Learn Driving How's Your Driving Skill?

Learn Driving...We never stop learning...

The writer at forty-one. Tom started driving in 1955 and is still driving at seventy-four.
The writer at forty-one. Tom started driving in 1955 and is still driving at seventy-four.

Most of us learn driving, but how's your driving skill?

Do you drive a car?

Well, I’ve got to tell you that none of you are as good as our American cousins. Over there they can all drive well. Not only that, they’re all above average drivers. Yep, survey done a few years back showed that 75% of American drivers reckoned they were above average. And of the remaining 25%, they were either excellent or outstanding, or exceptional. In America only 5% admitted to being ‘average.’ Oh, and the good old US of A has no ‘below average’ drivers. President Obama won’t allow ‘em.

Learning to drive manual was the only option. Automatics had yet to be invented.

Now, I know that you are above average. Just sense it. Can see how alert, how attentive you are. Some of you have your feet poised over that brake pedal right now- hoping It’ll stop.

Different for me. I recall when I kangarooed an almost brand new Austin A50 down my street back in 1955. There were no automatic transmissions in those days. Learning to drive manual was the only option. I was a pimply-faced nineteen and nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Car came from a driving school. Stalled that Austin four times before I got her into first gear. Couldn’t find second gear. Then I accidentally slipped it into reverse- at 30 mph.

Ever heard the sound of a gear box when you try that? Driving teacher nearly had apoplexy.

Austin A50 - I got my drivers licence in one of these in 1955.

My driving instructor was a cool as a crochet commentator

Had to admire my driving instructor. Cool as crotchet commentator. He never panicked. Just closed his eyes and handled these Rosary beads. Got through my test okay, after the driving teacher slipped a policeman a plain brown envelope.

Some drivers should never be released onto an unsuspecting public. Yes. I remember who proud I was as I scratched fenders, bumped into parked cars, and ran into cars in front of me which were going too slow.

But in 1958 I graduated to motor cycles.

First bike was a 1950 Triumph Speed Twin.  500cc.
First bike was a 1950 Triumph Speed Twin. 500cc.

Back in those days cars didn't have either brake lights or turn indicators

In those days most cars didn’t have stop lights or turn indicators. Turn and stop was done by way of a sort of semaphore. Reflexes. That’s what kept you alive. Any of you remember when buses had a sort of metal, mechanical arm which the driver would push out when leaving a bus stop? Trucks often had a broom handle with a wooden hand mounted on the end. You had to watch that wooden hand very carefully if you were riding a motor cycle.

Of course, motor cyclists wouldn’t be seen dead wearing a safety helmet. Although a lot of them were.

Second bike was a 1951 Triumph Thunderbird 650

I went even bigger, buying a 1955 700cc Royal Enfield Comet.  Yep. She could do about 120 mph...  I was a accident waiting to happen...and it did.   I gave up bikes in 1960.
I went even bigger, buying a 1955 700cc Royal Enfield Comet. Yep. She could do about 120 mph... I was a accident waiting to happen...and it did. I gave up bikes in 1960.

In a motor vehicle confrontation size does count

Ever heard the expression size doesn’t count. Don’t you believe it. Twice I was hit by bigger cars. First time I was on a motor bike when a Ford Pilot belted me.

Copper took me to hospital in his motor-bike and side car. True. Personal ambulance service. They used to drive Indians and Harleys. The Harleys must have won for I haven’t seen an Indian in a while. I’m talking about motor bikes.

In a second prang my old VW Beetle was shortened by a foot by Humber Super Snipe. Big cars Humbers. I felt quite vulnerable.

Then I started driving trucks.

Sorta truck I drove, except all mine were insulted ice-cream trucks.

I took on a truck driving job. Driving trucks is sorta different

Every driven a big vehicle? I’m talking large calibre. Not Landrovers or Landcruisers. Large trucks. Ever had a truck driving job?

I was fortunate in a way. By learning to drive manual from the outset it was simply a matter of going from three or four forward gear to eight!   I bought my first automatic transmission vehicle after I'd been driving manuals for twenty years.  Anyway...

You know you’re about to drive something big when you have to step up to it to get in. If you have to step up twice you’re getting into truck. If you step up three times you’ve probably got more rubber down on the road than a Jumbo Jet and are driving a White, a Mack, or Kenworth.

Then there’s that diesel donk. Goes forever. And you never turn ‘em off until you get home. ‘course, the noise is so bad you become tone deaf.

Driving trucks without power steering can result in a big blue vein in the forehead

Truck I had wasn’t that big. Bedford It just seemed that way. Flat-lying Steering wheel out here. No power steering. You developed a big blue vein in your forehead like Clint Eastwood just driving it. Eight forward gears. Air brakes. Hiss! Hiss! And a horn that sand-blasted paint work closer than ten feet. Bhoop!

Course, being a little fella I couldn’t touch the pedals. And I sort of used to look through the steering wheel. My driving teacher thought of everything. He told me to wear platform-heel boots so I could reach the clutch. The world owes a lot to the man or woman who's willing to be a driving instructor.

The bigger the truck, the more steps there are to climb up to the cabin.

In a truck driving job you have three dimensions to worry about

Truck driving instruction...

Now, driving a truck is not the same as driving a car. Everything is big. Also it’s a bit like flying an aircraft, really. You have three dimensions to worry about: length, width, and height. If you forget about height you get stuck under railway bridges and bring down shop awnings and traffic signals, and occasionally black out whole suburban areas as you bring down the overhead power lines.

Please don’t ask me how I know.

You can tell how long a truck is by the amount of dints you get in back at the loading docks. A judgement of width comes from the amount of outside mirrors you have knocked off or broken along Parramatta Road. Narrow traffic lanes, you see. The mirrors on either side stick out just a little bit wider than the width of each traffic lane. Two trucks together side by side and...

Don't ever fail to dip your headlights to an approaching truck

And trucks have powerful lights. Never play ‘dip your headlights first’ with a truckie. Some of those semi’s have twenty lights facing forward. And headlights that’ll melt bitumen at five hundred yards.

I remember when I went for my heavy-vehicle driver’s licence. That was 1973. Been driving eighteen years then. Thought I knew it all. I’m in the pilot’s seat with an experienced company man on my left. The drive into the city was fine. Then I come out wide on a corner, when- Whoa! Whoa!

Crash!

Maybe more truck driving instruction had been warranted...

In the truck there was just a little jolt. Thought I might have run over a gutter on the corner. As it it happened, it was a late model Mercedes Benz and a brand new Ford Falcon. Have you any idea how a Mercedes crumples under impact? I’d rammed the rear car onto the one in front. Demolished the Merc. Tore the whole side out of the Ford. Yep, maybe more truck driving instruction had been warranted.

Got out of it. Not my fault, they said. Cops maintained both vehicles were illegally parked, and too close to the corner. I wonder if their owners learned anything from that.

Yeah, did I learn a lot in the time I drove those delivery trucks. Three point turns, reversing around a corner, ‘double shuffle’ gear changes. Even found out about ‘Angel Gear.’ In ‘Angel you really do fly. Your simply knock her into neutral on a big, downward slope. 100 plus. No trouble. So much for engine regulators.

Backing from a busy highway into a narrow alley can be a challenge

I can recall one day coming down a real busy road in peak hour traffic.

I’m in the right hand lane but need to back into a driveway on my left. Got a delivery to make. Pumping the brakes, Tsish! Tsish! Tsigh! I pull up- to a chorus of honking horns. Into reverse. Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep. Cars scrambling away like sheep in the presence of a grizzly bear. Slowly I back into a narrow driveway.

Up the narrow driveway I go. Back. Back. I have about two inches of space between my mirrors and the walls on either side. I get through that. Now, there’s a fence on one side, a space to unload on the other. I pull of the hand brake and breath a sigh of relief. My legs are shaking.

A head pokes over the fence. A voice says,

“Great driving, son- wrong driveway! You should be in here.”

Well, I’m an average to middling driver. Got to admit it.

So you're after a truck driving job then a word or two on safety

Now, a word about safety. You’ve seen the sign. ‘If you can’t see my mirrors I can’t see you.’ That’s dinkum. Never try passing a big rig whilst it’s making a turn. Be very careful around trucks when the roads wet. Because when the roads are wet the chances are a truck-driver’s outside mirrors are fogged up. Also remember that if your right alongside a high truck, right under his wing, so to speak, he probably cant see you.

Your ordinary driving teacher might not tell you about these things. In truck driving instruction you'll probably be told.

Be aware that when a big truck has to brake suddenly he could be carrying a load which will shift. Steel. Or rolls of newsprint, for example. Many years ago I saw a Mini minor try to beat a truck at the traffic lights. The Mini was making a right and turn. Down the slope, heading east on a wet road came a semi loaded with three tiers of forty-four gallon drums. The semi driver braked. The load shifted. I could see the steering wheel spinning through the driver’s hands like a ship’s wheel in a gale.

Now, I know you're an above average driver

Needless to say the Mini did not make it. It ended being about a foot wide, wedged between the truck and the wall of a pub.

So, my fellow drivers. I know that you are all ‘above average’ drivers.

But do take care. For there are a few fellows like me out there. You know- the average driver. Make allowances for us. It could save your life.

 

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