L plates a red flag to idiots

23:37, Apr 01 2014

The first born has exposed me to a new vantage point from which to witness the dark side of human behaviour.

All you have to do is put L plates on the windscreens, and the motoring public goes feral.

I know bad and inconsiderate drivers are always there. Some days, any one of us is given cause to complain about the unexpected chances taken by others.

I sometimes wonder if my car is actually invisible, and take precautions accordingly.

But this level of defensiveness did little to prepare me for the behaviour of drivers who spot an L plate.

I had rather hoped the label might alert people to the fact that there was, indeed, a learner driver behind the wheel, and that a measure of patience and courtesy might be extended.


Surely, that is their purpose, and other drivers should know to back off a little, to ensure beginners' mistakes do not lead to accidental collisions.

But no. L plates make your car a target, no matter who is driving.

Never before have I been so intimidated by tail-gaters.

So anxious are the bullies to show you who is king of the road, they will overtake in dangerous places. They will undertake, for goodness sake.

There I am, trying to teach my trainee the importance of turning right into a right hand lane, when some clown sweeps around behind him, directly into the left hand lane, clearly incensed by a moment's caution pulling away from the lights.

Another idiot decided to completely ignore a stop sign and sway around the corner in his determination to alarm the tentative driver, who was taking a moment to ensure it was all clear to make a right turn.

"Don't let jerks scare you!" I exclaimed as the offending vehicle rocketed past. It was not the most helpful advice.

I have found it challenging to say the right things.

What I really wanted to say was something like, you are doing the right things, the other driver has seen you and is planning to avoid you, and do not be alarmed into making a mistake.

But driving tutors do not have time to say so much.

Never before have I been so aware of the need to use simple, direct and clear instructions.

Slow down. Indicate. Change down. Prepare to stop. Stop. Check both ways. Go now.

Any hint of hesitance is distressing.

It is a very bad thing to say "um".

Even worse, is "ah!"

It is bad to hold on to the seat, much less the dashboard.

It is bad to wring or wipe your hands, even if they are perspiring. It is bad to sit on them.

In fact, the ideal supervisor should probably be armless.

All it takes is time and patience to survive the early days of lurching around empty car parks, practising our stops and starts.

The first outings on the actual road are mutually frightening, but it has to be done.

We have now graduated on to complexities like hill starts, turning on the headlights, and finding the windscreen wiper controls.

We have even negotiated our first traffic jam, or rather, the chaos of the Railway Station car park after collecting my baby from the train on her first weekend home from university.

She found it alarming, but the trainee driver instinctively tagged along behind a taxi, somehow confident this role model would show correct behaviour and that he would share the respect other drivers afford taxis.

Also on that outing, we discovered the only thing more frightening for a learner driver than the bullies are other simply incompetent, inexperienced or lost drivers.

These drivers tend to slow down, indicate left, then suddenly execute U-turns in front of you.

"Back off," is the best advice I could come up with.

Followed, as the confused driver lurched to an awkward-angled stop against the kerb and the learner tried some egg-beater manoeuvre with the gear stick, by "stop watching what's going on behind you".

I am approaching the edge of my capacity to tutor as the challenge of braving the open road draws near.

On account of a recent 21st birthday, a clutch of proper driving lessons is available. It is time for professional help.

End notes:

During a city council meeting adjournment, the strategic communications manager catches up with the Manawatu Standard reporter in the link space outside the chamber.

The conversation innocently canvasses a range of activities and issues that are coming up.

One of them is a pending news release about a deal the council has worked with local plumbers to get free help to the elderly and low paid residents around the city who are having trouble getting their tap washers fixed.

It matters to the council, because it wants to encourage water conservation, and a leaky tap soon wastes many, many bathfuls of water.

Enter mayor Jono Naylor. "I can't tell you how nervous it makes me to see you two talking about leaks."

Manawatu Standard