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.


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!


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.


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


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  kids have a safe and happy start to the school holidays.

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

We remind motorists that School Zones are back in action in NSW from Tuesday 6 October to Friday 18 December 2015 (inclusive) and Monday 12 October to Friday 18 December 2015 (inclusive) for ACT.  

The 40km/h school speed zones operate across NSW and ACT 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 8:00am to 9.30am and from 2.30pm 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 and ACT. 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?

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


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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Seven simple tips to prevent your car breaking down


HERE TO HELP: We’re here when you need us.

Whether you are driving far this weekend or staying local, a breakdown is the last thing you need. Fortunately, there are a few simple things you can do that will dramatically reduce your chances of having your long weekend shortened by car trouble!

Always close your boot and doors properly

This one seems simple but one of the biggest causes of flat batteries occurs when an interior light is left on. Make sure all the doors and the boot are completely closed. The last thing you want is a flat battery, or even worse, a thief stealing your property or vehicle.

Turn off your headlights

This also seems obvious but many NRMA call outs occur when a Member has left the headlights on by mistake and drained their battery.

Check your tyres

Apart from checking pressure and roadworthiness for all tyres, including the spare, it’s also essential to ensure you have a jack, wheel brace and lock nut tool specific for your vehicle. If you get a flat tyre, an NRMA patrol will only replace the tyre if a roadworthy spare is available, otherwise towing is available.

Know your mechanic

Many mechanics are closed over the long weekend, so it’s handy to have an idea of your preferred mechanic’s trading hours in case your vehicle needs towing. Otherwise, your NRMA Patrol will recommend an approved repairer or MotorServe in your area.

Check your oil level

Checking your oil is a simple and quick way to prevent a breakdown. Wait for a few minutes after you turn the engine off, and park on a level piece of roadway for the oil to settle. Before you remove the dipstick, make sure you look closely at its entry point into the engine – or you may not be able to reinsert it – and then wipe with a clean cloth or paper towel. Marked towards the lower end are the high and low-level markings, and the engine oil should always be between these two points. If it’s not between the points, add the correct specification oil via the engine oil filler cap located on the top of the engine.

Check your coolant

Checking the coolant level is just as simple. The easiest way is to check the plastic reserve tank that’s connected to the cooling system. On the side of the reservoir will be a low and high mark and the coolant level should be between the two marks. It’s always good practice to check the coolant level on the radiator via the radiator cap, with one important proviso – this should always be done when the engine is cold. Removing the cap when the engine is hot can cause coolant to spray out under pressure, seriously scalding you. If the level is low you can add coolant, again checking the owner’s handbook for the correct recommendation.

Check your brake fluid level

You should also check your brake fluid level regularly. Normally located at the back or side of the engine bay, the brake fluid reservoir is usually made of plastic with a high and low marking on the side. Normally the fluid will sit between these graduations, and vary slightly as the brake pads wear. If the level is continuously low and dropping there could be a leak in the braking system that requires immediate mechanical attention.

Also please note that NRMA offers free vehicle and battery health checks for Members so you can to pre-emptively deal with any potential problems. In the unfortunate event of a break-down, don’t worry! Extra NRMA patrol staff will be on hand over the weekend. Just log a request for assistance via the NRMA smartphone app or call 13 11 11. We are here and ready to help 24/7, whenever you need us.