Training wheels

What would it take to lower the road toll for younger drivers?

4y ago

There really isn’t much in life that genuinely scares me. Spending my years in a dead-end job scares the hell out of me. A loveless marriage scares me. And car crashes scare me.

I’ve been in a few over the years, and almost all as a passenger. There's nothing like sitting in an out-of-control car to make you appreciate inertia, physics, and modern safety equipment.

The worst was in of July of 2007. My two best mates and I drove to Stockton Beach north of Sydney to test out the FJ40 Land Cruiser soft-top one of them had just bought. We were driving along the beach just before dawn so we could watch the sunrise at the waters edge before we’d have our day of fun. As we were driving up a slight incline in the dark, we were unaware that the other side of the dune had washed out. We careened over the edge, landing on the nose of the car, and rolling onto the roof. Of course, being a soft-top there was no roof, but thankfully there was a roll cage installed. And it saved our lives. Incredibly, the cage itself had actually punched through the floor about a foot due to the force of the crash. Still upside-down, my mate grabbed the hanging UHF and shouted at the Land Cruiser that was following us to stop. That was enough for them to jump on the brakes just before they came over the top, hitting the nose of our car. And I was trapped in the back for a few minutes drifting in and out of consciousness.

I remember telling my mother, at about the age of 16 and whilst I was driving, that I probably won’t die because of speeding or drifting. I said to her that I thought I would most likely die changing the CD when I was at the wheel. Now I think the biggest contributing factor to the young road toll is that that can’t visualise an accident. That, and mobile phones.

When I’m driving I’m always sub-consciously looking for the worst possible outcome. And it comes from knowing what it’s like to spin out at high speeds; what it feels like to be the ice in a cocktail shaker; and the sound of screeching tyres and metal and glass as they crunch together.

A couple of years ago I was interviewing one of Australia’s leading misogynist stuntmen, and he was telling me about a time he took his son out near his farm. He’d picked up an old Volvo, put a helmet on the kid, and taken him down a back road. And then he rolled the car. Purely to show him how easy this was to do.

By the look of his nose, this guy had been in one too many accidents without the proper safety equipment – but his story really struck a chord with me. Why the hell aren’t we crashing our children in cars from a young age?

Driver training centres simulate wet conditions and how to control a car in the event of over or understeer. Why shouldn’t we put them in cars and roll them? Or drive them into a wall at 40kph? I swear to God, this would have a genuine effect on the road toll.

Not only would our kids love being strapped into a car that was safely crashed, they would realise the fine line between being in control, and not. Realistically, you wouldn’t have to put them in the car. Put them a safe distance away and let them watch the carnage.

There really aren’t many things that scare me. But being a passenger in the car of a young driver scares the shit out of me.

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