I recently graduated from learner driver to fully licensed driver. The hideous red “L for Love, baby” is no more!
After hours of practicing K53, being a mobile chicane and annoying the general public after every 30 second stop and check at a stop street, I’m done. Onwards and upwards it is then. Time to forget about that nerve-wracking day and start enjoying my early days as a free man (responsibly and safely, of course).
But with the whole process fresh in my mind, I’d like to share a few personal comments on the K53 system and perhaps talk a little about learning to drive on the road from a “racing driver’s” point of view.
Firstly, I’m not as blatantly against the K53 system as so many of the general public seem to be. I think the system’s emphasis on being observant on the road is correct. What I don’t agree with, is the way that it seems to turn the process of driving into a box ticking exercise.
For those of you unfamiliar with the system, one of the primary lessons that your driving instructor will teach you is how to do “observations” in the test. These observations are a series of checks you need to do every time you indicate, turn, brake, change gear, pull away…and every few seconds inbetween. As a result, you spend most of your time looking everywhere but in front of you. Let’s not forget that you have to keep your eyes on the speedo too – any speeding means instant failure.
This is why learner drivers endure immense neck pain and stick to 20km/h below the speed limit.
The result of all this checking? Drivers start looking without seeing. After checking three mirrors and two blind spots every time you pull off, it’s easy to leave a stop street spatially disorientated and unaware of what’s going on behind you AND in front. Not ideal, surely?
Then again, how else would we put an objective system in place to sort the good drivers from the bad? It’s something to think about the next time you complain about the current system. It’s not perfect, but if you can drive K53 well, then you should be proficient enough to drive.
Right. On to complaining about K53 then.
What would I change?
This obsession with rolling!
Again and again, school friends of mine solemnly walk into class with heads held low, answering the question of “Did you pass?” with “No, I rolled.”
Not the entire car of course, just slightly backwards.
I get it, you don’t want to have thousands of young drivers constantly getting into bumper bashings. But a slight weight transfer on a hill start in your test? Surely that’s not the worst thing you can do?
Because of the aforementioned risk, you need to pull up your handbrake every time you come to a complete stop. Then you lift up the clutch until the biting point and as the car begins to shake like a wet dog, the handbrake goes down and away you go (remembering your observations). How is that the industry standard on driving?
And how could I forget about the instructions for steering?
In the test, you cannot cross your hands. This leaves you having to shuffle the wheel through your fingers like you’re attempting to sandpaper it into non-existence. What should otherwise be a smooth-flowing corner is turned into a jagged polygon as you shuffle, straighten and repeat. Imagine trying to pass the Moose Test (Google it) by shuffling instead of just getting on with it and driving with precision?
Oh, and don’t get me started about 10 and 2. There’s a reason why manufacturers design nice little moulds for your thumbs at the 9 and 3 positions!
But Reece, you’ve been racing for a long time, surely you’d pass without even trying?
Yes, I knew how to drive. I clocked up many practice hours on the road before even going for a single driving lesson. I quickly got to grips with traffic patterns and using a manual gearbox and all the other difficulties new drivers usually face. Before long, I considered myself to be a “good” driver.
Unfortunately, this has little bearing on passing the K53 test. After all, I wasn’t going to impress the examiner with a well-executed heel and toe downshift, was I?
So, in that sense, I started out very much like everyone else. Of course, compared with many other learner drivers, having good spatial awareness and confidence did help. These are overlooked but infinitely beneficial aspects of being a skilled and safe driver. Racing helped me develop these skills by the bucketload.
Once you’ve practiced putting a car/kart within centimetres of the same line on a track, lap after lap, whilst going at high speed and on the limits of grip, navigating traffic becomes a little bit easier. Plus, if you’ve trained to do all that at only half a panic and with a clear head, then your anticipation and decision-making on the regular commute should be all the better.
Anything else from our young driver?
Well, yes. Racing and setting up a kart involves fine-tuning the senses in the ol’ gluteus maximus and fingertips. Don’t ask me how it works, but it does. It allows racers to pre-empt a vehicle reaching its limits before it gets there – and those limits are not always as far away as you may think.
In the case of supercars, or even the average well-powered German sedan, many drivers do not comprehend the extent to which the car’s electronics are saving them while they smash the throttle. Racing drivers are almost guaranteed to treat their cars with far more respect than the average driver, especially in the wet.
I have a theory. Driving the daily commute can become quite an autonomous process. You leave the house and then you’re at your destination. If you’re driving a mindless automatic, then your brain is probably still in bed by the time you get to work.
I don’t have the stats, but I would wager that many accidents are caused by negligence and simple lack of awareness.
So do I have a solution? Obviously! I’m a teenager. We specialise in solutions.
I think that cars should be made harder to drive. Modern cars are too easy. What we really need are more cars that require careful thought for every input. Your brain would be engaged and you’d be fully conscious of all your actions.
So there you have my sage advice: drive an old supercar and save lives!