Driving is the controlled operation of a vehicle, which is usually a motor vehicle such as a truck, bus, motorcycle, or car. For bicycles and mounted animals and— at least in the U.K., the U.S. and Canada, —motorcycles, the corresponding activity is called riding.
Driving includes knowing how to operate the mechanisms which control the speed and direction (which in technical terminology are both components of the velocity), and the braking of the vehicle, and especially includes knowing how to do both safely.
Driving as a physical skill
In terms of the basic physical tasks required, driving a motor vehicle generally involves:
- Starting the vehicle's engine with the ignition system
- Setting the transmission to the correct gear
- Depressing the pedals with one's feet to accelerate and slow the vehicle (and if necessary, to change gears)
Steering the vehicle's direction with the steering wheel
- Operating other important ancillary devices like the headlights and windshield wipers
- Frequently watching the mirrors to monitor the relative location of other vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians
Driving as a survival skill
Of course, driving is far more complicated than simply pressing pedals and turning the steering wheel; it also involves looking out for everyone else (and everything) on the road. The skill of safe driving is necessary to avoid collisions, which kill many thousands of people annually (see also Car accident).
And safe driving is much more than following the legally prescribed rules of the road. It goes beyond that into the cultivation of good habits, maintaining attention, and a thoughtful, cooperative attitude that avoids and prevents accidents. This is often described as defensive driving.
Laws covering driving
In most countries, the use of public roads is heavily governed by law. Laws cover the construction and maintenance of roads, the construction and use of vehicles, the rules of the road, the requirements for driver and vehicle licensing (see Driver's license and License plate), vehicle taxation, safety inspections and compulsory insurance. These laws reflect the high degree of responsibility which is imposed upon both the drivers and manufacturers of vehicles to make them as safe in use as they can possibly be.
Motorists are almost universally required to take lessons with an approved instructor and pass a driving test before being granted a license. The trend has been towards increasingly tougher tests in recent decades.
In many countries, even after passing one's driving test, new drivers may be initially subject to special restrictions. For example, in Australia, novice motorists are required to carry "P" ("probationary") plates, and are subject to lower speed limits, alcohol limits, and other restrictions for their first two years of driving.
Enforcement of driving-related laws
Each country has its own unique way of dividing up the responsibiity for enforcing all the laws mentioned above. In nearly all countries, though, the laws controlling driving in practice (like speed limits) are enforced by the police, who are in the best position to identify violations as they occur and to issue citations or make arrests.
Some countries, like Australia, prefer to put everything road-related into a single agency at the state level. Thus, in the Australian state of New South Wales, the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) is responsible for driver licensing; highway construction, maintenance, and patrol; and many other things.
In contrast, in the United States, many U.S. state governments have a Department of Transportation that handles road construction and maintenance (subject to some guidance from the federal Department of Transportation), and a separate Department of Motor Vehicles that handles driver licensing and vehicle registration. There is usually a state police agency (called the Highway Patrol or Department of Public Safety) which enforces driving laws on state highways. On local roads, driving laws are enforced by county sheriff's departments or city police departments.
In many jurisdictions, bicycles are legally considered to be vehicles and cyclists are legally classified as drivers. The riding of bicycles is rarely subject to licensing. However, some municipalities may require a permit for the bicycle.
In rail transport, steering is done by controlling the switch points; this can be done:
- by other personnel than the driver, often remotely from a traffic control point.
- by the driver from his or her position.
- by the driver getting out and operating the switch manually.