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So, you have your learner's permit and you're allowed behind the wheel, but naturally, taking to a busy road right away is scary. So where do you start? Right now, you may be wondering to yourself, ‘where can I practice driving?’
Depending on your circumstances, there are various places where you can safely practice driving. Here are a few suggestions -
- Empty parking lots
- Local roads that are less frequently used (especially during weekends)
- Local driving schools (for a fee).
Build your skill up gradually, by starting at empty lots and roads and moving on to various types of roads with different speed limits. Don't forget to try and experience both day driving and night driving, as well as different weather conditions. The idea is to progress to more challenging driving environments as your skill and confidence levels increase.
Now that you know you should practice driving in a variety of places, let’s take a closer look at this in more detail below. We’ll discuss the safest places to begin practicing (such as empty parking lots) as well as how and when to progress to more challenging driving environments. We’ll also look at the best days/times to practice and ways to gain confidence behind the wheel.
So, if you’re ready to learn more about where, when and how to practice driving, then let’s get started!
Can I Practice Driving in Parking Lots?
Parking lots are great places to practice driving. They are less dangerous than actual road driving while still providing a road-like experience. It is best to wait until after hours, on weekends, during holidays or whenever the shopping center, supermarket or school is closed and the lot is empty.
First-time drivers should use empty lots as a starting point for driving practice. If a teenager or adult has never been behind the wheel of a car before, it is best to avoid busy intersections, heavy traffic, or potentially hazardous road conditions until he/she feels comfortable operating a moving vehicle.
Wide-open spaces, such as empty parking lots, will provide the basis for learning how to brake, steer and turn without the stress of adhering to traffic lights, road signs or other drivers. It is important to get the ‘feel’ for a vehicle first and parking lot driving practice is a safe environment in which to do this.
Once you feel comfortable enough, try practicing in larger, more crowded mall parking lots during business hours. This will enable you to take your driving skills to the next level. Being able to park directly beside another vehicle, reverse properly with a row of cars behind you and safely cross the intersections between lots, will make you feel more confident around other drivers.
When your confidence has increased, try practicing on actual roads. Look for ones with different speed limits and try them out. Then, practice at different times of the day and during various weather or visibility conditions. Go through roads with on and off-ramps as well as merging lanes. The idea is to progress gradually as your skill and confidence levels increase.
Can You Practice Driving in a Parking Lot without a Permit?
Driving on a road without a permit or license is illegal unless it’s a private road, in which different rules and regulations apply. In some states - but not all - practicing driving without a permit or license in a relatively empty parking lot isn’t considered illegal. Check with a local driving instructor or call the police to ask in advance.
Remember, if you have one, it’s recommended to have a learner’s permit with you in the vehicle at all times when practicing (regardless of where you are) as well as a licensed adult driver.
How to Find Safe Driving Practice Areas?
Finding safe places to practice driving is easy, as long as you keep in mind that you should start in locations with minimal to no cars at first, such as empty parking lots, and then work your way up to higher traffic situations. Staying in your neighborhood is also recommended, as you are familiar with the area, making it safer overall.
Also, consider taking a driver training course with a trained professional, as the instructors are very familiar with local roads and will know just where and when to take you to practice, based on your experience and confidence level. As well, this will provide you with a solid foundation on which to develop correct driving skills in a safe, regulated environment.
How Can I Gain Confidence in Driving?
Once you’ve advanced from empty parking lots, finding other places to practice is fairly easy. Industrial areas, for example, when the traffic has died down will give you a great feel for a variety of different situations, such as gravel roads, railroad tracks, traffic signals, 4-way stops, etc.
As your confidence improves, move on to practicing in residential areas. Start on a clear day, when visibility is good. Check around parked cars first for any children and/or small animals, who could possibly dart out into traffic.
Next, go with an adult or licensed driver to an area familiar to him/her, but foreign to you. This is a great opportunity to build confidence in maps or GPS reading. Learning how to direct yourself safely back home (with or without navigation tools) is important.
Finally, once you feel confident in low-traffic areas, move on to highway driving. Begin in the right land and get a feel for merging in and out of traffic. Once your comfort level improves, work your way up to lane changes and maintaining a consistent speed with the other cars around you.
What is the Best Time to Practice Driving?
The best time to practice driving is when the roads aren’t too busy. During the week it is a good time, as long as you avoid peak traffic times. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) states that most accidents occur in ‘rush hour’ between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. It is recommended you stay off the roads at this time, if possible, especially if you are just learning to drive.
The NHTSA also reports that Saturday is the most dangerous day of the week to drive. This is primarily the result of more cars being on the road throughout the day. As well, more drunk drivers tend to be out on Saturday evenings, thus increasing the likelihood of an accident. So, stick to driving during the day on Sundays instead, if you only have time on the weekends to practice.
Another ideal time to practice driving is when the weather is good. Stick to sunny days, if possible, as precipitation including rain, snow, sleet, and hail can drastically alter road and visibility conditions. As well, try to avoid driving during sunrise and sunset, when the light can affect your vision, making it difficult to see pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles.
Is It Better To Practice Driving During The Day Or At Night?
It is generally considered better to practice driving during the day rather than at night, as care and caution on the road must be multiplied significantly in the dark. Even with headlights, it is more difficult to see what lies ahead on the road in the evening. And, since reaction time tends to slow down at night, you should definitely stick to daylight hours when practicing, especially if you’re a beginner driver.
Later on, you should definitely practice night driving as well. Just take it one step at a time.
What Should Your Practice Include Before You Go On the Road?
Before going on the road, your practice should accompany a learner’s license, which you will receive once you’ve passed your driver’s education course. From there, you can try driving in empty school or store parking lots on off-hours or weekends and then progress to busier parking lots during the week, when shopping centers and supermarkets are open.
It is important to note that you must develop your skill and confidence in low-traffic situations before heading out into high-traffic areas. Once you feel comfortable behind the wheel with other cars around, you are ready to try new locations with busy intersections, higher speed limits and merging traffic. Always remember to take your time, practice often and stay alert.
Consider the following aspects before heading out on the road:
Make Sure the Vehicle is Appropriate
The car you use to practice with should be properly insured and come equipped with all necessary safety gear. This includes fully-functioning seat belts, mirrors, lights, windshield wipers, etc.
Drive with Someone You Trust
Choose a parent or adult you know well, preferably someone who doesn’t have a series of driving offenses to his/her name! This person should:
- be over 21 years of age
- possess a legal driver’s license for at least 3 years (preferably more)
- not have a suspended license
- not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol
Ask for Help, if Needed
If you’re not sure about something, ask! Your practice partner is there to help you, so before you head out on the road, discuss your concerns. This will help you to feel more confident behind the wheel.
Practice ‘By the Book’
Stick to what you’ve learned in your driver’s education course. Always practice proper, safe driving skills so when you head out on the road with your practice partner, you know exactly what to do.
Put in the Extra Effort
Go online and research ways to brush-up on theory and general road knowledge before you head out into traffic. Review the following areas so you feel more confident when practicing:
- Driving awareness
- Dealing with distractions
- Improving observation skills
- Avoiding road accidents
- Defensive driving tactics
Practice and stay safe!
To conclude, once you’ve successfully completed your driver’s education course, the next step is to apply what you’ve learned. Begin driving in empty parking lots and then move to roads in different areas (industrial, residential, etc.) with varying speed limits in diverse weather conditions.
The goal is to gradually progress from safe practice areas, such parking lots, to more challenging driving environments, including high-traffic roads and highways, as your skill and confidence levels increase. Good luck and drive safe!