Monday, June 18, 2007

Driving

I got my drivers licence when I was 19 years old – I think – I say that because I don’t think I was one of those who rushed out when I turned 18 and got it straight away. For starters, I didn’t have a car, secondly, the whole process of learning to drive was a terrible ordeal. I can’t remember Dad taking me out for lessons, I do remember what a terrible passenger my mother was, so sitting next to her whilst she was trying to teach me was close to a fate worse than death. I clearly remember, one time, after I’d had my licence for a few years and was driving her somewhere, pulling up the car throwing her the keys and telling her to drive herself.

Now I have three of my kids with licences and I have some sympathy for my mother. Son number one’s first lesson was in a new housing estate at Narooma one Christmas and the very first time he turned the engine on with the steering wheel on full lock, lifted the clutch and spun the wheels in the gravel shoulder, catapulting us straight towards a ditch and barbed wire fence, forcing me to yank on the hand break, I knew it was going to be an experience.

I visited the US back in 1991 and on the way home in the car my youngest gave me a running commentary on where her brother had nearly run off the road because he was talking, or looking at his watch, or adjusting the rearview mirror. None of that was too bad, but then she said, “And that’s where he nearly ran over Evan Higgins”, a neighbours kid who in trying to cross the road had waved to my son. Unfortunately he felt the obligation to wave back and in taking one hand off the wheel forgot to straighten it as he came around the corner, veering directly at the kid who was trying to be friendly.

I wasn’t that great a driver when I look back. Like most I did some stupid things like the time I got Mum’s HT Holden up to 100 miles an hour on a country road near Corowa one Christmas.

When I joined the police force I had to do a number of specialist driving courses and it was only then that I actually learnt how to drive defensively, but at speed and safely. The best course I did was just before Pope John Paul II was visiting the State and I was chosen as one of the drivers for the visit. We learnt all sorts of fun stuff like hand break turns and reverse 180’s, stuff that at the time gave you a great deal of confidence in your own ability.

But, I’ve also learnt that it is a skill that needs to be practiced and we often lapse into lazy bad habits when we drive. How many of us, have drifted off on occasions, gone into auto pilot only to wake up and wonder what happened over the last few seconds. Dangerous things that need only a little tilt of the X factor to end in disaster. I’ve had my share of near misses, nearly got cleaned up by a Semi trailer one day when it crept over double lines onto my side of the road. I have been t-boned once by a bloke who was reading a Melways [which is a Melbourne Street Directory] balanced on his steering wheel at the time. It was his bad luck that the car I was driving and the one he hit was full of five uniformed coppers, all of whom fortunately, were able to walk away from the car with a few minor cuts and bruises.

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