I took a young bloke for his practical driving test today. Let’s call him Sam.Fourth attempt. He struck me as someone who was genuinely gun shy of the entire process. In chats he told me his first experience was with an examiner at Greenslopes, who I call “The Bureaucrat”. Someone who really loves being a public servant, fulfilling the role of Driving Examiner. In other words…..a nit-picker. That experience put the young man off and he was tentative with each attempt thereafter. In Queensland, the DE’s have a strict examination code by which to abide, which tends to portray them and very school-masterish, and hard-nosed, when the reality is often quite different. They have a job to do, and that job is ensuring the people they pass are indeed safe, confident and aware drivers. Sadly, it’s something young learners can’t quite wrap their heads around.
I picked him up from home near Holland Park. His test was booked at Wynnum Customer Service Centre. This gave me a little cause for concern as it’s always advisable to take a practical drive in the area you either live in, or have driven in over your 100 hour logbook period. Still, Sam told me he’d been to Wynnum previously so I presumed he’d be aware of what’s there & how to approach the area. Wynnum, as a test area, is fairly innocuous. It has three speed zones – 40kph; 50kph; and 60kph. It has an all-day school zone which runs from 7:00am to 4:00pm in Bay Terrace. There is a railway crossing, pedestrian crossings galore in the Bay Terrace commercial area, some construction activity, roundabouts and very wide streets with no centre lines. In general, if a driver is alert, aware and scanning their environment for signs, road markings, signals and understands the road rules, it’s a cake-walk, but on the day, nerves can take over.
I watched Sam carefully on the way to Wynnum and he appeared to be doing everything correctly. Road position was sound, he did shoulder checks when required, indicated when necessary, stopped at stop signs and appeared aware of speed zone changes. He didn’t know where the all-day school zone was, so I made of point of showing him. I did notice however that he was very cautious and tentative with roundabouts and intersections. In a new learner, this isn’t a drama, but on test day, you’re expected to keep moving when it’s safe to do so. Today we were lucky. The examiner was someone I knew I could have a quiet word to, so I alerted the DE to the fact that today was Sam’s fourth try, and that he appeared overly cautious, but not unnecessarily so. The DE asked how he drove for me usually and I said it was what we call a cold test, which means Sam & I had never driven before today. The DE said to me, “I’ll look after him” which I took as a good sign. I know this chap and I knew he’d be fair. Thorough, but fair.
They came back after 25 minutes, which is usually a good sign, but given Sam’s tendency to pause at intersections, roundabouts, etcetera, I wasn’t overly confident. When the passenger door opened and I could see the report on the DE’s lap, I noticed 8 Non-Critical Driving Errors(NCDE‘s). The maximum allowable to still attain a license. All were for Progress or Judgement. The DE went through the debrief as they do, pointing out the salient areas which needed attention in Sam’s technique. If a roundabout is being read correctly, keep moving. Don’t slow when merging, be more confident and have faith in your own ability, which were all items I drew to Sam’s attention when we drove from home to Wynnum. Make no mistake, Sam can drive and when he relaxes a little, he certainly IS aware of what’s happening around him, but when the assessment process weighs heavily on someone’s psyche, as it was with Sam, confidence runs a very poor second to caution and fear of failure.
Sam was successful today, he now carries red P’s. I know he’ll be a conscientious driver because his technique, as flawed as parts of it might have been today, is sound. My thanks go also to the DE, who had the presence of mind and fairness of spirit to treat the young man on balance on the understanding that the system had been rough on him to date. Going for a practical driving test can be as traumatic for a young person as a death in the family. It is a momentous point in their lives, gaining the freedom to drive alone. It IS a privilege and not a right, but it is a somewhat soul-destroying process when everything – including the demeanor of the DE – doesn’t come together on the day. I see my role on the day as not one of instructor, but as mentor. I’m not interested in the skill level of the proponent, but where their head is at. If they can drive I’ll know within minutes of getting into the car with them. If their head isn’t right, I’ll know that quickly too, so I try my best to ease the tension, bring out the confidence and encourage them to “just drive like you know you can”. It doesn’t always work, but in general, it seems to do the trick.