THE ‘NETTE EFFECT: Take the road challenge
My colleague Randy and I exchanged places and I slipped into the driver’s seat, opposite the driving instructor.
Instantly I lost all confidence in my ability to move off the vehicle without jerking it.
“Mirrors . . . seat . . . gears . . . seatbelt,” I said under the gaze of the instructor.
I reckoned that I had everything covered and started out for the road.
It was a sunny day a few weeks ago when Carol Martindale, Randy Bennett and I were completing our driver’s test travelling with master instructor Junior Jordan.
It was all well and good when the Editorial Department introduced a refresher course for licensed drivers. Defensive driving, they called it. It involved a theory aspect that was expected. But then we heard about a practical component that included being tested on the road by Jordan of the Caribbean Academy of Driving Excellence. That’s when cold feet infected all the participants.
No one was willing to face the prospect of being tested when we all knew that bad habits had crept into our everyday driving and we all felt that if there was a checklist then certainly we were headed for failure.
The eager Randy, in the truest tradition of that unfounded belief in male superiority whenever it came to revved up engines, grabbed the wheel first. But instantly I could tell that he was suffering the same anxiety that had attacked me from the time I heard I had to take part in a test. The scrutinising gaze of instructor Jordan drained him of all testosterone.
I had imagined the testing would go something like target practice for law enforcement officers, where objects unexpectedly sprang up and you had to drive like a Transporter or James Bond character, swerving here and jamming on the brakes. I briefly considered whether I had any catlike reflexes left in me if I suddenly came upon a pothole or a wayward pedestrian.
Against that type of fear factor lurking with all of us, the usually assertive Randy boarded the SUV and moved off at such a snail’s pace I figured I could get out and outrun the vehicle to its destination. All the same, I remained trapped in the back with a gabby Carol.
I swear her flow of speech was much more rapid than Randy’s mph.
Jordan’s instructed us to look ahead while calling out all that we were witnessing and what we were expected to do as we made our way along the roads. From potholes to pedestrians, crossings to signs and from animals to trees we were to note aloud everything in our path.
So as Randy ambled along calling out his observations and reactions, in one case slowing down to accommodate a vehicle that was overtaking oncoming traffic, Carol felt compelled to engage Jordan. And she wasn’t asking, as much as she was stating.
Five minutes into the exercise and instead of listening to Randy we were now exclusively hearing from the loquacious Carol.
Then, believe it or not, Carol remarked to Randy that he had failed to point out what he was doing. To which we all replied that it was hard to interrupt when she was in full flight. She hadn’t noticed.
During my turn at the wheel, the backseat crew alleged that I was driving rather quickly. But I had to explain that given Randy’s pace, anything immediately following would feel like roller coaster speed. As I moved along the roads, crawling up steep hills, squeezing through narrow roads, avoiding potholes I realised something.
Jordan was making us bring to our consciousness all that was taking place on the road and forcing us to look several metres ahead. That meant we were able to anticipate any danger and be ready.
It is something that we do every time we sit behind the wheel, but sometimes we take certain things for granted because we’ve suddenly become experts.
It was a few hours well spent looking for the overt and hidden dangers on the road. The exercise challenged us to remain focused on staying in control of the vehicle even when the distractions were on the inside including the back seat drivers.
It meant that we also had to exhibit a measure of patience for other road users even if we had the rightaway. For instance, pedestrians who stepped suddenly into the path of the vehicle or walked three abreast in the road, bicyclists who annoyingly bobbed and weaved in traffic or impatient drivers who cut in line. Take the road challenge.
• Antoinette Connell is a News Editor.