Reversing A Car In A Straight Line

All drivers need to reverse their cars regularly, but it is something that many people struggle to perform accurately and, therefore, safely.

As part of the UK Practical Driving Test you will be required to perform one reversing manoeuvre. This may be:

  • Reverse Bay Park
  • Forwards Bay Park (and reverse out again)
  • Parallel Park
  • Pull Up On The Right and Reverse

If you happen to take a wrong turn, or find the road ahead is blocked during your test you may need to turn the car around. You must be able to do this by one the following manoeuvres:

  • Turn in the Road
  • Reverse around a Corner

All of these manoeuvres require the same reversing skills, and the basis of these skills is to reverse in a straight line.

This blog deals with all of the skills required to safely and accurately reverse a car in a straight line.

STARTING POSITION

Pulling up reasonably close to the kerb and parallel to it will help with reversing in a straight line accurately.

You are not parking the car so there is no need to be very close to the kerb. Being too close will make it more difficult to not hit or brush it as you are reversing.

Vehicles following may think you are in a parked position and not realise what you want to do.

As you approach the place you want to stop, slow right down. Get to 1-2 mph to enable you to position your car straight in the road, that is parallel to the kerb.

Stopping in this position makes it much easier to reverse in a straight line accurately. If you don’t move the steering wheel you will travel in a straight line, as long as the road is straight then you won’t hit or brush the kerb.

SELECT REVERSE GEAR

The first thing you must do when you have stopped is to select reverse gear.

Even if you are on a hill and the car will roll in the direction you want to travel, you must select the gear so that the reversing lights illuminate.

The reversing lights are white (some cars only have one light) and are at the back of a car.

If another road user appears behind and does not realise what you are doing, you can press the brake pedal so that the brake lights also illuminate at the back of the car.

Other methods of informing other road users are to try to get eye contact or to indicate. Looking over your left shoulder through the rear window will let the person behind know you have seen them and let them realise what your intentions are. Applying a signal, even after you have stopped, can alert others and make them pay attention to what you want to do.

If you don’t effectively inform other road users they may get too close to your car, making it impossible or very difficult to perform the manoeuvre you want to do.

As soon as others are aware of what you intend to do, cancel your indicator.

CHECK ALL AROUND

Before starting to move it’s important to check all around you.

Start checking from:

  1. Right blind spot and right door mirror
  2. Ahead and your middle mirror
  3. Left mirror and left blind spot

Look at driveways and junctions for other vehicles coming out.

Look out for bikes and motorbikes. They can be travelling quite fast, and could potentially sustain a serious injury if they are forced to swerve around your car.

Look for pedestrians who are on the pavement but may step out from between parked cars.

You are not going to start to move if anyone is approaching your car. As you are reversing you are travelling in the wrong direction, so others have priority over you.

LOOK OUT OF THE BACK WINDOW

Once you are sure it’s safe to move and no other road users are approaching, look out of the rear window and release the handbrake.

Looking out of the rear window before starting to move is very important. Many drivers choose to use their middle mirror and door mirrors only while reversing. This is unsafe and not recommended. Using your mirrors only allows you to see a limited area, but turning around to look out of the window allows you to make use of your peripheral vision.

Therefore if, for example, a child runs towards you while you are reversing and looking in your middle mirror you will not see them until they are directly behind your car. If you are turned around in your seat and looking through the rear window you would spot the child before they reach the back of the car.

POSITON YOUR HANDS ON THE STEERING WHEEL

While reversing in a straight line it can help to place your hands on the steering wheel in the following position:

  • Place your right hand at the very top of the wheel (know as the 12 o’clock position as this is where the number twelve would be on a clock face)
  • Place your left hand near the bottom of the steering wheel (maybe where the six or the seven would be on a clock face)

It is common to ‘accidentally’ move the wheel as you are reversing. Even moving the wheel a very small amount will turn the wheels slightly and cause you to get closer to or further away from the kerb.

While reversing, try to frequently check the wheel.

SEATBELT

It is ok to remove your seatbelt while reversing a car. We advise that you keep it on if possible. This is for safety and so that you don’t drive away with the seatbelt off by mistake. This could be more easily done on test, as you may be nervous.

If you need to or want to remove your seatbelt then you must remember to put it back on before driving away again.

MOVE VERY SLOWLY

You are aiming to move the car very slowly while reversing. You only need to be travelling at about 1 mph or less. The speed may not even register on the speedometer. That is a good safe speed to travel.

It is not easy to see all around you when travelling backwards so keeping very slow is the safest option.

Other road users expect cars to mainly travel forwards, so you may find people not noticing your reversing lights and getting too close to you.

STOP TO ALLOW OTHERS TO PASS

While you are reversing other road users travelling forwards have priority. Therefore you must stop your car and allow them to pass if they get within your ‘safety bubble’.

Your ‘safety bubble’ is about two car lengths all around your car.

If a car is approaching quickly, it can get into your bubble within a second or two.

A bike may be slower and take longer to get into your bubble.

A pedestrian may not even get into your bubble until you have finished the manoeuvre.

You need to try to judge this safely. To do this you need to look all around regularly.

STAY CLOSE TO THE KERB

As you check around for other road users, check your positioning. You need to aim to stay reasonably close to the kerb.

You can check your position by looking in the left door mirror. Some cars have door mirrors that dip as you put the car into reverse gear. Others have a blind spot mirror inserted into the glass, or a blind spot mirror that has been manually attached.

If your car has none of these it may be helpful to dip the whole mirror downwards while performing the manoeuvre.

If you do this, you must remember to return it to the original position before driving away.

CORRECT YOUR POSITIONING

If you get tot close to, or too far from the kerb you will need to correct your positioning.

If you get very close to the kerb steer a very small amount so that the wheels don’t brush the kerb.

Many people get confused about which way to move the steering wheel while they are reversing.

A very simple way to think about this is to imagine where you want the back of the car to go.

  • If you want to back of the car to go to the right, steer to the right.
  • If you want the back of the car to go to the left, steer to the left.

Once the back of the car is in a good position, steer the opposite way to straighten the car.

Once the car is straight and parallel to the kerb, straighten the steering.

It’s important that you only do small amounts of steering to correct your position.

Steering a lot will cause the car to get to a sharp angle and either stick out in the road or hit the kerb.

In general, you will only need to steer up to about ¼ steer of the wheel to gradually correct your positioning.

SELECT NEUTRAL

Once you have finished reversing take the car out of reverse gear.

Staying in reverse gear can be misleading for other road users if they think you may still be about to reverse.

Developing reversing skills may take time, but following these simple rules will help you to get to grips with it quicker.

Practice in a quiet road or in an empty car park at first. If you are in a car park you can practice steering while reversing to notice how the car reacts while travelling backwards.

Even on a quiet road or car park there may be other road users about so please still take care.

We hope this information helps you to improve your reversing skills.

Let us know how you get on.

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