The USS Quad Damage

Skilled drivers indeed

I did the AAMI Skilled drivers course on Sunday, because AAMI gives me 10% off my premium, and I figured me and my car on a large slab of road with witches hats would be great fun. And it was, to some extent, but not like I would've liked. Would I recommend this course to others? Yeah, but then I don't really think much of people. Did I think it was worth it? Only just, but that could've been because of the regimented dumbed-down talked-down-to attitude that TAFE courses generally take (this was done at a TAFE, and judging by the teaching style, it was prepared in a TAFE courses manner). I should probably start with what's wrong with TAFE courses in general, then move on to the course itself, so here goes.

The problem with TAFE is that what's being taught is pushed right down to the wire. Every minute of the material, whether it's practical stuff, questions, or "brainstorming" is written down. The teacher's got pretty much no free will, and is effectively a puppet for the teaching material to order around. Brainstorming is in quotes, because it's really code for "come up with the same crap that's on the teacher's sheet of paper", and questions aren't really questions, because only a select few pre-determined questions are answered, and the rest are effectively ignored or shunned. Basically, the structure of a TAFE course really tries to make you come to the same conclusion as the material on your own, and if you don't, then you're pretty much told to shut up.

The real problem here is time. Because what's on the sheets needs to be done, and done in a particular time span, there's no extra time allotted for any free thought. The teacher's not allowed to think, the students aren't allowed to think, you just have to come to some simplistic conclusion and have everyone smile and agree that it's correct, then you move on. Kind of seems like what a Japanese classroom may be like, or possibly something from 1984.

What do they teach you? The dogma is basically crystallised into three sections: reduce speed, increase distance, and concentrate. Of course, the material is structured so as to make you think you came up with it, but no one's fooled. Reduce speed is flawed because no matter how slow you're going, you could always go slower, and that should be safer, right? Therefore you're only truly safe if you don't move at all. Where do you draw the line, and why? This is not explained. Further, reduced speed appears to be more dangerous, as it pisses other drivers off and they try and change lanes around you. It should be "keep a reasonable speed", but that would require "reason", and that makes for a bad dogma.

Increase distance is flawed for a whole slew of reasons. First, they assert that most people drive within 3 meters of the car in front of them, and then they assert that it takes at least 10 meters to stop. I don't know whether this is tied to how younger drivers have 4 times as many crashes as older people, but if it is, there's no explanation as to why. They completely gloss over the fact that the car in front of you is unable to stop instantly. Well, they "prove" this by having two cars going at 100km/h, with the one ahead braking and the one behind braking straight afterwards -- with dramatic results, but this is more of a "hey look, I can put two cars an arbitrary distance apart and they will / won't crash". If you add the fact that it's hard to gauge how quickly the person ahead of you is slowing down if you're further away, the argument seems pretty weak. I tend to be further away from the car in front of me than most people, but closer than the recommendation.

I even take a slight issue to concentration. Sometimes you're driving for hours on end, and sometimes you're tired and you're driving home. You can't concentrate (at least, not completely), and it's sometimes slightly ridiculous to just "not drive". I pretty much go home with the assumption that nothing will seriously go wrong. It's the same with Hapkido. I know that right after Hapkido, if I'm really tired, there's no way I'm capable of defending myself to the degree that I could if I were fully refreshed. Having said that, though, I think you don't need to convince me that more concentration while driving is a good thing.

The key word here is "drama". They're not giving you science or facts, they're giving you drama. They basically say "look at us, we can make screechy noises with cars, we know what we're talking about". The day ended with the playing of solemn voiceover of a guy storylining a car crash (I am not kidding). The numbers are rigged so as to scare you, the tapes and figures are designed to scare you, and the instructors try to scare you into believing what they're saying. The silence at the end of the class was rather unnerving. Even the smart-arse who was arguing the whole time (to no avail) had shut up. I'm hoping these kids are smart enough to know the truth from the bullshit.

So, after the "remember, you are going to dieeee... wooooooo", we are lead out for the practical stuff. Actually, it's a little more well constructed than this. They do the "hard stop" test to begin with (they're trying to scare you with the screechy noises, remember), then give you their speed and distance crapola, then the rest of the tests, and finally the voiceovers.

The hard stop test is basically to test out your braking. You drive up to 40, and stop as quickly as possible. Then the instructor takes conservative steps to tell you how far you went in that time. I got "14.5" meters. Considering how short the lady was, and how small her steps were, I'd say it was closer to 10 meters... on a wet road... when I wasn't really braking that hard (there was an awkward moment of "aren't you gonna tell me to stop?")... in a Commodore. I think I know why they don't use trundle wheels. Then she comes back with a "it takes a minimum of 10 meters to stop on a dry road" etc. etc. Fair enough, you're usually going at least 60, but the fudge-factors were really getting to me.

Then we did the CAAS tests. I don't know what it means, but it sounds like "cars", and that's probably all they cared about when coming up with it. Before we went out, I noted that the instructor told us not to do any burnouts, handbrake turns, or anything else fancy. No doubt Mr Trevarthen (who also did this course) inspired this little warning. These tests were quite fun, because we got a group of 4 (3 plus an instructor) and each went out and did each of the tests. It was interesting to see how all the different cars handled. I liked the variety in our group: A Jeep, an Astra, and my Commodore (ole!).

I will say at the outset, I didn't try any hoonish behaviour. We were tight for time, and I didn't want anyone to hate me. Also, it was raining, and I'm not exactly a rally car driver. More specifically, I didn't try the "accelerate my RWD to get oversteer" trick which Trevardy used to freak out his instructors. I did, however, do the "180 burnout" thing where you turn around in a tight circle because your rear wheels are spinning. I immediately tried to act awkward like I didn't mean it, but I felt good about it, and the instructor probably noticed. Somewhere during the tests I also got accused of being a leadfoot. I don't know why people say that about me.

The first test was the slalom. It's the test with the witches hats in a line and you have to weave in between them. 10 meter distance, wet road, Commodore, 45kph. I started out OK, but lost it pretty quick and took out a witches hat. I also didn't manage to go through all the witches hats, seeing as I couldn't turn nearly fast enough. Tried again at 35kph and it was quite easy. again at 45kph and I came to believe that maybe it was physics that was against me. Damn. The 4WD fared similarly, although having slightly more grip and leaning a fair bit more. The Astra was also quite good. She actually managed to do it in the final run at 45, without even skidding. The driving ability of the other two drivers was pretty good, considering they're just ordinary peoples.

The second test was the corner. It's got a bunch of witches hats marking out the approximate width of a car, going around in a semi-circle. The Astra did this perfectly every time. The 4WD was made to go slower, but could also just barely manage this. Mine was fine at 35kph, and skidded out at 45kph. I wasn't doing anything fancy, so I expected this. I spazzed out on two things, however. The first time I went through (45), I started skidding and naturally went for the brakes. A little before the instructor said "don't touch the brakes", I realised how stupid it was. The final time I went through (45), I lost grip and ran over a few witches hats. I expected it, but I got complacent, so when I regained grip, I ended up shooting off in a direction and took out a few more. I had time to correct it, but I didn't.

The third test was the lane change. Drive up, wait till the instructor says "left" or "right", and change into that lane before you run into the witches hats in front of you. Out of all the tests, I think I messed this one up the worst. You do this test 4 times. First time with one second warning, the second time with 2 seconds, the third time with 3, and finally again with 1. Two and three seconds were a walk in the park, even for my car on a wet road, so we can skip those except to mention that for the two second one I turned the wheel too quick and still managed to skid a little. The 1 second ones deserve mention, though. The first time the instructor said right, and I went left, ploughing through a bunch of witches hats. I wanted to follow his direction or not hit witches hats (or both, if I could). I messed up on both counts, which felt bad. The other two had no problems doing this one. The third time I got the direction right, but I messed up royally on the "not hitting the witches hats" part. I didn't feel all that bad, though, because that time I was practically on the witches hats by the time the instructor told me to turn.

The fourth test was the same as the third, but we were allowed to stop. The 4WD did pretty bad. The Astra was brilliant (a small car with ABS, who would've known?) Having said that, it was quite hard for the girl to actually push hard enough to engage the ABS. As it turns out, I'm rather good at late braking. One second was still impossible, but I did two and three with comfort and without locking up the brakes. We were the last group still on the field. Then we went back and got our certificates and went home.

I got whiplash, as did the girl with the Astra. She's studying to be a physiotherapist.

Alternate, creepy ending: I got whiplash, as did the girl with the Astra. She's studying to be a physiotherapist. I know because I go through her garbage and dirty laundry. We're going to get married one day.