by Liz Walter
Driving is a common activity with a very specific set of vocabulary, including a surprising number of phrasal verbs. It is also one of those areas where there are a lot of differences between British and American English. For instance, the glass window at the front of the vehicle is a windscreen (UK)/windshield (US), the place where you put your luggage is the boot (UK)/trunk (US), and the cover over the engine is the bonnet (UK)/hood (US).
When you get into a car, you fasten your seat belt and start the engine by turning/switching on the ignition. Most cars in the US are automatic, whereas in Britain most people still drive manual cars where you have to change gear (UK)/shift gears (US) using the gear lever (UK)/gearshift (US). You start driving in first gear and stay in a low gear until you start to drive faster. Then you move to a higher gear. Before changing gear, you press the clutch (the pedal on the left-hand side that you operate with your foot). It is important to let the clutch out gently, otherwise you can stall the engine (make it stop working).
To go faster, you press the accelerator. This causes the car to accelerate or, more informally, speed up. In order to slow down or decelerate you need to press the brake. Brake is also a verb, and is commonly used in the phrases brake gently or brake sharply (very suddenly). At junctions (places where two or more roads meet – usually called intersections in the US) or when you stop completely, you need to put on the handbrake (UK)/pull the emergency brake (US).
Wide roads such as motorways (UK)/highways (US) usually have two or more lanes. The inside lane or slow lane is where you drive until you need to overtake (UK)/pass (US) (go past) another vehicle. Then you pull out, moving into the middle lane or the outside/fast lane, first looking in the rear view mirror. When you have passed the other vehicle, you pull in again.
When you want to turn left or right, you indicate (UK)/signal (US), using the indicator (UK)/turn signal (US). When you drive backwards, you reverse. For example, you might reverse into a parking space.
There are many more specific words connected with vehicles and their parts, but I hope that this selection is useful. Do feel free to suggest others!