How to learn the theory of driving | Many countries require new drivers to learn the road rules before they are allowed to drive a car.
For younger drivers, learning the theory out of context can present some challenges – many children in the inner city come from families that drive infrequently or perhaps don’t even have a car, so their only experience of driving might be with a friend’s family or by using a simulator. Modern schooling focuses more on discovering and investigating while learning as opposed to learning by rote which presents challenges when trying to remember a large number of facts about something which is impossible to practice at the time.
Drivers can use a road code quiz to repeat questions over and over until they remember it. However, it’s advisable that as soon as they have their theory qualification that they get on with practical driving lessons because of the forgetting curve. The forgetting curve explains the theory of how quickly we forget new knowledge unless it is repeatedly reinforced immediately after learning it.
What do the road rules cover?
Driving theory covers six main topics:
- Road signs and markings
- Vehicle control
- Intersections and traffic lights
- Theory and laws
- Vehicle-specific variations
Road signs and markings include painted lines on the road, painted instructions (words and arrows) on the road, and signs on posts and affixed to structures (e.g. bridges)
Vehicle control includes overtaking, indicating, blind spots and manoeuvring
Intersections and traffic lights includes the give way rules, types of intersections or junctions (such as roundabouts, T-intersections, crossroads, etc), traffic lights phasing and special lights
Emergencies include how to share the road with police, fire and ambulance, and what to do in case of an emergency or breakdown in various scenarios.
Theories and laws include speed limits, maximum blood alcohol levels, seat belts, passengers, pedestrian rights (pedestrian crossings, etc) and so on.
Vehicle-specific variations include changes or additions that relate to motorbikes, trucks and buses. For example, heavy vehicle drivers are subject to work time rules (i.e. how long they can work before having a break) and maximum weights, while motorbike riders are subject to helmet laws and whether they can carry pillion passengers.
How is it best to study the road rules?
Research shows that cramming is not the best way to learn. Spaced repetition between periods of sleep. Sacrificing sleep usually results in worse performance the next day. Telling others what you learned, in your own words, reinforces the memory because you have to create it in your brain in order to recall it.
Study environment and study technique
Find a way to study that suits you. General wisdom on effective study environments for driving theory is:
- Don’t listen to music, unless it’s the only way you can blot out other distractions – there won’t be music when you take the test
- Don’t study while hungry – it’s distracting
- Don’t study when there are distractions around – try to go somewhere else
- Take frequent short breaks where you do something active – 5 minutes every 30 minutes is fine
- Do study right up to the moment you take your test – it’ll be in your short-term memory as well as your long-term memory
- Do try to explain what you have learned in your own words to someone else – this helps you understand and remember it
- Do avoid sugary foods – they make you sleepy and dull your senses.
Should simulators be used to learn driving?
A simulator is a safe way to introduce students to the hazards of driving without putting them in any danger. However, it can provide a level of confidence that is in excess of a driver’s actual ability behind the wheel, so students still need to be careful when they first start driving, especially if the simulator is static, i.e. the seat doesn’t move.
Simulators are useful to teach drivers to look out for hazards, which lane to choose, how to change gear in a manual vehicle, and how to drive through intersections and traffic lights.
Should you learn from other drivers?
50 percent of drivers are below average (it’s simple maths), and the problem is that an average driver is not really a good driver. As we mentioned above, people forget facts, and they develop their own habits. These might not be good for you if you are learning off someone that’s not a qualified driving instructor. However, it is good to get someone to help you with the theory because there’s no argument over whether it’s right or wrong: if it’s on a reputable website or in an official book or study guide like The Road Code, then those are the facts you are working with, whether you agree with them or not.