Friday, 29 April 2016

My experience learning to drive.

Today I will tell you my experience learning to drive a car. I think that it's fairly typical and how perhaps you might learn from what I discovered.

I got my learning license, which in Alberta is a class 7 license that lets me drive whatever most adults can, normal sedans, SUVs, minivans, and in general vehicles with two axles, RVs with no more than 3 axles, a two axle vehicle towing a trailer without air brakes, an RV with three axles or less towing a trailer without air brakes, and a moped. Well, I guess it's not illegal to ride two mopeds at once, but why would you (as best as I can tell, you can actually ride the moped on your own without a fully licensed driver at your side in another moped and you can learn to ride a motorcycle)? at the age of 14.

In fact, the day after my birthday (by the time I the celebrations ended the office was closed). Pretty much a normal licensing, except without the long wait times. There was really no lineup at all, I walked straight up to the desk. Sign some forms, my mom also signing those forms and showing some forms of ID (a passport and birth certificate plus a bank statement works well for this) to the clerk, I took the written test, passed on the first try (my brother didn't this year. That's what you get for not studying enough!), went to the eye exam test (how else do you see everything on the road? I think you are allowed to be colourblind though), passed that (though with a condition that requires me to wear corrective lenses. I would anyway, I can barely walk out of my own front door without them, how else do I expect to not run through a red light or yield at the yield sign?), and waited. And waited. Until I got back from a summer holiday, to find my plastic license in the snail mail (the first thing I did was run to the mailbox, didn't even unpack from the holiday). I actually lost most of my interest in learning. I never asked my dad or mom to some quiet place to start learning.

So what do I need to do when I learn? You have 8 demerit points, you have to ensure that you have your own seatbelt and until your passengers turn 16, you have to make others wear them too (given that the learning age is 14, what happens if a learner does not buckle up their own seatbelt?). You need to have an instructor who does have the normal non probationary license for a car in the passenger seat. I can't drive between midnight and 5 AM (The only time when this actually ever came up was a time when me and my family were going somewhere and I remembered that I couldn't drive after midnight). And I also can't have any alcohol (and presumably no intoxication at all from anything else like relaxation medicine if it will affect my driving at all, not even 5 nanograms/mL THC thing and all). I don't drink alcohol at all, and particularly strong alcohol makes me want to gag from 2 metres away, so having it in my mouth is not a tantalizing proposition. Though the laws of the province as best as I can tell only impose a minimum age for buying and prohibit buying alcohol for minors, there isn't an age at which you can only consume it just lying in the fridge, and your parents can give you it with their supervision, so Catholics are OK (I'm not among them though), so this is why this is a law that isn't covered by other legislation.

Last year, a little more than a year ago, my dad asked if I wanted to go with him in the car. We went up to a quiet place and he asked to switch seats. I actually didn't know how capable I was of learning at the time. Having the steering wheel and the gas pedal of a 1.25 tonne car with a speedometer that can if allowed go up to something like 220 km/h (I don't suggest you try that, a motorway in Germany or elsewhere) is rather intimidating. I did that loop for an hour or two, got used to it, and even got up to about 30 km/h. I got fairly good, making a U turn, avoided a head on crash with a bus on the blind corner. The next time we went out, I got up to about 40-50 on the quiet roads, me and my dad got bored at that, so we went on the arterials at 60. After an hour or so at that, I actually went on the motorway and got up to 90 km/h, the speed limit on that particular one, and I drove straight home. I don't remember whether I parked in the garage or not.

Most of my other lessons over the last year are similar, starting out at home, going to the intended destination, coming home, I picked the routes that went on the largest variety of routes I could. It's actually an easy thing to get pretty good at, but it takes years to perfect. Of course people will make mistakes, this is why you start out with the easier and less dangerous things first, if you want to climb a mountain you go to the top of the nearest hill first not Mr Everest or Kilimanjaro. I still haven't mastered parallel parking, but who has these days. I need practice with that.

Long distance trips are pretty easy and because I automatically get someone in the passenger seat, they are less boring.

The fastest I've driven is 120 km/h in BC. If you have been paying attention to this blog in the past you'll know that I am 15 (as of writing this post), so how did I legally drive in BC? Remember, I have an AB license, which apparently BC will recognize as if it's one of their own so long as it was legally obtained. 120 feels like a more proper speed for a motorway designed for 120, although I have yet to have driven 130 km/h (until I find the time to hit the pedal to the metal in Montana, only a 620 km drive from Edmonton, not long at all by Albertan standards, taking about 5 hours and 30 minutes to do. I hope that Hank has a Good morning John event at some point (nerdfighter jokes)).

In a few months I will be 16 years old and be able to drive on my own so long as I upgrade my license. So long as I can get my parallel parking together, I should be easily able to pass the road test, although my parents are a bit nervous, not because they doubt my ability to drive or that they think there is a likelihood of me being reckless with a chesterfield full of friends in the backseats (a couch-full), but because of the increased insurance (they aren't poor, and they could easily afford if it they decided to accept it, they just would rather not pay the increased amount. I intend to go to a learning course with some sort of professional instructor, because although my dad is good at it, it isn't his job and he only has personal experience and I am the first person he's taught to drive, same with my mom who has recently come out of a coma (the kind of coma that makes you unwilling to accompany a learner that is). That, and the fact that the insurance rate is much lower if you do take the course. I hold the opinion that it would be a good idea for anyone wanting to get the non probationary license to be required to get it.

So what is my advice? I suggest finding someone who is calm and able to help you correct mistakes when you first begin to make them so you can stop the habit. Try to do these practice runs on trips someone would have made anyway. I drove my family down to Red Deer to visit our relatives on Thanksgiving day last October (yes, I mean October). My dad nor my mom would have gained anything had they drove, and because I was good at driving on the highways, albeit on that day there was a very strong crosswind that I actually had to begin adjusting for (40-60 km/h I believe) and overtaking trucks was not the easiest thing to do once you actually passed the truck, I drove instead because I actually could use that experience more. Practice at every opportunity for a trip that has to be done. In BC I visited my uncle in Abbotstford (if you have ever been to a baptist church in Abbotsford, you've probably met him), and because we had a trip that needed to be done, it was a good idea to go for a trip with him instead of my parents or my uncle doing it instead. Even minute shopping trips are worth doing. They add up over time and offer good practice for perpendicular parking and if your stores have them, angled parking. By doing the trips that have to be done anyway, you also happen to reduce your environmental impact.

It is a useful skill driving is (coming up soon talk like Yoda day is, April 29 it is), especially given how Edmonton is structured. I have cycled longer distances on my bicycle, a couple weeks ago I cycled about 16 km for fun, but it's not especially pleasant, efficient nor the most useful way to get around for the most part. The bus system is slow, infrequent and doesn't go on the routes I actually need to use, like from east to west or straight north to south. And $3.25/90 minutes isn't very great value for money if you couldn't afford a car on your own anyway. I drive safely and know my limits. My dad or mom, whoever is accompanying me, rarely intervene in how I drive, in fact a couple weeks ago I drove with my uncle and he did absolutely nothing in relation to instructing me, he didn't need to he said. I usually set the route, often making up the route as we go along, as I've learned enough about the city's street layout having lived here for nearly 16 years and been going around it on my own frequently for the last 3 to make most of the decisions on my own, the only thing that tends to change is the layout of the collector and access roads of individual neighbourhoods. I usually drive about once a week, sometimes more, sometimes less, but an average of about 1 week is normal for me. I don't know how often I will be driving when I get the unaccompanied class 5 license, I probably will drive around once a week like now, possibly taking my little sister to school, hopefully carpooling with my neighbours to save on the fuel.

But it's a skill that should be reserved to when you are alert, not intoxicated, as I've said before, I won't criticize you for getting drunk or reasonably high if you are in a safe place and are not using it too frequently, but not while driving (my dad actually said at an IHOP once that if I ever do get drunk, just call him and he'll be there in a jiffy, no need to call a taxi, he'd rather have me recovering and vomiting at home than running off the road or into another car, My advice: buy the alcohol from the store, take it home, and drink it there, wait until the morning to drive anywhere else), no phones (I don't drive looking at my phone, ask either of my parents and they will tell you that too. I even asked my mom to not use her own cell phone on the talk function because then I'll start thinking about it too. I actually tend to voluntarily reduce my speed on most collector roads, usually 40 km/h or so, sometimes 30, rather than the legal maximum of 50, out of concern for anything that might pop out. I also pay attention to my speed, careful not to go 70 in a 60 zone, although you need to be watching your speedometer quite frequently for this to work although I remain supportive of certain speed increases on motorways.

It's a wonderful ability, it can be fun especially when you do it with friends and family so long as they don't start yapping if you're in a car without an ejection button, but it needs time and skill to do safely. Drive carefully, obey the design speed, try to carpool if you can, drive a more efficient car (my car actually automatically shuts off the engine if I stop for more than about 5-10 seconds or so, and turns back on if I don't turn off the car or take my foot off of the brake) and remember to include an ejection seat for obnoxious and distracting passengers, hopefully they'll land in the field rather than the road ;).

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