"Dad, you need to turn left to turn right"
A story of how I learned to drive with a trailer through video games.
If someone tells you ever again that video games can't teach you anything, show them this article. Maybe it will finally change their mind.
A little background
In a couple of days, I am starting to take a degree in engineering. For that, I've decided to move to a different city. I've been very fortunate, as my parents already had a flat there. However, it needed some refurbishing. We decided to use the leftover furniture from my house in the flat, as all the cabinets and shelves were still in a very nice shape (a pretty reasonable thing to do, right?). This created a small problem - how to move said furniture nearly 200 kilometres (or 125 miles) without too much hassle?
How do we move stuff?
There are basically 3 ways to do so. By far the most expensive one is to hire someone to do it for you. That way, you don't need to do much work yourself and you can blame any damage on the moving company. However, this is expensive and it isn't that flexible in terms of date. Alternatively, you can rent a van. As long as its gross vehicle mass (how much can it weigh fully loaded) is under 3,5 tonnes, you can drive it with a regular driving license (at least in Poland). Additionally, you fall under regular speed limits, so you can drive as fast as anyone else. However, this is also a bit expensive and you have an added discomfort of driving a bigger, unfamiliar vehicle.
Vans - probably the best option we could have chosen
The third way
However, you can also rent a trailer. With prices ranging from 25 to 50 zlotys a day (5 to 10 pounds a day), it is very competitive cost-wise. You don't need to wait for anyone, and as long as it is a light trailer (gross vehicle mass of up to 750 kilograms), you can drive it, same as a van, with your regular driving license (once again, this is the law in Poland). Unfortunately, it isn't all hearts and flowers. Outside the city you can only drive up to 80 kilometres per hour, which on express-way means that everyone else is allowed to drive 40 kph faster than you. And driving a trailer isn't a piece of cake either, which my father and I found out the hard way.
An unfortunate mistake
After renting the trailer one day before the planned trip, my father happily returned home and parked it outside our house, on the right side of our driveway. Next day, after loading all of the furniture onto the trailer, my father tried to pull out, which required him to make a slight left turn while reversing. At this point, everything unravelled. It turned out he didn't have any experience at that whatsoever, which became quite a significant issue, as the manoeuvre he had to pull off was quite complex. But it wasn't his fault.
I'm no artist, but this is roughly how the situation looked like
To be legally able to drive with a small trailer in Poland, you just need a regular driving license. That's it. No additional courses, no technical background, nothing. Young or old, man or woman, rookie or professional, as long as you have a regular driving license, you are good to go. In my opinion this is a bit dangerous. Whist driving with a trailer in a straight is simple enough, manoeuvres can be tricky, as trailer turns into a hard to control tail. You can't turn too sharply, as you might collide with your own trailer and damage your ride. You have to plan ahead, as misjudging a turn might leave you in a situation, where the only possible solution is to unhook the trailer and put it in place manually (which can be quite stressful on a busy junction). You have to adjust your driving style to take the trailer into account (this isn't a trailer-driving tutorial, I'm not qualified to do those).
The biggest challenge
However, likely the biggest challenge of driving with a trailer is reversing. In essence, it is opposite of what you would do normally. To get the trailer turning left, you need to turn right and vice versa. My father didn't know that and at first it is nearly impossible to get your head around something so counter-intuitive. The situation seemed like an impasse, but then I remembered the great wisdoms I learned while playing computer games.
Oh, and there was a 90 degree turn I had forgotten
Gaming - a blessing in disguise
I've spent probably around 200 hours playing Euro Truck Simulator 2 on and off. For those who don't know, game revolves around, you guessed it, driving a truck around Europe. Whilst initially I focused on driving as fast as possible, narrowly avoiding traffic and sometimes crashing, later I took a more relaxed approach to the game. I started driving with cruise control set at 3 or 4 kph above the speed limit (Top Tip - that way you don't get tickets for speeding). Additionally, my attitude towards parking the trailer also changed.
You see, at the end of each trip you have to park the trailer at your destination. You have three options to choose from: you can let the computer park for you (no experience points), park in an easy spot (little experience points) and park in a hard spot (a lot of experience points). In my early days of ETS 2 I usually opted for the first option, but later I started choosing second and third one. Whilst pretty hard, successfully parking the trailer at the end of the trip became a cherry on top of my journeys, a ritual that not only gave me a huge dopamine boost, but, as it later turned out, taught me a lot about reversing the trailer as well.
I've also played MudRunner a bit, a driving simulator based in Russia, where you deliver wood through wastelands. In this game you are actually forced to park your trailer in a hard way (at least in challenge mode), which means that whether you like it or not, you have to learn it to beat the game.
What is more, skills I acquired through driving a virtual truck weren't limited to reversing the trailer. I learned to take wider turns to avoid scratching the trailer. I learned to drive slower to make a trip more relaxing. I learned to be patient, as getting somewhere few seconds or minutes earlier isn't worth the risk of a road accident. Overall, I think in-game trucking was a time well-spent, as it taught me rather useful qualities.
Euro Truck Simulator 2 - I seriously recommend you play it, it's one of the most relaxing games you can get
So how do we pull out?
Reminding myself of the time spent behind the wheel of a virtual truck, I guided my dad out of the driveway. Nothing got destroyed, the only real casualty was my mother's car, a white Mazda CX-5 (I don't like SUVs, but I didn't manage to discourage her from buying it), which might have suffered a few scratches on the bodywork here and there from tree branches my father clipped. It took us about 10 to 15 minutes to drive 25 meters, but after that the progress was much quicker and we successfully arrived at our destination. But there was one problem.
Parking space near my future flat is limited to say the least. There was no chance we would park our car with a trailer hooked to it anywhere near it. Luckily, there were two regular parking space free. So what did we do? We unhooked the trailer and manually placed it in one of the spots and parked the car in the other one (I don't know about the legality of this, but no-one came to fine us). The rest is history, as it was smooth sailing all the way back. Furniture was in perfect shape and the trip can be considered an overall success.
Parking space for just one vehicle? Unhook your trailer and park it manually
Important warning & final words
I want to stress this out, this article isn't meant to be a trailer-driving guide. In fact, I don't even have a driving licence yet (but I am near the end of the driver ed course). If you are planning to drive with a trailer and you are unsure, I would highly recommend you take a course at driving school or practice driving with a trailer on a square of some sort.
I know this article might seem selfish and egocentric, but praising myself wasn't the point either. I wanted to show that games can be really useful in real life, from teaching you practical skills (just like they taught me) to making you a better person. And whilst I can't recommend Euro Truck Simulator 2 as a substitution for drivers ed course, it can definitely give you a good insight into driving with a trailer without a risk of damaging your car.
Oh, and a little announcement from me: I plan on posting regularly on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Stay tuned!