Chapter 4: Starting, Lane Changing, Curves and Turning

In this chapter

    Steering — Hand Position

    Most vehicles are equipped with power steering and adjustable steering wheels that make operating the vehicle easier and more comfortable for the driver. It’s recommended that the steering wheel be held with your hands at the 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions. This will allow for good control and, in the event of a collision and the vehicle is equipped with an airbag, it will inflate without injuring or being obstructed by the driver’s arms. The driver of a vehicle should never turn the steering wheel with one hand (palming the wheel) or with one finger as they may not have full control of the vehicle.


    To set a vehicle in motion, you have to accelerate smoothly and gradually to avoid jerking the vehicle. The driver’s foot should lie flat on the accelerator with the heel on the floor. For optimal engine performance, the driver should avoid abruptly applying and releasing the accelerator.

    Drivers should accelerate slowly and steadily when starting from a stop. By doing this, drivers have more control over the vehicle. If the vehicle is over-accelerated, particularly on poor or slippery road surfaces, the wheels can lose traction, which could cause loss of control.

    Automatic transmission

    Many vehicles have transmissions that change gears automatically in response to speed and acceleration, by means of mechanical, electrical or hydraulic controls.

    Drivers of such vehicles can also shift down to a lower gear for increased braking power when descending a hill. Downshifting prevents the transmission from automatically changing into a higher gear, keeping the vehicle speed slower. This can be very helpful in keeping the vehicle’s brakes cooler as they will not have to be used as often when descending a steep hill.

    This is an example of how the gears on an automatic transmission could be used:

    • P (park): for starting the engine, stopping for an extended length of time and parking
    • N (neutral): for starting the engine, disengages the engine from the drive wheels
    • R (reverse): for backing up (bring the vehicle to a complete stop before changing from a forward gear to reverse and vice versa)
    • D (drive) or 2–5: for normal forward driving conditions
    • 2–3/2–4 lower gears for driving with heavy loads
    • 2: for driving on slippery surfaces or up or down steep inclines
    • 1: for driving very slowly when off the highway

    Manual (standard) transmission

    Shifting gears in a vehicle equipped with a manual transmission is a skill which requires considerable practice. The driver operates a clutch pedal with the left foot while manually selecting the desired gear range by moving a gear shift lever with the right hand.

    The clutch is used to make, or break, the connection between the vehicle’s engine and its transmission. When the pedal is up, the connection is engaged and the power of the engine can then be transmitted to the drive wheels of the vehicle.

    When the clutch pedal is pressed down, the connection is disengaged which prevents the transfer of engine power. It’s while the connection is disengaged that the driver will change gears.

    As the driver begins to let up on the clutch pedal, the re-establishment of the connection will be felt before the pedal is fully released. The point where this first occurs is called the “friction point.”

    It’s at this friction point that the driver must coordinate the further release of the clutch pedal with the use of the gas pedal to achieve a smooth shift and prevent engine stalling.

    Shifting patterns vary as do the number of available gears. Your owner’s manual will describe the shifting pattern for your vehicle.

    With the ignition switch in the off position, you can practice moving the gear shift lever into its various positions until you’re sure of the locations and can find each gear without looking.

    When starting the engine of a vehicle equipped with a manual transmission, your selector lever should be in the neutral position and your clutch pedal should be fully depressed.

    When driving manual-transmission vehicles, it’s important to select the proper gear so your engine neither lugs (moves the vehicle in rough, bumpy fashion) nor races (revs the engine but does not move the car effectively). If the engine begins lugging, you must shift to a lower gear. If it starts to race, a higher gear range must be selected. Your owner’s manual will provide you with the approximate speeds at which you should shift.

    Once you have the vehicle in motion and have completed shifting gears, be sure to remove your foot from the clutch pedal. Leaving your foot on the clutch pedal unnecessarily is called “riding the clutch” and can cause excessive clutch wear.

    When you’re required to brake or come to a stop, you should avoid depressing the clutch too soon to avoid coasting to your stop.

    When turning corners, be sure that your vehicle is in the proper gear for the speed at which you’re turning.


    The clutch makes it possible to disengage the transmission and the engine. By pressing the clutch pedal, the connection is broken between these two components, allowing the driver to change gears. The clutch pedal must be pressed with the left foot and held to move the gear lever. Avoid releasing the clutch too quickly. This can damage components leaving the vehicle inoperable. Also, don‘t let the clutch out too slowly or release it only enough to hold the vehicle from rolling on a hill when stopped. This will cause the clutch to heat excessively and wear out prematurely.