Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Monday, 2 February 2009

New Tricks



You can't teach an old dog new tricks - or so the cliche goes. Actually you can.

I learned some new tricks today at a driver training program. As I drive about 15000km per year for work, most of it at high speed on indifferent rural roads, I thought that it might be a good idea to update my skills knowledge and attitude, as there is a degree of physical risk involved.

So far the worst that's happened on the job are a number of encounters with wildlife. The hairiest encounter was with a wallaby that I hit dead centre at 100kph between Cunnamulla and Charleville, so in four years I've probably been a bit lucky. (The wallaby didn't survive - the car did - it had a roo bar which was moved sideways about 10cm).

The training started with a theory session which lasted about two hours. This covered situational awareness, vehicle preparation, driver attitude, commentary driving, positioning (the driver in the vehicle and the vehicle on the road), visual scanning, and dealing with emergencies. This was delivered in a manner which I found strangely familiar. Turned out the instructor was ex-army (Cavalry) and his well-organised no-nonsense delivery reflected that.

We then headed out of town, two students and one instructor per car, to participate in a two-hour practical session. This was very valuable. Initially the instructor sat beside the student driver and picked the eyes out of your driving habits. I got my licence in 1964, so have had plenty of time to develop some bad habits. One of them was to drive to close to the vehicle in front in suburban traffic (they stipulate one car length per 10kph which is very conservative). The gap you leave is invariably filled quickly, but you live with that.

On a gravel surface we practised panic braking which demonstrated the effectiveness of the ABR system. I've owned five vehicles with this feature over the years, and have never had to use it in anger, but it was great to understand how it helps in an emergency. Modern vehicles (this was a Commodore Omega) are very safe given ABR and electronic stability systems, although the instructor disabled the ESP for the purposes of the braking exercise.

It was interesting that the techniques about visual scanning that I was taught forty years ago in Infantry Corps training were repeated today.

The only downside to the exercise was being thrown around like a sack of spuds in the back seat of the Commodore whilst the other student went through his training. Carsickness was a real possibility.

By the way, the advice if you encounter hopping creatures is to brake, but not to swerve. If a collision is inevitable, you're advised to get off the brake at the last moment, so that the nose of the car rises making a roo through the windscreen less likely.

I'm not sure that this technique would spring to mind in the middle of a phenomenal avoidance. I hope I don't find out the hard way.

1 comment:

Boy on a bike said...

I put all my staff (including me) through this a few years ago. We took our own cars, and did it on part of a race track. It covered everything yours did, and it was invaluable. I still drive like I did the course yesterday.

We were taught about tyre pressures in the theory class, and when we went to check them, a saleswoman from TipTop Bakeries found that the tyres on her company provided Falcon were really flat.

Her comment was, "I'll have to get the garage to change them".

It never occured to her to pump them up! We did a brake test, and her car slid so far on the flat tyres, she came within an inch of going off the back of the track and into a ditch. We pulled up in a matter of metres - she was still going strong after about 100 metres.

I still use that old infantry scanning technique when I walk down the street - it drives me nuts when I see people wandering along with their head up their bum, walking into other pedestrians because they are failing to pay attention to where they are going. However, I find that after 20 years, I can't stop scanning the trees for snipers!

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