In the latest installment in “Owen learns how to do his job,” I went for a driving lesson. It’s all part of my plan to seamlessly blend into America without anyone noticing I don’t really belong here. (Fancy an Irn Bru from an aluminium can anyone?) It went well, apart from a few glaring differences for which I think I’d fail my test if I did them in the UK.
This all came about because I now have a driving test booked. So, before taking it, I figured it would be a good idea to get a few lessons under my belt to get used to America’s way of doing things.
I picked a driving school and navigated the subway to make it to my first lesson. After a quick brush up on how automatics work from the instructor, it was time to hit the streets of NYC for the first time. But, before pulling out from our parking space, I was told that every good driver turns the wheels to face the way they are heading, before hitting the gas.
Now, I might have only just discovered that this is called dry steering, but I’ve known for more than a decade that it’s not the correct thing.
Back home, it’s known as an “acceptable bad habit,” when you sit your test. That’s because it doesn’t directly risk the safety of anyone in the car or other road users. But, it doesn’t work wonders for your tires. And, if you do it excessively you can be given a minor. If you rack up 15 of those, you fail.
It was early, so I wasn’t in the mood for arguing (actually, I rarely am).
After pulling away in this strange new manner, I was given a few words of wisdom about driving position, America’s rules of the road and what to do at a stop sign. Stop, unless you’re a Tesla running Autopilot.
I’m a big enough man to admit that I hate parking. Four years fighting for spaces in narrow London streets followed several more years attempting to pull into a crowded hill. This has basically left me with fever dreams about parallel parking.
I can do it, I just don’t want to. Especially not with the pressures of the angry awaiting New York City traffic. No thank you!
That’s the moment the instructor delivered another bombshell and told me that that I had to put my arm on his seat back and look over my shoulder whenever reversing. You know, the stereotypical dad stance, with one arm on the wheel and another on the passenger seat.
Again, this seemed strange as there’s a catch-all rule back home, and it’s that two hands must be on the wheel at all times when you’re steering. You can take one off to change gear, but both should be stuck at 10 and two when you’re navigating a route.
So this time, I really wasn’t sure whether to trust my new driving guru. It seemed wrong, and way too casual a way to behave on a road test. But then again, I did nail the park on the first go. So maybe there was a method to this madness.
Now, I can’t find anything that explicitly says you shouldn’t do this in New York, but I also can’t find something to say that you should.
So the question is, do I follow these bizarre teachings just so I can pass my test and get released into the world of press trips, review cars and the other fun stuff this job should entail? Or, do I stick to my guns and drive the way I always have while praying that the examiner doesn’t fail me?
Please, send your answers on a postcard.