By Cameron Graham.
A few weeks ago my son Charles (aged 19) and I did the AAMI Skilled Driver Course. It was a bit weird for me because I was the only 40+ participant. The rest were between 18 and 23. Charles has his green Ps and I regard him as a fairly good driver. Given that he logged almost all his 100 hours in his Ls with me I like to think I have something to do with this. He beats me on the go cart track but I wanted him to experience what his car can and can’t do on the road. I also wanted him to test his reflexes and to get a feel for how his car will respond under extreme braking and cornering.
The course started ominously. We parked our cars in a parking lot and then walked across the road to, you guessed it, a classroom. There were groans all around, including from me. The instructor was probably 10 years older than me, but he had a quiet intensity about him. His name was John. He asked a few questions and within a few minutes he had established a pretty good rapport with the kids. A short time later the other instructor entered and handed us each a slip of paper. She had measured the tyre pressure on each of our cars. Fortunately, Charles and I had stopped by a service station on the way and put some air in our tyres so we ‘passed’. Others were a bit embarrassed that they did not.
“He then dropped a bombshell. John told us that if your tyres are too worn and you are in an accident then your insurer is entitled to deny you indemnity under your insurance policy”
We then spent the next few minutes talking about tyre pressures and how tyres wear more quickly when they are over or under inflated. There were some dumbfounded faces and I must admit that I had no idea of the impact tyre pressures has. John then showed us some badly worn tyres and we talked about the importance of wheel alignment and its impact on tyre wear. He then dropped a bombshell. John told us that if your tyres are too worn and you are in an accident then your insurer is entitled to deny you indemnity under your insurance policy. Insurance companies read police reports regarding accidents and police make a point of inspecting the tyres of cars involved in accidents. Scary thought. John certainly had our attention now.
After a morning tea break John asked us about what we thought were the biggest contributors to accidents. There was heaps of discussion and John was furiously writing notes on a white board. You could tell that John was experienced at getting kids to talk. Even Charles, who had probably groaned loudest and longest at the classroom setting, made a few comments. I tried to keep my mouth shut and let the kids do the talking. Anyway, after about 15 minutes John has distilled the major causes of accidents into three main factors – speed, tailgating and distractions. Now comes the fun part – we get to do some driving.
“The instructor was grinning and I did my best to hide my smirk by feigning a cough. The two girls in the back seat with me had turned a bit pale”
There were two instructors so we split up into two groups. We all took turns driving our own cars and when we were not driving we were crammed in the back seat of the driver’s car. We started off swerving through cones. Charles volunteered to go first. I think he regretted doing so afterwards. He was awful. Swerving through cones at 40 km/h was crazy. He took the first one too wide and could not correct for the second or third and finished up off the course. The instructor was grinning and I did my best to hide my smirk by feigning a cough. The two girls in the back seat with me had turned a bit pale. After a brief chat Charles did it again but at 30 km/h. He handled the car much better this time and did not hit a single cone.
My turn next and at 40 km/h I tried really hard but hit two or three cones and the girls in the back were turning green. Charles was laughing and I laughed with him. It was unbelievably hard because the cones were quite close together. 30 km/h was much easier so the first lesson was learned. Less speed means more control. The two girls each had turns as well. They were both pretty good drivers but at 40 km/h we had all been set up to fail.
“The driver hit the brakes and she skidded through the cones. Her car was an older model and we all looked at John – no ABS? He just smiled. Note to self – make sure kids drive a car with ABS”
The next exercise was high speed cornering. Accelerating to 50 km/h and then a tight left hand turn. I was first this time. It was a white knuckle ride and somehow I managed to keep within the cones which were placed to either side to simulate a lane. The girls and Charles were in the back and I am glad that John insisted on everyone wearing seat belts. Surprisingly everyone managed to avoid the cones this time. One of the girls drives a manual car and after the corner I noticed that her left hand was still on the gear stick. Unbelievable! She had made the turn one handed without even realising it. Charles was shaking his head and I think he had just acquired a little more respect for that girl. We did the same corner at 40 km/h and 30 km/h and we all agreed that speed was important.
Next up was the emergency stop, which was intended to simulate travelling too close behind the car in front. We had to drive at 40 km/h and then as John shouted “stop” we had to pull up as quickly as possible. One of the girls went first this time. She drove a brand new Ford Focus. It had all the extras including ABS brakes. But even they weren’t enough to help her stop in time. She ploughed through the cones and she blushed bright red. Next time at the same speed John yelled “stop” about 10m earlier and she easily brought the car to a stop before the cones. The third time was even easier at a further 10m back. We all had our turns. Charles was amazing and managed to stop before the cones on his first run. I knew his reflexes were pretty good. John was impressed. The ABS sure made a big difference. It prevents the wheels from locking up. As we watched the other group the driver hit the brakes and she skidded through the cones. Her car was an older model and we all looked at John – no ABS? He just smiled. Note to self – make sure kids drive a car with ABS.
“We watched a short video to reinforce the lessons we had learned. There was no mistaking the serious looks on those kids faces. They had learned some valuable lessons”
The last exercise was to demonstrate being distracted. We were to drive at 40 km/h and then John would yell “left” or “right” and we had to turn the direction he yelled. One of the girls was first and she smashed into the cones because John deliberately called out “right” too late. The second and third time through John called out earlier and she made the turn easily. Charles was no better on the first run through. My turn was last and I was determined to avoid the cones. A wall of cones was looming ahead – I guessed left and turned just as he said it and I missed all the cones. I readily admitted that I cheated because there was no way that I could have reacted in time. Anyway, the point was made. If you are distracted and then bring your attention back to the road it is often too late to avoid a collision.
The driving part was over and we headed back to the classroom. We watched a short video to reinforce the lessons we had learned. There was no mistaking the serious looks on those kids faces. They had learned some valuable lessons.
Charles and I chatted a bit on the way home. He was unusually talkative and I got the distinct impression that he would take driving a little more seriously from now on. Fingers crossed.
- 33% of all drivers between 18 and 24 have had an accident in the last 5 years that they think could have been avoided.
- 50% of young drivers admit to sending or reading a text message while driving (national average is 31%)
- Only 20% of young drivers said that they felt confident of their driving ability when they first started driving on their own.
Charles and Cameron undertook the AAMI Skilled Driver Course as guests of AAMI. The course is for people under 25, and it’s free if the participant, their parents or grandparents have a comprehensive motor insurance policy with AAMI, otherwise there is a fee of $190.
There are other courses throughout Australia for drivers under 25. Search online under “safe driving courses” or “defensive driving courses”. Expect to pay $150-$350 per person. Some organisations supply cars. In some states, some courses can count towards the required number of logbook hours for L-plate drivers.