How to move off…safely

We consider here the method used to move off on a level, or relatively level surface, in the absence of other hazards.

What’s so special about that?

Well, moving away from the side of the road hides a great many traps and dangers for the unwary.

If you consider moving off to be something to not have to pay too much attention to, think again.

Many learner drivers fail their driving test because of mistakes they make when moving off from rest, either through poor observation skills or, even more commonly, through the incorrect use of signals.

So, what’s the technique for moving off and what are the pitfalls to avoid . . .

Prepare, Observe, Move

The technique for moving off is called prepare, observe, move (or manoeuvre, whichever you choose).

This technique is a sequence of controlled events that allows the driver to move off safely, and under full control, in all traffic conditions.

Let’s take a look at the three steps in sequence . . .


First, prepare the car by selecting first gear, then move the left hand to the hand brake, ready to release it.

Next, we set the gas by applying a little pressure to the gas pedal, to produce a lively ‘hum’ from the engine. The amount of ‘revs’ we need depends upon the car and the road conditions around us, and is something that you can discuss with your trainer.

We then slowly raise the clutch to find the biting point, such that the engine is now in a position to move the vehicle away with very little extra clutch movement.

The car is now prepared, ready to move, and we can move onto the next stage – observe.


Full, effective, 360 degree all round observations are required. Please be well aware that a simple, quick shoulder check is nowhere near sufficient.

First start your observations by checking the blind spots to the rear nearside (left). Then look into the nearside door mirror, then the interior mirror and a glance at the road ahead, then over your right shoulder to the rear offside (right) blind spots, then into the right door mirror . . . you then look ahead of you, whilst simultaneously carrying out the third and final part of the manoeuvre – moving off.

The observations are carried out this way (left to right) because we need to check the side of most danger just before moving. In most cases, the side of most danger is the drivers side, as that’s where you’ll find most of the moving traffic around you.

At any point throughout your observation phase of moving off, you need to consider if a signal is necessary. This is discussed in full below.

If at any time there is danger present to prevent you from moving away without delay, you’ll need to start the whole process again from the start of the observation sequence.


As your head lifts from the offside door mirror to view the road ahead, you should release the hand brake, apply a little more gas if necessary, lift the clutch smoothly and move off, in a simultaneous, smooth, controlled movement.

That completes your move off, in a safe and controlled manner.

Now, let’s discuss some of the pitfalls with moving away from the side of the road.

Dangers and pitfalls

There are two main areas which catch out thousands of learners – they are incorrect signalling and delaying too long to move after the observations are complete.

Signalling to move off should be extremely rare indeed. This cannot be stressed enough. Yet many ADIs still instruct trainees to apply a signal before even carrying out the correct observations. This is always, without question, a mistake. It will more than likely attract a driver error and could possible be elevated to a serious or dangerous error.

Consider this . . . you are waiting to move off, you signal to let oncoming traffic know that you intend to pull out . . . an oncoming driver from the rear, in your carriage way, considers your signal as an intention on your part to pull out into their path . . . they slow down due to the potential danger you present . . . or worse, swerve at the last second to avoid a possible collision if you do simply pull out…

What has happened is that you have become the hazard, forcing the other driver to run through the ms-psl routine to negotiate you.

If you have no intention of pulling out into the path of an oncoming vehicle, why signal at all? It is both completely pointless, and creates a potentially very dangerous situation.

The golden rule is never signal to move off if a moving vehicle is anywhere near and could be affected by your actions.

Clearly, if the traffic is queuing and almost at a standstill and it is impossible to cause any danger, then you may need to signal as a request to let you join the traffic.

The time to signal to move off, is if as a result of your all round observations, you see someone sat in a stationary vehicle who may also pull away, or you spot a pedestrian who would benefit from the signal, or some other circumstances arise where a signal would be of use.

If a moving vehicle is anywhere near, do not signal. Instead, wait until the moving vehicle has gone by, perform all round observations again, and then signal before moving off.

The second area of potential danger is in delaying between the observing and the moving phases. You can delay between preparing and observing as long as you like, but after you have completed your observations and seen that it is safe, you must move immediately, without any delay at all. This is absolutely vital. Why?

Well, if you look all round and it is safe, then delay 15 or 20 seconds before moving, how do you know if the circumstances haven’t changed and it’s now not safe to move any longer? A pedestrian may have appeared from a nearby building, a pedal cyclist may have just turned into your road, a motorcycle may be approaching fast . . . a lot can happen when you delay too long. The whole situation can change in a second or two

Therefore, you must, of necessity, move as soon as the observations are complete. If you have to delay, to apply a signal or to wait for another road user, then you must complete the full observation process again. If there is an oncoming vehicle that delay’s your move off, you will find that you can time your observation phase so that you are ready to move as soon as the vehicle is gone. Practice makes perfect, so get plenty of it.

Key points

  • use the routine prepare, observe, move
  • full, effective, all round observations
  • no delay between observing and moving
  • signal only if absolutely necessary.

We'll be back on the road soon! Stay safe 🤗