Have you ever squirmed while watching another driver trying to move backwards, but they keep on diving to the left or right – in fact, going anywhere rather than where they want to end up!
And then, have you ended up hugely embarrassed when you too tried that simple manoeuvre, and also kept veering off course. Why does that happen? How can you get that car to go where you want it to go?
I’ve given driving lessons to many people who have struggled with the problem. There seem to be a number of common reasons behind it.
1. The first and simplest reason is that many people don’t look where they are going! They keep looking ahead, or check the mirrors. No, you need to turn round and look straight at where you want to go. I know it feels awkward. You have to twist your body round and look through that back window.
When you drive forwards, it’s easy to go where you want. You look at where you want to go, and the hands do whatever they need to do to get there. Try looking round and see what a difference that makes.
2. Another reason is that many people haven’t actually chosen their ‘target’. They just want to go back. But they haven’t looked to see which bit of the road behind they want to end up on. So they wander all over the place.
Try choosing your target, then look at it as you move, and only steer when you need to, to get to that target.
3. Lots of people get confused about which way to steer. In general, if you want to go to the left, steer to the left. If you want to go to the right, steer to the right. But maybe it’s better not to think ‘left’ or ‘right’. Think ‘towards the kerb’, ‘towards the hedge’, ‘towards the middle of the road’ or whatever. Then steer towards the kerb, the hedge, or whatever. Then you don’t need to know which is your left hand or your right hand.
4. There is one aspect of steering when you’re reversing which does trouble many people. To push the back of the car one way, the front of the car has to go the other way. This only really becomes a problem when you’ve gone wrong, and then try to correct it. The only real solution is to take your time, move really slowly, and feel which way the car begins to move. Whatever you do, don’t just keep turning the wheel without knowing what it’s doing to the car. Most likely, you’ll just make the problem worse!
5. And when are the wheels straight? When will the car move in a straight line? The steering wheel may look straight, but you may have done a full turn left or right. Again, the only way to find out is to move very, very slowly, just a few inches, and feel what the car does.
6. We mentioned choosing your target. But when you’re in a tight space – such as just a few inches from the kerb, which is where we normally are when reversing – we need a way of not getting too close to it, or too far from it.
This is where some reference point may help. Pull up a comfortable distance from the kerb and get the car straight. Then turn round and look through the back window. See the kerb behind you. See how far across the bottom of the back window it is when it disappears from sight. Can you identify that point? In my car it’s at the end of the rear wiper arm. In your car it may be somewhere else. Wherever it is, that’s your reference point.
To use it, look in two places as you drive backwards. Look well down the road, to some target, to keep straight. But also check whether the kerb is still on that reference point. If it has moved to one side of it, steer gently (to, or away from, the kerb, remember) to bring the kerb back onto your reference point.
7. Lastly, the biggest tip of all. DON’T RUSH! Take it slowly, take it very calmly. Even when you’re in a hurry. Even when you’re under pressure on the road. When you rush, it will go wrong. Then you’ll spend a lot longer trying to put it right. Do it slowly and calmly, and it will work. Do it slowly, and make it work.
Go on, get out there and find a quiet, straight road, and have a go. Take this article with you and re-read it before you try, or when you get frustrated. Which bit did you not do?
Driving is all about problem solving. That’s one of the things that make it fun, and rewarding. So work at it, and these hints should help you get it right. Good luck!