Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Learning to Drive

Every morning on my way to work, I pass a line of cars waiting outside the AA Driver Testing Centre. Sweaty, nervous teenagers, hair brushed for the occasion, fretty Mums drilling them on the give-way rule. I always give them a smile as I well remember those days of learning to control 2 tonnes of metal whilst trying to look super cool.
In New Zealand you are allowed to sit your Learner's license at the age of 15 (the Road Code is a popular birthday present). You must pass a theory test to do so. The questions are somewhat easy. Green light means what? kind of thing. Then, you are allowed to be taught to drive by an adult. Once you pass a practical driving test with an instructor (see nervous sweaty teenagers above) you are then on your Restricted license for about a year (no driving at night, no passengers) and graduate to a Full license after that. Theoretically, you could be on a full license by your 16th birthday, which, now that I am 32, seems insane.
However. The transition from theoretical learning about driving, and actually driving a car has to be one of the most stressful times for a parent/child relationship. Some background.
My father is a sales rep, and spends 90% of his time on the road. He can drive from Napier to Taupo with his eyes closed. He knows all the secret passing lanes, the best roadside cafes, how to unplug a speedometer, and all the hand signals to convey to other drivers that he is the best driver on the road, and they should therefore get out of his way.
My mother forgets that her car has six gears and often will not get out of second. She rolls through stop signs, brakes with such force as to give you whiplash and will sit at an intersection with a queue behind her trying to remember where she wants to turn.

Is it any wonder they divorced?

Having these two teach me and my sister to drive had its consequences.
Dad: 'Okay pull the clutch out slowly. Good. We're moving. Nowdon'tforgettocheckyourmirrorhowmanyrevslookoutforthatcarhe'sturningwhatgearisthis?LOOKOUTwhatareyoudoingTHERE'SACATpulloverI'MDRIVING.'

Mum: 'Okay go.' Silence. 'How do I go?' 'Just....go!' And so on.

It got to the point where I was so terrified to drive - I was a shocking bunny hopper, something that you don't get these days with all these automatics on the road - that I didn't drive a car anywhere for 6 months.

Then Mum met Colin. Nice, calm, car-nut Colin. He took me down to his daughter's horse paddock and sat me in his airplane carrier Rover. 'This is the brake. This is the accelerator. Practice going from one to the other very quickly in case of an accident'. Logical things like that. 'Let's try a hill start - on a flat piece of road. Listen to the engine. Take the clutch out - slowly! Hear the car start to strain? Let the handbrake off gently. Little bit of gas - you're off!'

After a few weeks I was reverse parallel parking on a hill and have never looked back. Although about 6 months later I backed up our driveway and slammed into his new 745 BMW, but that's another story.