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Driving In the Country

(May 7, 2016)

New personal bests today:

1) The biggest kangaroo I have ever seen. He was taller than my car (which was put right next to him for scale).

2) The closest I've ever come to hitting a kangaroo. I've danced with ladies and been further away than that.

I would like to thank Bridgestone for their remarkably responsive tyres, Ford for the thin paint on their cars and the design of the steering system, Peter Wherrett, John Leffler, Evan Green, Doug Chivas, Peter Finlay, John Bryson and all the other people who have given me driving lessons over the years and my parents for passing on the genes for reflexes and the impulsiveness necessary to act first without spending time thinking about it.

Cody TRHD was on the back seat at the time and kept repeatedly barking "What?" for the next five kilometres.

By the way, I mean it about the tyres and steering. At 100km/h and without taking my hands off the wheel I put on about 180 degrees of turning the steering wheel to the left, 360 degrees the other way to come back and 180 to the left again to straighten up.

No macropods were harmed in the making of this story.

I've long said that club motor sport is the best training anyone can get for driving. One of the things it teaches you is what your car can actually do. Since I moved to Oberon I've had a conscious program of honing my driving skills, because everywhere around here is either dirt or high-speed bitumen. And it snows. The skills don't completely rust away if you don't use them, but occasional oiling and a polish never hurt.

I mentioned some of the people who have given me good advice about driving over the years. Increasing driving skill isn't all about skid control, which is all that ever seems to be talked about in the media. (Skidding cars make good TV visuals.) The teachers I mentioned talked a lot about attitude and awareness. Here are some of the pieces of advice that I have found useful over the years:

  • Keep to a speed such that you can stop the car well within the distance that you can see. This is why you slow down in fog and have good lights for nighttime driving.
  • When driving in a line of cars, watch the car two in front of you. You get a few seconds more warning of things than just watching the brake lights of the car immediately in front of you. Out in the country, be aware of what's happening in front of any car in front of you. The more warning you can get about kangaroos and wombats the better.
  • If you think you are driving too fast you are correct. This applies if you are driving around the Coles car park, taking the kids to school, driving to the next town to go shopping, trying to regain second place in the Bathurst 1000 or going for a stage award in a round of the Australian Rally Championship. If your driving makes you uncomfortable, slow down.
  • Concentrate on the job. Driving a car needs your full attention. I won't even use a hands-free device to talk on the phone in my car. If the phone rings I'll give it a glance to see if it's someone I need to stop to talk to, or if I can't stop I'll hit the answer button and say "Driving. I'll call you back". We did a test in a rally one night and found that any chit-chat between driver and navigator that went beyond relaying instructions and acknowledging them caused the car speed to drop by at least 10km/h as I compensated for dividing my attention.
  • You will make mistakes when driving and events aren't always predictable. Expect the unexpected.

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