If you can picture the scene where Bill Crosby is making fun of old people and their intolerance for kids, and their new-fangled do-dad, well sometimes that is how I feel. Being old isn’t just the grey hair, I have had that for quite some time now, it’s more a state of mind. We have two kids who have passed their driving tests, two more due to start Drivers Ed, and one more who will wait a while. Apart from providing an automatic vehicle, so they don’t need to shift, GPS so they don’t need to learn directions, and of course insurance, the only other thing I have to do is worry pretty much every time they head out on their own.
Whenever I think about them driving, or more accurately when I stress about them driving, I think back to when I had to learn to drive, you know, back with Ford Model A when everything was in black and white. Well, not quite that bad, but you had to learn to shift with a manual gearshift as well as learning the other parts of learning to drive. And you had to know where you were going and get there without a GPS, whether it was the first time you had been there or not. When I see the ad’s for new cars, there seem to be more and more extras added on to car’s which remove you even further from having to really pay attention to how you are driving. The first one for me is of course standard gearshift instead of automatic, when you are changing gears depending on the road conditions, speed and traffic conditions, it forces you to be more aware of what is happening. Then when you add on back-up cameras so you don’t have to turn around and look whats behind you, automated parallel parking, crash prevention automatic brake application, modern drivers are being so more divorced from a ‘pure’ driving experience. Then when you add on GPS, cell phones and enough cup holders for a whole six-pack of soda, you are really not paying much attention to where you are going.
Back in the day, for _____ Country Constabulary, I took a three week Defensive Driving Course, which I can only describe a purely awesome. 9-5 driving, two students and an instructor in a vehicle, taking turns driving, driving different vehicles like the Volvo Turbocharged 5 cylinder which was lot of car for small English roads. There was a skid pan with a specially modified vehicle with a frame welded on with a swivel wheel at each corner which could be raised or lowered pneumatically with a remote control inside the car, which made for a lot of fun with some water on the skid-pan. Well one day, I think I was driving a mid-size Nissan, approaching an old Roman Road. In England you can tell when you are driving on an old Roman Road because they are the only ones which are dead straight. The ancient Romans used to build them that way because it made it more difficult for an enemy to approach unseen, so they would bisect all the terrain, and you had a great view of what was oncoming on the road. as the centuries went by the original Roman surface got covered over many times, but the route of the road itself stayed the same.
So here we were on a Roman Road, coming up on a very long line of traffic at quite a good speed, and in front of us I can see a long way ahead, maybe two miles, because of the straightness of the road. I can see two dips, and as we approach I see a vehicle enter the first dip, furthest away from us, but no-one is entering or coming out of the second closer dip. By now we are drawing up on the long line of slow moving traffic, ahead of us, when I realize any vehicle in the other lane would have made an appearance by now, and the one vehicle two miles ahead was still a long way off, so instead of slowing down to join the long line of slow moving traffic ahead of me, i dropped down a gear and accelerated ad the instructor, who is int he front passenger seat and has seen exactly what i have seen has realized what I want to do and is encouraging me and shouting “Yes the pass is on, go go go!” as I hammer the accelerator down and we pass two other instructor and student vehicles in a long line of vehicles and make it safely back into our lane well before the one oncoming vehicle comes past us. Well after that I was on a high for the rest of the morning, then after lunch, my instructor took me aside and said she had been spoken too by one of the other instructors, who thought my overtake was too dangerous, but she told me I executed it perfectly and he could not see what we had seen. Of course that just puffed my ego up even more, until the day of the practical exam, and i got him as my test examiner.
And of course I screw up when I come pounding around a corner and miss a speed reduction sign and for about 100 yards I was over the speed limit, which of course he really dinged me for, My instructor told me I should be getting a 72 by my level of driving skill, but because of that I came out of the exam with a 71, which was still a passing grade, I am still an Class 3 driver, but I think I was so nervous to have him as a test examiner because he had already criticized my driving, there was no way I was going to be able to do as well as I should.
Still, i did a lot better than the driver on the TPAC course the week before me. TPAC is Tactical Pursuit And Conclusion. Now over on this side of the pond, people may be surprised to hear that police driver training takes place on the open road, whereas over here they go up to a closed off decommissioned airfield and practice without traffic. However as any emergency vehicle driver can tell you, it is the traffic on the road that will cause you problems. And over here the critters can cause you problems if you are driving at emergency speeds, a friend of mine took a deer though the windshield at 100 mph on his way to an emergency, not something which is easy to predict. So in the TPAC training, the ‘bandit’ is obviously also police personnel, and the pursuing vehicles are marked cruisers, and it is not unknown for members of the public to see the training pursuit coming, and get involved and try to stop the bandit, because it has all the appearances of being real. I have heard of tractor-trailer drivers putting their vehicles sideways across a road to block a bandit vehicle, and pursuing officer often have to pretend to arrest the bandit driver to keep the pretense up. Now what is actually being tested in any defensive driving test, and TPAC in particular, is how far you will go, how many risks you will take, and will you compromise safety.
There is one other thing I should mention, Red Mist, it is an older name for what is often referred to now as Road Rage, it is when someone gets so very angry, they get tunnel vision, and they fail to make good judgement calls. Well, what happened during the TPAC exam, the ground control vehicle, the first vehicle in contact with the bandit vehicle, began to get affected by the chances the bandit vehicle was taking. bearing in mind, the bandit driver is a police instructor, who is taking more and more chances to see if you as the pursuing drive will take more and more chances up to the point safety becomes compromised and you have failed. By this time everyone’s driving skill is very good, in a standard shift cruiser with hands free radios, so it is not a test of driving skill, it is merely a test of how far you can be pushed before you start to take unnecessary risks. So one pursuing driver got a little too excited, or maybe some red mist, whatever happened between him and the bandit driver, when the bandit finally ‘gave up’ the pursuing drive leaps form the cruiser and rips the bandit driver from his vehicle by the window and slams him down on the floor, dislocating his shoulder in the process. Needless to say that was a failure, and there was not enough instructors to run another TPAC course while I was there because of that.