Essential Driving Terms You Should Know

When you’re learning to drive, it’s important to understand the language of the road.

There are a lot of terms and phrases that you will hear thrown around, and it can get confusing if you don’t know what they all mean. In this blog post, we’ll define a range of different driving terms that everyone should know. By understanding these terms, you’ll be able to drive more safely and confidently. Let’s get started!

Blind Spot

The area of the road that is not visible in your rear or wing (side-view) mirrors. You should always check for vehicles in your blind spot before changing lanes with a quick look over your shoulder.

Blind spots depend on the positioning of your mirrors, as well as the size of the vehicle. A larger vehicle may have a bigger blind spot than a smaller one.

Smaller vehicles like bicycles and motorcycles are most likely to be obscured by a car’s blind spot.

vehicles in car wing mirror view

Provisional Driving Licence

The licence you hold while learning to drive. You can apply for a provisional driving licence when you are 15 years and nine months old, but cannot start learning to drive until your 17th birthday, accompanied by an experienced driver who is over 21 years of age with at least three years of driving experience.

A regular licence that qualifies you to drive alone is often referred to as a “full driving licence”, though different licences are granted for different classes of vehicles.

MOT Test

A test that all cars and motorcycles in the UK must pass every year to ensure they are safe to drive on the road. This doesn’t apply to cars that are less than 3 years old, which are presumed to be roadworthy. The MOT test checks a number of items, including brakes, tyres, lights, and emissions.

Lane Discipline

The practice of using lane markings to indicate which lane you should be driving in, and ensuring that you do not cross over into another lane unless it is safe to do so.

Drivers in the UK are encouraged to stick to the leftmost lane unless they are overtaking, in which case they should move back over to the left as soon as it is safe to do so.


To overtake another vehicle is to pass it by travelling around and in front of it. This can be done on a single-lane road, but should only be done when it is safe to do so. You should never overtake on a bend, in poor visibility, or when there is oncoming traffic.

If you are driving a large vehicle, it can be difficult to see cars travelling in the opposite direction. Always check your mirrors and blind spot before overtaking.

Dual carriageway

A dual carriageway is a road where traffic travels in two separate directions with a median strip running down the middle of it to separate vehicles going opposite ways. Speed limits are generally higher for dual carriageway roads than single carriageways.

Trucks and car on dual carriageway

Single carriageway

Contrasted with dual carriageways, a single carriageway is a road where lanes are not physically separated. The speed limit for these roads is generally lower than dual carriageways, as there is less room for error.

Car on single carriageway (country road)

National Speed Limit

This is the default maximum speed limit that applies to most roads of a certain category in the UK, with exceptions. Always follow any signage which indicates a limit below the NSL.

The national speed limit for built-up areas is 30 mph but may be lower if a “20 zone” is indicated by signage.

The national speed limit for single carriageways (A-roads) outside of built-up areas is 60 mph, and 70 mph for dual carriageways. Motorways have a national speed limit of 70 mph as well.

These speeds are often different for goods and passenger vehicles, as well as motorhomes/caravans, so check the highway code if you’re unsure.

Stopping distance

The stopping distance of a car is the distance it takes for the vehicle to come to a complete stop. This includes both the time it takes for the driver to react and hit the brakes, as well as how long it takes for the car to actually stop. The longer your reaction time, the longer your stopping distance will be.

The braking distance, on the other hand, only refers to the distance it takes for the car to stop once the brakes have been applied.


Oversteer is a type of handling characteristic where the car turns more than the driver intends, often resulting in the car spinning out. This is typically felt through a loss of traction at the rear wheels as a result of accelerating too quickly.


Understeer is the opposite of oversteer, where the car turns less than the driver intends. This occurs when the front wheels lose traction, which can be dangerous as it can lead to the car skidding off of the road.

Pedestrian Crossing

A pedestrian crossing is an area where pedestrians can cross the road. These crossings are typically marked with white lines on the road and may have one or more traffic lights to control the flow of traffic. When the light turns green for the pedestrian, drivers must stop and allow them to cross.

Zebra crossing

A zebra crossing is a type of pedestrian crossing identifiable by its white stripes painted on the road, creating a black and white contrast similar to that of a zebra. This is similar to the common pelican crossing, but it does not have traffic lights or any other controls for drivers or pedestrians. They’re easy to spot as they come accompanied by Belisha beacons, which are two tall black and white poles with an orange light on top.

If you’re driving near one of these crossings, be sure to stop when someone is preparing to walk onto the road.

zebra crossing london

Pelican Crossing

A pelican crossing is a type of pedestrian crossing that typically has traffic lights to control the flow of traffic. When the light turns green for the pedestrian, drivers must stop and allow them to cross. If you are driving and see a red light at a pedestrian crossing, you must stop.

Puffin Crossing

A puffin crossing is a type of pedestrian crossing that is similar to a pelican crossing but features traffic lights that are operated by sensors, instead of using fixed timings.

This means that the lights will change based on the number and speed of pedestrians crossing, as well as vehicles waiting at the crossing.

Give way

The term ‘give way’ means to allow other road users to pass if necessary. When drivers see the ‘give way’ sign, marked by an inverted triangle, it indicates that oncoming traffic has priority and that they must allow them to pass before continuing.

When two vehicles approach a crossroads from different directions, a give way sign is often present and tells the driver that they must wait for vehicles to pass before continuing. This term can also be used when talking about pedestrians and drivers. For example, a driver must always give way to a pedestrian who is crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing.

uk give way sign in focuz

One way

A one-way road is a type of roadway where traffic can only travel in one direction. These roads are typically marked with signs or markings on the road, and drivers must obey these restrictions. Driving the wrong way down a one-way road can result in fines.

If you do end up on a one-way road by accident, you should do your best to get off of it as soon as possible. Find somewhere to pull over and turn around if possible, only reverse if necessary.

Parallel parking

Parallel parking is a type of parking where you park your car parallel to the kerb, in between two other cars. This type of parking can be difficult, especially for new drivers, as you need to be precise in order to avoid hitting other cars.

Make sure that you only park in a space that is big enough for your car. If you’re not sure, it’s best to find another spot.

cars parallel parking

Parking brake

The parking brake, also known as a handbrake, is a brake that is used specifically for parking. When the car is parked, the driver can apply the parking brake to keep the car from moving. This is especially useful on hills, as it will help to keep the car from rolling down.

The parking brake should not be used as a regular brake, as it can cause the car to skid and wear out the brake pads prematurely. Only use the parking brake when the car is stationary, or in rare cases where the main braking system fails.

Handbrake in car interior


A T-junction is a type of road intersection where two roads meet at a perpendicular angle. When approaching a T-junction, you must slow down and be prepared to stop if necessary. You should give way to any oncoming traffic that is already on the main road.