Car Choices: Is driver training a must-do?
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Car Choices Part 10: Throughout our Car Choices series, we’ve looked at buying, insuring, servicing and getting warrants for your vehicle - but the reality is that not a great deal of drivers spend any extra on themselves or their own driving abilities – that’s clearly evidenced by the lack of driver awareness, courtesy and skills we see every minute of every day, and, sadly, it’s also reflected in the number of road deaths.
While the number of drivers and cars increases every year, basic maths suggest road deaths should also proportionately increase, but these are thankfully offset by improved roads and car safety for crash mitigation and driver protection. But the largest decreases of not just deaths, but crashes in general, stand to decrease if a larger percentage of drivers improved their driving.
So it’s a somewhat misleading Car Choices part this time, but the message and answer is clear: should you do supplementary, defensive or advanced driver training? Yes, yes and yes.
Put simply, the NZTA licensing system in New Zealand is relatively easy and therefore horribly flawed by allowing low skilled drivers on the roads – that’s not to say inexperienced shuldn’t be allowed to drive and learn, but an increased level of basic driver training along with a refinement and enforcement of basic road rules is sorely lacking. But that’s a story for another time.
Let’s face it, getting a driver’s licence is not that difficult. Once you’re 16 years old, and have passed an eye test, from the 35 question theory test, if you answer 32 correct – 91.4 per cent – then you’re granted a learner’s permit and able to start driving, with a supervisor/instructor.
Some of the questions are barely related to driving, and some are so ambiguous, it becomes a lesson in learning the peculiar nuances of abstract rules rather than real-world driving scenarios; such as how many seconds is smoke legally allowed to emit from a car (it’s 10 seconds!), and how far can load extend beyond the front seat (true!). But once the test is passed, it’s time to grab the car key and start learning for real.
Naturally and understandingly, this is often a mum/dad or family member, but this is often cause for the inheritance of driving errors. From mis-use of roundabouts when it was taught to them, bad habits that may have crept in over the years, to those that may never have been corrected, while parental driver training is good for building driver confidence and basics, professional help and guidance should be sought for some initial building blocks of basics, and semi-regularly for the first few months/year of driving.
Through the learner period, we’d strongly recommend professional driver training with, for example, an AA driving instructor: time and budget might dictate the frequency, but once every month of two is our suggestion, as a refresher and confidence and skill booster. Even a few times during the learner driver period could help establish some good driving habits: from simple things like positioning the car behind another in traffic and at intersections, to seat and mirror adjustment,
traffic and speed monitoring and situational awareness. A good teacher here is paramount for a foundation of good driving, as is the driver’s attitude towards being a better, safer driver.
Within six months of obtaining a learner’s licence, a 16.5 year-old can apply for a restricted licence, and around this time, we’d strongly recommend a defensive driving course, such as a ‘Level 1’ course run by Downforce Training, which teaches the basics of braking to avoid accidents and learn basics of crash avoidance. Street Smart’s driver training program also offers a similar experience and teaches life lessons and attitude, as much as practical skills.
This should be a mandatory part of any young driver’s learning and equips a driver with good habits, practices and life skills that could prevent crashes and injury throughout their driving career, and pass down through generations. And after a year or two on the road, there are further courses such as Level 2 and advanced courses, all the way up to track/racing tuition by racecar drivers.
Of course road rules change and evolve – such as the T-junction rule change of March, 2012, and the change to indicating when entering a roundabout only when turning left or right, introduced in 2005 – 15 years ago! But still, in 2020, there’s still a strong percentage of traffic (and we’ve witnessed police, ambulances and even driving school cars!) that still incorrectly indicate when entering a roundabout, causing confusion and aggravation.
Then there’s the possibly the most ignored road rule, keeping left unless overtaking. Sadly, the NZTA doesn’t even stipulate this as a rule! NZ Road Code states: “Where there are two or more lanes on your side of the centre line: keep in the left-hand lane as much as you can”. And there’s the ridiculous loop hole, that it’s a guide or suggestion, not actually a rule to keep left. In Australia, for example, this is a hard rule for roads above 80km/h and attracts fines and demerit points.
Getting professional tuition isn’t an attack of a driver’s skills or suggestion the driver is bad. Whatever the age, from learners to adults, driver training is a fantastic example of having the right attitude, never being too old to learn and wanting to be better, and to pass down better driving standards to future generations.
So yes, seek professional driving tuition, from basic learning to defensive and advanced techniques. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt from 2020, is that viruses spread, and if one driver can spread good driving practices to family and friends, then those good skills stand a chance at spreading across our NZ roads.
So to deal with the ‘choices’ component of our series, when ‘shouldn’t’ you take part in organised driver training? If your surname is Murphy, McLaughlin or Blomqvist, and/or your parent’s got a few motor racing trophies stashed somewhere and one day offers to teach you how to be a better driver, that’s perfectly fine example of when to keep it all in the family.