Thomas (boggyb) wrote,

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First driving lesson

So, today I had my first ever driving lesson! I promised pleaseremove I'd post about it, so here goes...

It all went rather well - I managed two laps of Frosthole Crescent (a quiet residential set of roads, with enough parked cars to make things interesting), didn't crash into anything (unless nudging the kerb with a wheel counts...), and didn't stall the car once. I even found 2nd gear!

The lesson started out with the basics of a "cockpit check" and getting ready to drive - from memory (I have notes, but I'm not going to peek until I've written this) this is:
Doors: check they're all closed
Tug handbrake/waggle gear stick: make sure handbrake is on and gearbox is in neutral
Seat: adjust height, distance, angle, and headrest, in that order
Steering wheel: adjust height
Seatbelt: duh!
Mirrors: check and adjust

Almost correct - my notes say check the doors after the handbrake. Anyway, next was going round the dashboard and identifying everything, and working out just where all the controls are hidden. Let's see... indicators are on the left (and this car has an annoying trick where if you move the stick a little, it flashes the indicator a few times - it's apparently easy to trigger that when turning the indicators off), and I think pull the stick forwards for full beam. Wipers are the right-hand stick with a short movement to trigger the wiper once, and the rear wiper is a rocker on the end of the stick. Main lights including fogs are on a switch to the right somewhere. And the centre console has the heating controls, including front/rear window demisters, and a button for the hazard lights. Pedals are from right to left gas (accelerator, but "gas" is shorter to say), brake, and clutch, and the right foot does the gas and brake while the left does the clutch. Oh, and handbrake you lift a little, then press the button, then drop. And you press the button before pulling it up otherwise it makes a rachet noise and your driving examiner gets upset.

There was also a bit about picking the optimum gear. The rule of thumb was something like the speed of the car should be double the revs times ten (so at 3 (or 3000 rpm) I should be doing 60), and that the revs should generally be under 3.5. To be honest, I was concentrating hard enough on everything else that I didn't pay any attention to the tachometer once I got going!

Finally it was time to actually start the car (make sure it's in neutral, depress the clutch, turn the key all the way until the engine starts then release (no fancy start/stop button here), and release the clutch) and drive off! I'm learning in a manual (for non-Brits: manuals are standard here, as if you pass your test in an automatic you can only drive automatics. This also means that British TV doesn't use "driving stick" or lack thereof as a plot point) and the only thing I've ever driven before is a go-kart, which has a centrifugal clutch and so doesn't have a clutch pedal. So this was an entirely new concept for me! It's actually quite surprising - despite the massive travel of the clutch pedal, the actual useful range is tiny. Same goes for the gas - I was generally only using small changes in pressure on it (my instructor described it as "curling your toes in a deep sheepskin rug"). In fact, moving away only required a very small amount of revs.

Speaking of moving away, there's another sequence here. Again from memory, this is:
Depress clutch, all the way
Select first gear
Set the gas - this needs surprisingly little
Release clutch until you find the "bite point" - this is the point at which the car seems to hunker down slightly
Release the handbrake
Move off, releasing the clutch

At which point the car is moving and you have this simultaneously thrilling and terrifying experience when you realise you're actually in control of (as pleaseremove put it) a vehicle powered by explosions. I managed a short distance and then we stopped, which consists of:
Release gas
Gently apply brake
As car slows to a halt, depress clutch

We then paused for a moment and went over both where I should be looking, and how to actually steer. On a go-kart you try and keep a hold of the wheel despite the kart's best effort to shake your hands off of your arms, and generally don't let do. On a car, because the steering is much lighter and isn't shaking, you do a sort of continuous shuffle which she demonstrated with a couple of Tupperware lids. Let's see... starting with both hands at the the 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock positions, pull one side of the wheel down with one hand while sliding the other hand so both hands are level. When both hands reach the bottom, continue turning the wheel but use the hand that was sliding to now pull that side up. Keep going, changing which hand is pulling whenever your hands reach the top or bottom of the wheel. Simples! (not)

Then it was time to travel a bit further... and do an entire lap of the area, including negotiating two junctions. First junction is a left turn into a side road, but the next one is a left turn back onto the original road, requiring actually stopping at the junction, having a good look around, and then moving off again.

One lap complete, and it was time to pause again - this time to go over the missing part of the steps: observation! This is a 6-point scan of the area: over left shoulder, left mirror, rear view mirror, front view, right mirror, and over right shoulder, and all the while making sure to keep my feet still. This is harder than it sounds - if you put your feet on the ground, lean back in your chair, and twist around you'll find your legs are moving a bit. This doesn't help when you're trying to keep the clutch on the bite point and the gas steady! The trick is to lean forwards a little first, at which point it becomes a lot easier. Anyway, the entire point of this is to see if there's anyone in the way, and if there's anyone to signal to. See, driving examiners are sneaky and expect you to only indicate when moving off if there's someone else there. If the area is empty, then they expect you to not indicate. This is how they know you're actually paying attention (they also expect you to actually look around and pause momentarily at each point, not just shake your head).

I was also introduced to BOB and TOM at this point. No, they're not other people in the car, but acronyms for Boy On Bike and Twit On Moped. The Boy On Bike (or perhaps not on bike) will sneak up the inside, while the Twit On Moped thinks it's funny to buzz learners on the outside (for some reason, Twits On Mopeds think it's a lot less funny once they start learning to drive!). Again, these are all things to watch out for. With that, it was time to move off again, this time trying to pay more attention to observing around and at junctions, and trying to not get trapped into either tunnel vision or peering down the bonnet of the car. I managed another lap, and at some point along this I was told to change up to second gear! This turned out to be a lot easier than I was expecting - just keep the pressure on the gas, depress the clutch all the way, change gear (making sure I find second and not fourth - the gear stick will spring back to the middle if you let it), and smoothly release the clutch. I honestly was expecting to have to do some sort of attempt at rev-matching, but nope, that's it.

My instructor was impressed with my steering - she commented that normally people are all over the place, but with me it was more of a gentle swan-necking wandering along the road. Presumably the karting outings were good for something (pleaseremove has mentioned that I'm annoying to overtake when karting as I follow the racing line, just not as fast as he'd like), though it's still a meander only vaguely along the correct side of the road. I can see I'll need to work on braking as well as the stops were definitely rather abrupt. Again, the useful part of the travel on the pedal is surprisingly short. Here's also where karting will work against me, especially as there you're never really trying to slow to a stop.

Anyway, on to next time when I will apparently be driving home! Well... probably not all the way home - getting into my street requires negotiating the mess that happens when a roundabout tries to become a crossroad, with access to my road either requiring approaching from a specific direction with careful lane changes, or passing through a gap between the edge of the roundabout and a filter lane. I think I'll actually be driving to a much easier-to-access side road a few minutes walk away, or possibly stopping in a nearby lay-by.
Tags: driving, driving lessons

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