Thursday, 30 June 2011

Experience Counts

I take for granted the amount of years I have been on the road and the "6th Sense" I have gained from it. In all, I have been driving a car for about 28 years. 

When I started driving I was a walking (well driving) disaster zone - a one man wrecking ball of a driver. In my first year of driving I had 5 accidents - all of them reasonably large. One time, they had yet to complete the repairs from a previous crash (they had yet to put on a new bonnet ornament) when I crashed the car again, this time all down the left hand side whilst overtaking a caravan (sadly I had failed to notice that the car pulling the caravan was turning right as I was overtaking it). My main problem was driving at normal speed - if I was racing my mind was fully focused on the job and I never crashed - it was when I was idling along (well as much as a 17 year old boy considers to be idling) then I had crashes (yes I consider overtaking a car pulling a caravan as idling along).

As an aside here I would like to thank my father for keeping me mobile, by fixing the car each time I crashed it and having the patience of a Saint when dealing with his errant son (I would not have that kind of patience with my boys). Eventually I "wrote the car off" on my 5th attempt. 

My dad then bought me  a 1.3 slightly knackered Opel which I then had to really learn to drive in (the insurers had lost patience with me and were not going to allow me back into the newer and more powerful cars I had been driving). In that Opel I learnt to eventually drive (though there were a number of close calls) two years later I got a new Peugot 205 GTi - quite the car for a young boy in the 80's.


After my first year of terror - I came up with a routine to go through before getting in the car - the routine didn't matter - but it made me think before I got in the car. Ever since then (so the last 26 years) I have only had one accident when a car turned in front of me - so the insurers agreed it was 100% his fault.


Over the past 26 years I have come to think I am fairly good at driving - not great but I am at least competent on the road. This has not come about from some great revelation in car handling (though a few days at race tracks has helped this) but more from learning what the other idiots on the road are probably going to do. You learn to get a sense from the posture of the car on the road and it's position of how it it is being driven and by whom. This "6th sense" - really it is nothing of the sort, it is just experience, I take it for granted now - it has enabled me to avoid many crashes and a majority of experienced drivers have the same experience and knowledge.


Today I was out with my son on our bikes - it was nothing major just a quick dash to the shops (1 mile) - I used the bikes to avoid the hassle of parking. Because my bike lock is at work I took my son along to hold the bikes whilst I went into the shop and also to get him to see the bike as a way of getting around sometimes, instead of Daddy Taxi. On our way home we were passing down a residential street with cars part at various intervals on either side of the road. A car was approaching us and I immediately sensed that this was a driver who stopped for no-one and who has no idea of what a sensible speed for a residential road is - my son saw this about two seconds later, and whilst I came to a gradual and controlled stop my son went skidding to a halt - fortunately he didn't go into the back of me or fall off in front of the car (it was not travelling at a speed where it could have stopped).


So where is all leading us? Well the reality is, although my son "knows" the rules of the road - he hasn't got the experience yet, he is 13. Today he saw first hand that he lacks experience, but at least now he knows this is the case (we had a chat about it at home). The sad truth is though, there are a lot of cyclist on the road without years of road experience either. 

I could have 5 crashes in my car - I was protected - but a cyclist maybe doesn't get those 5 strikes, he may be out on strike 1. Sadly many of these inexperienced cyclists are unaware that they are lacking this road sense. The main reason I believe for so many young moped drivers being killed and injured is from the same lack of experience. 

When I started riding again there were a number of technical issues, such as position on the road, when to move across a road, how to overtake etc. where I knew I was lacking in knowledge. I took the time to watch people who looked to be experiences cyclists to see how they dealt with various situations, these are practical cycling skills which I had to learn (at least I knew I had to learn them). This is separate from the road experience I am talking about now, and I don't believe many people who have not driven or cycled for a large number of years have this knowledge and to me that covers a lot of younger cyclists.


The sad truth about all this is that if I am right there is nothing that can be done about it - you only get experience by being on the road and therefore putting yourself in danger.



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