. That's great whilst there's a car there, but what if there isn't?
Make sure that the points you use as reference points are fixed, unmovable and highly likely to be the same in every situation. Examples would be the centre lines down the middle of the carriageway, the give way lines across the road surface, the point at which the road surface first meets the kerb.
How To Use Reference Points Properly
It's not always possible to get a good reference point for everything, but it is for most positional problems and they can certainly help you as a guide when you're having any difficulties.
The main points to make sure of are:
- Make sure the seat and the car is adjusted properly for you before you try to find a reference point. That way you know the reference point on the car is correct for you.
- Try to stay in your normal driving position to get a reference point. If you have to duck or move left or right you'll probably never get into that same position again.
- Make sure with your instructor that the car is in the correct position that your trying to find a reference for. If the car isn't positioned properly, all you'll be doing is learning how to make sure it's always in the wrong position. Make sure you get it right.
- Be certain that the reference point on the road surface can be relied upon every time you see it. For instance, it's pointless using double yellow lines as they won't be there on every road. Similarly, don't use a drain cover at your favourite area to do a reverse exercise. You should be able to get into the correct position everywhere, not just at one location or anywhere you can find a similar drain cover.
Reference points are extremely useful, particularly for learners just starting out, but for anyone who needs to get the car into the correct position and has difficulty with positional awareness.
If you think they'll be of use to you I suggest you discuss them with your instructor and try to find your own reference points. Just make sure the car is adjusted for you and that the car is in the correct position before you look for a reference point.