I’m going out on a limb with a controversial comment, but when it comes to road safety the biggest killers are not speed, alcohol/drugs and fatigue. These are symptoms of the main causes, much like pain and fatigue are symptoms of cancer. The biggest killers on our roads are impatience, inexperience and plain stupidity.
Think about it. Speeding is a symptom of impatience, as is driving while tired, but both are clearly results of common stupidity.
Unfortunately, there is not much we can do about stupidity, except educate, educate, educate and hope the message gets through, and impatience is rooted in deeper issues within today’s society that are probably too big to tackle. So, we treat the symptoms, by ever-tighter regulations, and blame speed for almost everything. “5 kmh makes all the difference” the safety ads tell us.
But there is something we can do about inexperience. I am a strong believer that driver education across Australia, generally speaking, is inadequate. Instead of teaching our kids to drive correctly and safely, and to survive on the roads, we teach them how to pass their license test. Unfortunately, too, passing that test is often far too easy.
I learned to drive on a mate’s farm when I was thirteen years old. Chasing sheep, carting hay, removing rubbish, driving a tractor, and then of course there was time for just having fun thrashing around the paddocks.
What it meant was that by the time I turned 17 and received my Learner’s Permit, to allow me to legally drive on the road, I already knew how to manoeuvre a vehicle, make it start, stop and steer when and how I wanted it.
This in turn meant that I could concentrate on learning the road rules, watching the traffic, and generally driving safely, without having to think about how to change gears or keep a constant speed.
I joined the Moke Owners Association in Melbourne, which at the time had a good motorsport calendar including hillclimbs, mud rallies and motorkhanas, not long after getting my license. This gave me an outlet to drive aggressively in a controlled and safe environment, and helped reinforce what had been taught to me on the farm – that there is a time and place for thrashing about in a car, and the public road is not the place.
Naturally, most people don’t have a few hundred acres of farmland available to learn to drive at a young age. Happily, though, there is still an opportunity for our kids to get similar experience and set them up for a safer future on the road – and it is called a Motorkhana.
Motorkhanas have been around in some form or other for more than 50 years. They have different names in different countries – Autotests in the UK and Autocross in the US, for example – but are basically similar around the world.
A motorkhana can take place in any weather and on almost any flat surface, from bitumen or concrete to dirt or grass. The basic idea is for one car at a time to follow a set pattern through flags or cones in the quickest time.
Although a timed event, a motorkhana is not a speed event as such, basically because you rarely, if ever, get out of first or second gear – except on an occasional test where reverse is required.
For this reason, it offers a good place for beginners to get to grips with car control at low speeds, while having an absolute barrel of fun at the same time.
Of course, kids aren’t the only ones who like to have fun in their cars, and motorkhanas cater for all levels and experience of drivers, with state and national championships.
If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 23 of The Mini Experience. <plumshop>39</plumshop> <plumshop>40</plumshop>