Learning to drive (again) at 40

By Ben

I flew through my driving test on my seventeenth birthday and when I fronted up to renew the license on my 40th, I was rewarded with a half-price fee due to an ‘exemplary driving record’.  In twenty-three years, apart from a character-building trio of parking tickets at ANU in the 90s – I’ve not been booked for a single traffic infringement. Not one.

In the interests of full disclosure, I was pulled over once and given a caution for driving 10km over the speed limit in a 70 zone after dropping the kids at school. The police officer looked me up and down, frowned and asked if there was any reason why I was in such a hurry. I found it difficult to come up with one given I was wearing my pyjamas at the time, and not a good pair, either. In fact, not a pair…

He let me off because of my aforementioned perfect driving record – which had been punctuated only by the odd 5km/hour bingle in my own driveway or a car park.

Here’s an inventory of those incidents:

  • With a 6-month old baby screaming in the back seat, I drove my Holden Barina over the top of a horizontal post in the Canberra Centre multi-story, thinking it was a ‘drive through’ car park. It wasn’t. The car became perched on the log, wheels spinning. A young guy, his mother, my mum and I had to lift the car off the post with our bare hands – baby still screaming in the back.
  • I once backed out of my (overly steep) driveway and planted the tow-bar into my now ex-husband’s brand new ute.
  • Not long after, I backed out of the same driveway (which should never have been approved!), clipped the green waste bin and distributed grass clippings and vegetable debris all over the road.
  • Another time, I ripped the bumper bar clean off, reversing after I’d hooked it over a metal chain at Campbell Park offices. In my defence, it was my daughter’s first day at pre-school. I was blinded by tears, and said so to my colleagues as they took a big roll of packing tape out of the compactus and stuck the car back together with it.

Minor parking glitches aside (and surely everyone has a few of those?), in over two decades, I’ve held onto all of my demerit points with a vice-like grip! I take driving very seriously. I drive my kids around, and other people’s kids, and drive near kids.

Which is why I was so delighted to have been asked to write this ‘Back to Driving School’ story. Babar from the National Driving Academy was my guide and my teens were our back-seat drivers – eager to see if there was anything that their mum might improve upon. Anything at all. No matter how small. Even if we have to make something up or exaggerate it just for the sake of this story…

Well! Let’s just say that Babar did notice a couple of teensy, tiny issues. Before I’d even switched on the engine.

Then there was this lot:

  • I tend to rest my hand on the gear stick between changes, which is fine between first and second, but not so fine while cruising in fourth.
  • I don’t indicate when exiting a roundabout if going ‘straight through’ on the same road (which is apparently a ‘new’ rule since the 80s)
  • I use the brake and clutch in precisely the wrong order when slowing down
  • I don’t re-check my (wrongly adjusted) rear-view mirror after performing any manoeuvres (U-turns, turning corners, exiting roundabouts etc).
  • My hands are frequently in the wrong position on the steering wheel. (For example, at one stage one of them was in my lap.)
  • My habit of using the gears to decelerate rather than the brake (as taught to me by a driving instructor in 1989) means that people behind me have no idea that I’m slowing down. It’s a miracle I haven’t been rear-ended.
  • I almost pulled out in front of a car at an intersection while trying a revolutionary new Mirror/Indicator/Brake method and “the system of car control” (which other people probably do all the time).
  • I couldn’t seem to keep the damn thing under 50km/hr despite watching the speedo like a hawk.

Trust me, it’s quite challenging driving while concentrating on what you’re doing, rather than trusting auto-pilot while mentally running the ‘to do’ list or refereeing a back-seat brawl.

Babar said I did really well! He gave me loads of helpful suggestions and encouragement. He thinks I have good control overall and drive quite competently (particularly given the pressure of being watched by three people, in a strange car, while trying to remember details for this article).

I did well! Yay!! I couldn’t wait to tell my parents! Oh, wait – I’m not seventeen anymore…

Buoyed by his positive reinforcement, I asked him if I’d have passed a driving test with that performance and that’s when he delivered the disappointing news:

“No, I’d have failed you. I’d have encouraged you to have another go.”

I wanted to have another go then and there, but there were four teenagers lined up to have lessons after me, who may or may not be more deserving of his attention. I thanked him for all the tips and said I’d phone him in October when my eldest gets her L’s.

And boy, will I. Otherwise it will be me teaching her, and the last thing we need is her backing into bins and utes and over poles and chains and whatnot!

No, no – I want her learning from someone (qualified as an Accredited Driving Instructor), with the patience of a saint and a second brake and clutch in front of the passenger seat, who will show her every little step, set her on the right path from Day One and fail her as many times as it takes for her to be good enough…

Original article posted at Her Canberra

About Author

Emma Grey is the Canberra-based author of ‘Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum’ and Director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss. She writes, speaks and coaches on motherhood, career and relationships and ‘having it all’, while parenting a teen, a tween and a toddler. She blogs on life balance at www.worklifebliss.com.au. A free eBook on the 7 Types of Busy is available on her website.


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