Almost all of us learn to drive at some point. Most people do it when they’re in their late teens or early twenties. I’m sure we all remember the instructor telling us to ease the clutch pedal upwards and feel for the biting point then to feed in some gas. It’s a muscle memory that stays with us through life as a result of the constant repetition of the actions in those early days of learning to drive. Everyone who learnt on a manual car will remember the day when the coordination wasn’t quite right and we kangaroo’d down the road alternating between stalling the engine and moving off.
My Son is still a couple of years away from the age when he will be eligible to learn to drive – He could learn to fly next year but that’s another story! At the moment his only experience of driving has been in computer games like Grand Theft Auto – which hardly sets a good example in terms of obeying the rules of the road 😉 He and his friends have also tried Euro Truck Simulator using the keyboard and mouse to drive. It’s hardly realistic and not likely to be of benefit in real world driving terms. They also seemed to spend more time having to restart after wrecking their trucks, to the extent that they now rarely play. It sometimes seems to me that the simplest of games are the hardest to master when you have teenage levels of patience 😉
Last year I offered Alasdair the chance to set up a profile on my computer for American Truck Simulator. This would give him the opportunity to try out driving with the sort of controls you have in a manual car – Wheel, pedals and gear lever. I gave him some fatherly advice. Choose one of the smaller trucks – Peterbilt 579 or Kenworth T680 – because the game gives you your first job with the truck you selected as your favourite and they will be easier to control. Of course, he went for the big boy; the Kenworth W900L……A typical teenage reaction 😉 He’s seen me driving on the road and on the computer and I guess it looks easy so ignoring Dad’s advice would be a good idea. It wasn’t because, just to aggravate the situation, the game presented him with one of the tightest starting parked positions that you can get. He spent around 15 minutes trying to get the truck and trailer moving and turned but all he achieved was constant stalling. I offered advice, I offered sympathy, I even kept a straight face! In the end he threw in the towel and walked away never to be seen again.
A couple of weeks ago I finally convinced him to try again only this time he would be driving on my profile in a truck that is smaller and more suited to getting a basic idea of what it’s like to drive a real world car. For this exercise I sat him ‘metaphorically’ in the Mack R600. He’s two years older and a bit wiser so this time he was open to my ‘driving instruction’ 🙂 The cab of the Mack is not dissimilar to the car I learnt on. The main difference is the rev counter on the left of the central display……I seem to recall there was a clock in that position back then. The other main difference is the gears – 4 speed on the car I learnt in and 10 speeds in the truck. I deliberately went for the 10 speed so that he could practice changing up and down the first 5 gears, which would give him a max speed of around 20mph, without the complications of a gear splitter and without having to change the range. So I sat him in the seat; Talked him through the controls and explained about looking for the Bite Point on the clutch. There’s one difference on the computer pedals compared with the real world ones – you don’t get the slight mechanical feel through your foot as the clutch plates mesh. But – as I explained to Alasdair – you do have that rather handy rev-counter on the dash and you can hear the engine note starting to change as the clutch bites. I was taught to change gears on speed – 1st to 10mph; 2nd to 20mph, etc. because there was no rev-counter. As we had one on the truck (and most modern cars have one too) I explained how to use the rev-counter to judge when to change up to the next gear – 1500 revs = ideal change up point for this engine.
As you can see from the image, we started out in my garage at Bakersfield. It took a couple of goes but Alasdair got it moving and changed up to second gear. Then he had to turn out of the doors and found how much work is involved in low speed steering. It won’t surprise you to hear that initially his steering inputs were often too great and once out on the road we followed a rather less than straight path down the carriageway. He also struggled with the concept of feeding the wheel through your hands – but it will come with practice 🙂 We spent around 45 minutes driving in Bakersfield and by the end he’d got to the point where he wasn’t stalling very much and his steering was much more controlled, though he wasn’t getting beyond 4th gear and was revving the engine more than is desirable! He had one accident due to over-correcting his steering after turning at a junction, incurring a fine from those nice CHiP’s people and putting up my truck insurance slightly 😉 All-in-all a fun Father-Son experience. I should add that pulling away in the Mack R600 with its 237HP engine, even without a trailer, requires a deft touch on the clutch and throttle so I think he did well 🙂 I’m going to make his next driving lesson a bit easier – I have a 10 speed Peterbilt 567 set up for him with a 425HP engine – that will be a lot easier to get moving than the Mack!
To conclude, I would like to apologise to the good folks of Bakersfield for any concerns they may have about the standard of driving instruction taking place on their streets and also for the minor collision down by the Wally-Mart 😉