26 January, 2017

How to do the cockpit drill

The cockpit drill for learners, instructors and experienced drivers

Once you get in the car, you need to make sure it’s set up for you. Remember, even if you are the only driver of your car, have a quick check through this routine - you sit totally differently first thing in the morning to how you do after a day’s work.

  • Doors: Make sure these are closed, check using your mirrors, and check the interior light. Driving with doors rattling will really put you off - and trying to close them while driving would be dangerous.

  • Seat: Check that you can push the clutch fully down, (left foot, left pedal!) without stretching too far, it should feel comfortable. This is the pedal you are going to have to control the most carefully. The lever under your seat moves you back or forward.

Adjust the lean (or rake) of the seat so your arms feel comfy on the steering wheel. Leaning forward and lifting the lever to the right of your seat, this will release the seat so you can lean yourself back to a comfortable position.

Remember to adjust the head restraint, so the top of the restraint rests against the top part of your head. In an accident, this will help save your spine, and avoid whiplash.

  • Seatbelt: This is a no-brainer. Get it on! Look through the Highway code if you feel you may be exempt from wearing one, but realistically this is the one thing which could save your life, don’t make excuses.

  • Mirrors: Rear view mirror: make sure that you can see as much of the rear window as possible - try to frame the window within the mirror. Check that you can still see this when you sit back, in a normal driving position.

  • Left wing mirror: you will use this to look for hazards such as cyclists, and to check your distance from the kerb when parking. To do this you need to be able to see all the road, then as much of the kerb as possible. Sky is not important! In a clear area, the horizon will be approximately halfway up the mirror. In built up areas, just make sure that you could see the whole of any car behind. This will probably mean that you can just see the scoop under the handle in a 4 door car, In a 2 door car you will see the handle and a bit below it.

  • Right wing mirror: in this mirror you are checking for hazards such as overtaking vehicles that you may not see in the rear view mirror. Again sky is not necessary so look in the left mirror as you adjust this one, so the wing mirrors look similar.

Remember you have a blind spot on each side of the car - an area you can’t see when facing forwards, and doesn’t appear in your mirrors. Look over your right shoulder and compare what you see with your wing mirror. There will be a short distance that isn’t visible before. Is there a parked car there? A driveway or garden gate that you may not notice without checking it? Bear this in mind for later, it will be important when you are setting off.


A couple of final checks before starting up!

  • Handbrake: Make sure this is on firmly - just press the button, and pull, keep the pressure on and let go of the button. The button locks and unlocks the safety mechanism.

Practise: With your foot pressed on the footbrake, practise putting the handbrake on and off using the button.

  • Gears: Make sure you are in neutral. This means that when the engine is turned on it is not connected to the wheels! The gearstick will wobble even when it is in gear, but if you push left or right while in neutral, you will feel springs pushing it back to the centre, between 3rd and 4th gears. So check for the springs.

Practise: Press your clutch down, then with your palm facing towards your passenger, practise choosing first and second gears, push away from you then up, then away from you and down.

My current car needs the clutch to be pressed down before turning the engine on, other cars have different safety precautions like this, check your manual before driving a new car.

  • Key: Put the key in, then turn it clockwise (towards the dashboard) 2 clicks, until the lights on the dashboard come on. This is the ignition. To turn the engine on, turn another click, and when the engine starts, let go of the key so it can spring back to the ignition position.

The car is running, and it’s all set up for you - keep listening, and if you are careful with it, it’ll do what you want it to!