Learning to drive at 50

Not everyone gets their learner’s permit when they turn 16. We speak to two new drivers who put it off for nearly three decades.

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L PLATED: Armed and ready to go, James Powditch (pictured) has enlisted the help of  NRMA Safer Driving School to obtain his license.

When you drive past a car wearing L-plates you typically expect to see a teenager behind the wheel. But from time to time there will be a mature age learner – someone who has, after years of being a non-driver, decided to head to their local RMS office and take their learner’s test.

Michele Cranston, 52, a food editor and cookbook author, and James Powditch, 49, an artist, are mature age learner drivers who have enlisted the NRMA’s Safer Driving School to supplement supervised driving with friends and family.

People are curious and often ask both James and Michele why now, after more than 30 years, have they decided to become motorists?

“I grew up with my brothers and dad spending the weekend fixing their cars,” Michele says. “I was under the false impression that driving a car went hand in hand with fixing it all weekend.

“I moved to London early in my career and didn’t need a car, then moved to Sydney’s inner west and didn’t need a car, and then I had a child plus a job that involves travel, now I need a car and I need to know how to drive it!

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A WHOLE NEW WORLD:  “I’m looking forward to exploring the Hunter Valley and driving the Great Ocean Rd.”

“I decided it was time to stop filling taxi coffers and sit on my own four wheels! I am looking forward to exploring great restaurants in distant suburbs and visiting specialty suppliers and food producers who up until now have been voices at the end of the phone. Plans are also being made for driving trips to far flung places; I’m looking forward to exploring the Hunter Valley and driving the Great Ocean Road.”

James, on the other hand, says his partner Diane gave him a gentle push towards their local RMS at Marrickville two and a half years ago.

“Diane has wanted me to drive for a really long time. I passed the Driver Knowledge Test, I was on my way, no turning back. In 2013, I was given an NRMA driving lesson for Father’s Day. It’s still unused, all intentions to learn stalled until recently,” recalls James.

“How have I lived without a licence until now? Living in the inner city made it easy, my friends had licences as did past girlfriends, it didn’t cross my mind that I should hold my own golden plastic rectangle. Impending births of two children weren’t even enough of an incentive, for the first arrival my mother drove us to the hospital and the second Diane drove herself.

“I can see a few changes in my life once I get my licence – the who’s driving question which hasn’t been part of my social life to date may be raised regularly.

“The upside: my son will be able to play soccer again as his games are often in distant locales across Sydney and most importantly, I will be able to take jobs that I have had to decline previously because I couldn’t get a lift or move my equipment.”

Both James and Michele will take 10 driving lessons with NRMA Safer Driving School, aiming for one each week and an additional 60 to 80 hours of drive-time with supervising family and friends. As both are over 25 years of age, they are exempt from completing the Learner Driver Log Book and the mandatory 120 hours of supervised driving

Did you take up driving at a later stage in life? What were the main challenges you faced as a Learner driver?

Translating car jargon

NRMA motoring writer Tim Pomroy lifts the lid on the myriad of mysterious motoring abbreviations.

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OMG, what’s ABS & ESC? No need to carry your acronym dictionary. Tim’s got you covered!

As an NRMA road tester, I am frequently – very frequently – asked to explain the meaning of the abbreviations that the motoring industry so often uses. To the average motorist, a lot of these shortened words are almost incomprehensible. Even professionals motoring writers can get confused!

So, to help you translate the letters into real words, I’ve compiled a glossary of the major abbreviations used by NRMA and Australia’s Best Cars. Take it with you next time you buy a new car.

SAFETY

ANCAP Australian New Car assessment Program.  Star rating assessment   given to occupant protection provided by vehicles in serious front and side crashes.

ABS Anti Lock Braking System                            DFSA Dual front and side airbags
EBD Electronic brake force distribution                DSA Dual side airbags
BA Brake assist                                                   KA Knee airbags
ABD Air Bag-driver                                              TCS Traction control system
DFA Dual front air bag package                          ESC Electronic stability control

MECHANICAL 

GVG Green Vehicle Guide. The Green Vehicle Guide helps you by rating new Australian vehicles based on greenhouse and air pollution emissions

4WD Four wheel drive                                          PW Power windows
RWD Rear wheel drive                                         PWF Power windows front
FWD Front wheel drive                                         CD Compact disc player
AC Air conditioning                                               PFS Power front seats
ACC Automatic climate control                             SATV Satellite navigation and TV
ACCD Automatic climate control/dual zones        AW Alloy wheels

PFS1 Power front seats with memory                   IM Engine Immobiliser
CC Cruise control                                                 AL Alarm system, remote theft
PW Power windows                                              LT Leather trim
XN Xenon headlights                                           PSR Power Sunroof
XNSL Xenon headlights self levelling                   PS Power steering

Have you heard of these acronyms before? Are there any others that you are not familiar with?

NSW School Zones back in operation

STAY ALERT: School Zones play a critical role in making sure NSW kids have a safe and happy start to the school holidays.

STAY ALERT: School Zones play a critical role in making sure NSW kids have a safe and happy start to the school year.

We remind motorists that School Zones are back in action in NSW from Monday 13 July to Friday 18 September 2015 (inclusive).

The 40km/h school speed zones operate across NSW at all school sites on gazetted school days (including school development days). Motorists should drive no faster than 40km/h through school zones. Most school zones operate from 8 to 9.30am and from 2.30 to 4pm on gazetted school days.

School zones operate and are enforced on pupil free days because pupil free days can vary from school to school. Consistent operation of school zones aims to reduce driver confusion, which improves the safety of school children.

There are a small number of non-standard school zone times in NSW. They are identified by red/orange school zone signs to show non-standard times. Signs at these schools show the times that apply.

Do you get stressed driving in school zones?

Crash risk and the colour of your car

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The notion that there is a relationship between car colour and crash risk may initially sound ridiculous, equivalent to the belief that red cars go faster.

Nor is it likely that many people in the market for a new car would have ‘colour’ amongst airbags and electronic stability programs on their list of desired safety features.

Yet when light conditions are taken into consideration, there is a clear statistical relationship between a vehicle’s colour and its crash risk, as detailed in a report by Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) in 2007. Compared to white, colours such as black, blue, grey and others ranking lower on the visibility index were associated with higher crash risk in daylight hours.

MUARC’s research remains the most up to date research on this topic. It suggests crash severity is linked to vehicle colour, with “low visibility colours having higher risks of more severe crashes.”

Previous studies

A study in Epidemiology from 2002 found white and yellow cars had a slightly lower risk of being passively involved in a crash. This was followed by a study published in BMJ (British Medical Journal) in 2003 concluding that silver cars were 50% less likely than white cars to be involved in a crash resulting in serious injury. The association between silver and reduced risk continued even when confounding factors were adjusted.

Both these studies, according to MUARC, were inconclusive. These two studies, as well as prior ones, left the role of colour in influencing crash risk as being uncertain, prompting MUARC to undertake a more in-depth study.

The MUARC study

NRMA vehicle specialist Jack Haley said the MUARC study remains arguably the most comprehensive to probe the link between vehicle colour and crash risk.

“Previous international studies have examined vehicle visibility and colour but have not fully taken into account other factors that may have an impact on crash risk, such as driver demographics,” Mr Haley said.

Using crash data from Victoria and Western Australia, MUARC used the colour classifications black, blue, brown cream, fawn, gold, green, grey, maroon, white mauve, orange, pink, purple, red, silver and yellow, with all variables considered under the nearest category. Also included in the study were conditions such as light at the time of the crash, vehicle type, crash severity and state. Commercial vehicles and taxis were excluded.

Results

The result compared white vehicles with all other coloured vehicles. MUARC’s research showed there were a number of colours related to high risk, including:

  • Black
  • Blue
  • Grey
  • Green
  • Red
  • Silver

None of the colours tested were statistically safer than white, though some had equal relative crash risk.

The association between colour and crash risk was highest during daylight hours, the risk associated with the above colours during this period up by 10%. The link was reduced during darker driving hours due to colour being less distinguishable and headlights further reducing colour’s effects. Results also showed that environmental factors had an impact on the relationship between colour and crash risk.

Of the study, Dr Soames Job of the RTA’s NSW Centre for Road Safety said the results were useful but other factors were more influential on crash risk and for drivers to be aware of this.

“Driving a darker coloured car can increase your crash risk,” Dr Job said, “but that is nowhere near as influential a factor as your driving behaviour. By driving within the speed limit, not driving after drinking and avoiding driving when tired, you increase your safety on the road.”

Is colour something you’ve taken into consideration when buying a car? Are there any colours you have difficulty seeing in certain conditions?

BLOG first published in 2007 – updated  23/6/15

GPS, Compasses, Cows: How to find your location when broken down

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MOO: There have been instances where the name of a farmhouse or breed of cow in a paddock has helped our staff to locate a breakdown.

No one ever plans to breakdown, especially in an unfamiliar area when away from home. When this happens the first instinct is to look for help, more often than not from the NRMA.

On receiving your call, the call centre representative will ask: “What is your location? Are you in a safe place?”. If you don’t recognise your surroundings, this can be hard to answer. Fortunately, there are a few different ways you can help us find you, so we can get you back on the road again in no time.

NRMA Smartphone App

The NRMA Smartphone App is free to download and is available for Apple, Android and Windows devices. When you first download the app, enter your membership number and postcode details. These will then be stored for future use. When you need to request Roadside assistance, simply log on to the app and follow the steps. You don’t need to call and wait in the queue. The location of the callout will be sent using your smartphone’s GPS so we will find you.

GPS Units and Mobile Phones

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are available through Satellite Navigation Units and many smartphone mapping applications, including Google Maps. Most of the time, your GPS device or smartphone will provide the street or road name where you are broken down within a 1km radius in Metropolitan Areas or a 5km radius in rural locations.

Coordinates from a GPS unit or Compass App (under ‘Utilities’ on an iPhone or you can download on other smartphones) can also be used if you are unfamiliar with your location. Our call centre staff can also guide you through the process of retrieving this information from your phone or GPS unit.

Local Area Knowledge

If you don’t have a smartphone or GPS, any details about a location can help us find you, especially in rural areas. Information such as the direction you are travelling or approximate distance from the last town can be helpful.

There have been many instances where local information such as the name of a farmhouse or breed of cow in a paddock has helped our staff to locate a breakdown. Our call centre staff will try to obtain as much information through questioning and often conference a call with a local contractor to help us work out where you are so we can get to you quicker.

Emergency Phones 

You may have seen various emergency bays with phones in your travels along freeways and highways and wondered what they do. Each emergency phone has a three digit serial number which provides its exact location and direct calls to 13 11 11 so we can arrange Roadside Assistance. In the event of an emergency or accident, our staff can transfer a call to an emergency service or insurance provider.

If you happen to break down in an area you are unfamiliar with, don’t panic. Just contact the NRMA, follow the tips above and be sure to find a safe spot to wait. Then a friendly NRMA Patrol will attend as soon as possible. In the meantime, safe driving!

Have you ever broken down in an unfamiliar location? What did you do?

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