I’ve had a lot of experience driving in the Philippines and no one could fault me for thinking that because I’ve driven for years back home, I ought to be eligible for a non-expiring licence to drive anywhere in the planet. My skill to safely manoeuvre a vehicle from Point A to Point B in streets where unpredictability is the norm should render me exempt from all driving exams. Unfortunately, the state of Queensland does not agree with my logic. So, I went on my first driving lesson this morning.
There was just a bit of rain, my preferred driving weather. My instructor just told me to take him on a drive, and with confidence, I sat behind the wheel and carefully adjusted the seat, the side and rear-view mirrors before pulling out of the kerb. After five minutes of managing intersections and left and right turns, he asked me to pull over and enumerated a number of things I was doing wrong. As it turns out, there were a lot that I needed to unlearn and with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I can pinpoint with accuracy how I picked up these habits, and there are two major factors at play here:
Factor 1: A 1990 Mitsubishi Galant
Factor 2: Cumulative time spent driving said car in the Philippines
First driving habit which needs improvement: keeping my foot on top of the clutch most of the time. My instructor gave me a quick lesson on how the clutch works, and I learned that just by having my foot on top of the clutch, despite not applying any pressure to it, I’m wearing out the transmission’s bearing. If that happens, I would need to replace the bearing which costs about $35 plus labour, which could take five hours at about $80 an hour. If that doesn’t make you more conscious about placing your foot on the footrest beside the clutch, I don’t know what would. In addition to my heavy foot, I was clutch coasting—something which, if done during a practical driving test for four seconds, results to an automatic failure.
My habit of resting my foot on the clutch was formed heavily by the Galant’s history of transmission woes. The clutch was heavy, and at times I needed to dig it deep onto the floor just to shift from one gear to the next. This was exacerbated by the fact that during rush hour in Manila, you’re pretty much confined to neutral and first gear until you reach your destination.
Of course, all that traffic means you’re using a lot of petrol without actually going anywhere. And on an old gas guzzler with a 2-liter carburettor engine, that problem multiplies. Add the continuous fuel price hikes on top of that and anyone would go through any means to try and save petrol. And one of the things I picked up from my peers back in college (not the best crowd to learn driving from) was to coast. They said if you can move without needing to engage the gears and the gas pedal, you’re saving some cash. Ergo:
The second habit I was asked to work on was the way I held the steering wheel. It’s easy enough to keep hands on the 10 and 2 o’clock positions, but where hands go while turning is a whole different story. Until this morning, I was unaware that there were names for the techniques in steering, namely Hand-over-Hand, Push-Pull, and Palming. I’d tell you more about the methods, but it’s pretty self-explanatory, and any effort I’d put in to teach it through mere words would only cause more confusion. To prove my point, here’s an explanation of Push-Pull steering I found on the net:
‘Nuff said. Anyway, my preferred steering technique for turns was Palming, and of course, it’s the least advisable of the three (I also make turns by hooking my hand inside the wheel with my palm up and *surprise* I wasn’t supposed to do that either). For that bad habit, I blame the institute of “cool”. Seriously.The hands grip the wheel on opposite sides at the same height, at the position of 10 to 2 on a clock. The hands alternate the grip, moving up and down the wheel at the same height. One hand pulls the wheel down to the bottom where it meets the other hand at 6 o'clock position. Changing grips, the opposite hand pushes the wheel to the top where the hands touch at 12 o'clock, ready to change again for the pull down and so on.
When the steering is turned to the desired amount, both hands hold the wheel opposite and at the same height as each other.
To straighten the wheel, reverse the procedure. The last hand to 'feed in' is the first hand to 'feed out'
The primary reason we (guys) wanted to learn how to drive was because it made us exponentially cooler. Don’t agree? Think back to the week approaching your high school prom when you were practicing how to ask your father to borrow the car keys for the evening. For some, that was probably the closest they came to tapping their creativity during those years. But just because you had the wheels doesn’t mean you were instantly cool. You had to look the part. And the 10 and 2 o’clock position was nowhere near the look you were going for. Instead, you wanted “The Lean”.
I don’t think the Gangsta Lean merits any extra points on a driving test, though.
My driving instructor did say that I drive better than a lot of the people on the road in town. (I learned from my dad, who’s a very prudent driver) However, the difference between them and I is that I still need to earn my Aussie licence. And to do that, I’m going to need to do everything by the book. He said I still probably need three more lessons before I can take the test, so before I can disappear into the outback with a ute; I’ve got some practicing to do.
And much to unlearn.
Sources: 1, 2, 3