Cockpit checks

There are several vital cockpit checks that must be carried out to ensure you are safe and comfortable before putting the key into the cars ignition.
To realise the importance of carrying out cockpit checks every time you get into the vehicle
  • The correct order in which to carry out the cockpit checks
  • How to ensure you are in the best driving position, including seat adjustments
  • How to ensure your mirrors are adjusted correctly
To aid drivers in remembering the correct order in which to perform the cockpit drill, the following is used:

D – Doors

S – Seats

S – Steering

S – Seatbelt

M – Mirrors

The Doors:
car door opening knocking cyclist

It is the car drivers legal responsibility to ensure that all doors are closed securely, this includes the boot of the vehicle and any doors passengers have used to enter the vehicle.

There will be a number of ways that you may know that you have not shut your car door properly.

  • A warning light on the dashboard
  • The interior light stays on
  • When you pull away an alarm might sound depending on the car.
  • Looking in your side mirrors. The side of the car is not smooth.

It’s your responsibility to open your door safely. Always ensure you check your mirrors. Then look over your shoulder into the car’s blind spot to check there are no cyclists or pedestrians before opening or reopening the door.

Use both your hands when opening the car door. The hand furthest from the door to grab the armrest and your hand nearest the door to release the door. This is sometimes called The Copenhagen Method.

The Story Of The Car Part 10: The Doors And Glass

The Seat, Steering and Seat Belt:
driver seating position- different car seats for different ages

The position of the seat must be adjusted to enable you to have full control over the vehicle and is vital for safe driving. This means you can comfortably and safely reach all the controls.

Because we are all a little different, car seats can usually be adjusted to suit each individual. This is done by varying the:

  • Position of the seat within the cockpit to use the foot controls
  • Angle of the seat back to allow comfortable use of the steering
  • Height of the seat for general easy access to the controls

The position seat should be adjusted to:

  • Enable you to reach each of the control pedals easily and comfortably
  • This can be checked by putting your left foot onto the clutch pedal and pressing it to the floor
  • When the seat is in the correct position there should be a slight bend in your knee, rather then your leg being fully stretched
  • There is normally a bar under the seat you lift up so it moves
  • Do this with your other hand holding the wheel so you can slide the seat to where you want

After adjusting the seat always ensure that the seat is locked into position. Do this by listening for the locking mechanism engaging. This will be a clicking sound. Sometimes it can be quite loud. Never drive off until you are certain the seat is locked into position as an unsecured seat can be incredibly dangerous.

Never attempt to adjust the car seat whilst the vehicle is moving.

Seat-Head restraint.

headrest or head restraint

The head restraint is more often known as the headrest. It should be adjusted to ensure that the middle of it is:

  • As high as your eyes or the top of your ears
  • As close to the back of your head as possible.

Correct placement of seat head restraints is important to protect against neck and spinal injuries if the vehicle is involved in a collision. Head restraints should never be removed from seats.


Steering wheel held properly

The steering wheel will control the direction in which you want your car to go. For the best control of this you will have to adjust the angle of the back of the seat.

The angle of the back of the seat should be adjusted to:

  • Enable you to have full control over the vehicle
  • This is by having and maintaining a suitable grip on the steering wheel
  • In the correct position your arms should be relaxed and slightly bent
  • Its important they are not locked at the elbows
  • You need to see out of the vehicle and see the road clearly

Seat belt.

Seat belt being checked

Seatbelts must legally be worn if available in both the front and back of your car. This is because they reduce the risk of injury and have been proven to save lives. You need a valid exception in place in order not to have to wear one.

As well as being responsible for wearing your own seatbelt, as the driver of the vehicle you are also responsible for ensuring that all children under the age of 14 in the vehicle are wearing a seatbelt or appropriate approved child restraint.

Always adjust the seat belt to the correct position before you start the vehicle:

  • The lap belt section must be positioned as low as possible over the hips
  • The shoulder belt section should lie on the chest and over the shoulder
  • If the car has seat belt height adjusters (for the diagonal strap) this should be adjusted to lie centrally over your shoulder and away from your neck
  • Always ensure the seatbelts are free from twists, tangles and are in a good condition
  • Give the belt a tug when putting it on so it locks up. This is to make sure the reels lock up
  • Give the metal bit a wiggle when you click it in. This is to make sure it works

The Story Of The Car Part 11: Seat And Seat Belts

The Mirrors:
Car side or wing mirror showing large lorry

Before moving off always ensure all mirrors are clean and adjusted to give you the best view of the road behind. It is important to do this before every journey, as your mirrors could have been knocked whilst you were away from the car.

Once you are in your usual driving position adjust the mirrors to ensure:

  • You require the minimum amount of head movement to get a good view of the traffic behind you
  • The interior mirror is adjusted to get the best possible view through the back window, especially to the offside
  • The exterior mirrors give you the best possible view of behind your vehicle (the side of your vehicle should only just be visible

Anti Dazzle Mirrors

  • The interior mirror usually has an anti dazzle position
  • When driving at night the mirror position can be altered to prevent the lights on the cars behind you from dazzling or distracting you
  • Always remember to return the mirror into the normal position

Other points to consider:

  • Do not adjust mirrors whilst driving
  • When adjusting mirrors grip them at the edges to avoid fingerprints on the reflective surfaces, as this can distort and blur the view
  • Check position of exterior mirrors after exiting a car wash
  • Keep your mirrors clean
  • In bad weather check exterior mirrors are clear of frost or condensation before moving off

The Story Of The Car Part 7: Mirrors

At the end of this session you should know how to:

  • Get in and out of your car safely
  • Set the seat up so you can comfortably use the controls
  • Know how to adjust the mirrors

Remember a lot of this will make more sense when your instructor goes over it with you.

Further Reading:
The Highway Code Rule(s): 97, 99

Driving The Essential Skills: Section(s) 3-5


What’s in the driving syllabus?

Click on a topic below to get started.
Please note this syllabus should be used with a professional driving instructor.


Cockpit Drill

Safety Checks

Controls and Instruments
Moving Away and Stopping
Safe Position
Mirrors Vision and Use
Anticipation and Planning
Use of Speed
Other Traffic
Dual Carriageway
Motorway Driving
Country Roads
Pedestrian Crossings
Turning the Vehicle Around
Emergency Stop
Independent Drive
Fuel-Efficient Driving
Passengers and Loads