Car Won’t Go in a Straight Line? New Driver Tutorial

Driving In A Straight Line

Question about driving in a straight line.

I’m a very new driver, just starting out (in my adult years). Very disconcerting is the fact that despite all my attempts to adjust the movement of the car by turning the wheel, the car still drifts from side to side.

My instructors from the school I’m registered in have been impatient with me over this from the very beginning, and I’ve become frustrated as well.

I’m in despair over my inability to keep the car in a straight line, and both instructors I’ve worked with have implied or directly stated that I shouldn’t be driving. I refuse to accept this as there must be some way I can solve this problem.

And while doing this I also have to observe what is close at hand, so that I get all flustered and start doing one thing after another that is wrong. I turn the wheel the way they tell me and they insist that I’m not doing it. No, I am not crazy, but I am in despair over this because I do want to learn. I would love to set up a dialogue with someone.

I watched YouTube videos over this problem, and they all advise one to keep looking as far forward as possible. If such is the case, why haven’t my instructors ever mentioned this to me or advised me to do this?

Please, let me hear from someone who is really knowledgeable on this particular subject, for I am really anxious to both learn and succeed in passing my road test and getting my license. Thank you.

How to Drive in a Straight Line? It’s a Good Question

Yes, cars that won’t go in a straight line is a real thing. Okay, I’m going to skip the wheel alignment jokes. Do not despair! This is quite a typical problem for new drivers. If you’ve never driven a vehicle in a straight line before in your life, then how would you know what to do? Sometimes things that seem like they should be easy actually aren’t. Do not worry about it.

Firstly good on you to decide to learn how to drive. I do think it is very strange your instructors didn’t mention to look far ahead. This is one of the most important, fundamental, and first skills you need for great driving.

Not all instructors are created equal. If you can, get another one until you feel you found one that is patient and knowledgeable. Ask them how much experience they have.

I must admit, when I was a new driving instructor, I was pretty terrible. It takes a lot of experience (years) to become a good driving instructor, too.

Is your main problem that the car won’t go in a straight line? 

Driving In A Straight Line: Seat & Steering Wheel

Did you discuss your seating and steering wheel position with your instructors? That is so important for controlling the vehicle properly. 

Driving In A Straight Line: Your Seat Position

If you are sitting in the drivers seat and put your right foot flat onto the floor beneath the brake pedal, you want your knee to still be slightly bent. This is to make sure you’ll be able to press the brake all the way when need be.

Dead Pedal

Dead Pedal foot position can help you to drive in a straight line

driving in a straight line
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The dead pedal is not really dead. Don’t worry about it.
standard vehicle pedals
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When driving, it’s recommended to put your left foot onto the “dead pedal” or if there isn’t one, where it would be. This helps brace you and helps control the vehicle smoothly. 

Your Steering Wheel

steering wheel with arms
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You don’t want to be too close to the steering wheel either. If you grab the wheel at 9 and 3:00, you want your elbows to be slightly bent. 

You want to try and relax when you’re driving. It’s difficult when you’re new, but try to tell your body to relax. If you are grabbing the steering wheel with a kind of a death grip then it’s probably not going to be very smooth. The steering wheel is just for steering, not for ‘hanging on for dear life’ (it happens) …

Where are you looking

Of course, look far ahead at where you want to go. This will aim the car. The car will tend to go where you look. If you look at a parked car, you’ll drive towards it.

So we don’t want to drive by avoidance… like ‘don’t hit that… don’t hit that …. don’t hit that …’ your car would zigzag. It’s better to look where you want to go and then go there.

Of course you need to keep your eyes moving and see other stuff as well. We don’t want you staring at the pavement in front of your front bumper … as many new drivers tend to do. (Well, you have to look at the ground when you’re hiking in the woods right, so it seems tempting to do it) driving is a little different, a skill that takes a lot of practice.

The pavement just sits there, it’s not going to jump up at you and hit you in the face. Of course it’s good to notice potholes and things you don’t want to drive on but generally we want to look far ahead, as far as you can possibly see.

If you look far far far ahead, you will still be able to see the stuff that is closer in front of you, right?

It’s good to know what’s going on up ahead as well (are there any issues or construction… etc) because you are probably going to be there soon, and it’s helpful if you see a problem, or closed road or something.

But this does aim your car and should help you go in a nice straight line.

Less of this…

straight line low aim steering
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More of this…

look far ahead when driving straight line
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So in short, I would recommend these

  • Adjust seat properly
  • Adjust steering wheel properly
  • Have a good firm but gentle and relaxed grip on the steering wheel (if that made any sense)
  • Put left foot on the dead pedal while driving
  • Try to relax your body
  • Remember to breathe
  • And then look far ahead
  • Did I miss anything Paul ?

It takes a while to learn driving. Every time you go you will get a little more experience. It all adds up. You will get it.


Driving in a straight line isn’t always easy for a new driver. It’s often times a combination of things that contribute to the squiggliness. Seat position is important, and so is relaxing your muscles so that you can use them to control the car smoothly.

The other thing has to do with looking where you want to go and then going there. This is better than driving by avoidance, which usually will end up looking like a zig-zag pattern. If you’re having problems with this, just keep practicing. You will get it.

By the way, how are your turns? If you need help with correcting improper turns, such as wide turns, or cutting the corner, read this.

Read more:

Carmen Cohoe

Carmen became a driving instructor in beautiful North Vancouver at the age of 22 due to some crazy people who agreed to hire her. After that, there was never a dull moment teaching many different folks from many different places how to drive using automatic and standard vehicles and a minivan.

7 thoughts on “Car Won’t Go in a Straight Line? New Driver Tutorial

  • William Zucker

    Paul, an update of sorts:

    After reading through several driving instruction sites on line, I came to the very logical conclusion that the only way I will ever learn, myself as a dead beginner, who has had no real experience in driving a car, is to start in an open area, entirely off street and free of traffic. This was not offered to me at the school where I attempted lessons. So I have come to the sad reality that in order to get this instruction with a proper foundation, with full cockpit training, so to speak, I as a resident of New York City will have to commute to the suburbs to get this proper training.
    I see no other way to do this. I am also advised to call the school to explain my actual needs before even making the trip, so if necessary I can call school after school and make the necessary inquiries.

    I saw on line a school advertising that its driving instruction is given by police officers! Sounds totally ideal to me, but unfortunately it is located in a part of the USA nowhere near me.

    • Paul

      Hi – in case you check back in on this post again, a word of encouragement from me, another new driver. I just got my license less than a year ago, a few months before my 40th birthday. When I was taking lessons I was still weaving around on the road in the same way as you’re describing, and this lessened as time went by. I still find myself veering off on occasion when I get nervous about something (but now know how to recognize this and correct for it.

      I found learning on (comparatively) suburban streets was really helpful in getting over the initial nerves, and then the learning curve of driving in the city on my own was easier to adjust to once I had the initial skills.

      The point is — this is hard, but worthwhile, and you’ll get there. We all go through this in learning.

  • Waldo

    Look where you want to go. I couldn’t agree more.

    I have a different answer that is, at the same time, the same answer. Another reason for veering off to one side is ‘fixating’ on somewhere that is not where you want to go, like the curb, the parked car, or the speedometer. Looking at something else too long throws you off course.

      • William Zucker

        I absolutely agree. Moreover, every driving school should stress this to a learner. Mine did not, and this greatly discouraged me.

        Moreover, for someone who to all intents and purposes has never driven to any great extent, he/she should not be learning to drive on a public street that has any sort of traffic, no matter how light, as along with this very light traffic there will always be pedestrians and parked cars. This initial training by all odds should be in an off street area of some sort. I have to find some driving school that takes all these points into consideration, as mine did not, as I have already indicated.

  • William Zucker

    Paul, none of this was explained to me. As for losing patience with a student, I personally have had a lesson cut short midway through, at the half hour mark, but in reading reviews, I encountered a horror story where an instructor actually terminated a lesson after ONE MINUTE!

    As I had explained to Carmen by email, the school I was with terminated my lessons, and gave me a full refund even for the lessons I had taken, claiming that I shouldn’t be driving. I did get credit for the 5 hour course I had taken and that was not refunded, as it should not have been. Very ethical on their part, but at the same time very demoralizing. I have been checking other schools, but virtually every one in my immediate vicinity has had one or two bad reviews, amongst many good ones. But the important basic material and pointers that an entirely new driver, a dead beginner such as myself, was not given to me, and without basic instruction in the rudimentary and elementary material – without such – of course I should not be driving. If all driving schools take such an approach, how will I ever learn? My friends who drive are very understandably reluctant to allow me to practice or learn on their car. How is one supposed to surmount this problem? Are there driver education courses for adults?

    I will just finish off by saying that of all those things that you just mentioned in your last comment, NONE of them were ever mentioned to me by either of my instructors. Did they expect me to know about any of this beforehand? Pretty unrealistic, I would think. Do most people who go to driving schools first have someone teach them outside, a family member or whatever, then go to the school to hone up on their skills or whatever they already acquired, to enable them to prepare for the road test?

    In my case, even though I did not have this initial advantage, I did not enter into it casually either, as I wanted the ability to drive, not only because many of my friends are able to, but also that mass transit has failed me in a number of instances, badly so, and there were situations where the ability to drive would have been very helpful.

    In registering at another driving school, I have an slight advantage, based on my experience so far, to inform the people working there of my experience, and what I am looking for and what I’m not. This hopefully will stave off at least some of the problems that I encountered this time around.

    Your further comments (yours or Carmen’s) are always welcome. I could use whatever support you can provide, and this will always be appreciated.

  • Well you’re absolutely right when you say that not all instructors are created equal! And for an instructor to lose patience with a student is unacceptable – they’re paying to be taught a skill and it’s up to the instructor to realize how to analyze and correct their errors.

    It seems to me that this person hasn’t had the blind zone around their vehicle (and how it relates to steering and aiming the vehicle) properly explained to them. Nor have they been effectively taught where they need to look, and this applies both to steering straight and making turns, as we know.

    Once their visual tracking errors have been conquered, the other driving skills will be easily acquired; but this cannot happen until they have learned how to aim the vehicle and keep it in the correct place on the road.

    Paul (CDBC)

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