Last Saturday I was driving down The Great Ocean Road last Saturday, a topic already covered in a post of its own. Roads do not come with more entertaining twists than The Great Ocean Road, and a driver’s skills in the art and science of handling a curve do become transparent as you drive through this lengthy road.
I was the way I’m used to drive nowadays and it just didn’t feel right: we were pretty slow, the car was unpredictable going in and out of turns, and the ride felt uncomfortable.
I think it would fair for me to say that my driving skills have significantly deteriorated since moving to Australia.
The reasons are mostly to do with driving cultures differences between Israel and Australia. I seem to have identified two key items: First, in Israel’s roads, a driver is always the hunter and the hunted, and on road survival demands special skills that the relatively courteous Australian environment does not require. Second, Melbourne is built in a very grid like manner, so while driving in the city (bearing in mind that Melbourne’s metropolitan area is like half the size of Israel entire) you always drive on a straight undemanding lines; when you do turn it’s almost always very slow turns into side streets that do not require much skill. In Israel, on the other hand, even minor residential streets twist and turn, so while you are rarely truly challenged as a driver you do consume curves left and right (pun intended).
Driving in Israel while always fantasizing about riding a bike, even if I hardly ever got to ride one, I developed a motorcycle oriented driving style: Aggressive, always striving to put a safe distance between me and other road users. The easiest way to achieve that is a driving/riding philosophy that is often recommended to bikers: ride at about 10km/h faster than the opposition, constantly leaving them behind. The implementation of this strategy was quite effective, even if I regularly found myself going way over the specified extra speed margin.
That tactic, however entertaining, does not fit Victorian roads where speed traps are set under every fresh tree and fines are issued for exceeding the speed limit by as much as 3km/h. Valuing my license and my savings account, Australia has quickly evolved me to become like the rest of the Melbournian herd, driving at just about the speed limit, no more and no less, and counting on the relative emptiness of Australian roads and the relatively good natured Australian driver to keep me from harm’s way.
It’s an annoyingly passive attitude and it does mean that I need to live with constant tailgating: The average Australian driver, constantly preached to about the dangers of speeding and alcohol, is totally unaware of the importance of keeping a safe distance between cars – a major contributor to the vast majority of car/car traffic accidents. Deploy this strategy almost exclusively for a period of about six years, and one can clearly understand why my driving skills have suffered.
Something happened somewhere in the middle of The Great Ocean Road. It happened to me before while driving this road and it happened to me while driving a rental car through the highlands of Scotland back in 2005. It was as if a switch was flicked on in my head. It was as if my brain bit in charge of the Israeli driving suddenly woke up and told the brain bit in charge of the inner me Australian driver in a very coarse accent, “listen, mate, you might be good at keeping Moshe’s drivers license in one piece, but this road ain’t big enough for the two of us; step aside, please”.
All of a sudden, and through no conscious effort, I was suddenly back to my old driver self. The car was slowing down just at the right pace to keep the ride comfortable and to enable precise steering; aggressive steering was deployed to handle our Honda CR-V’s severe understeering, typical of a relatively powerful and heavy front wheel drive car (don’t mistake the CR-V for a 4WD; it is hardly ever in 4WD mode); and gradual acceleration at just the right amount was effortlessly provided in order to smooth the car out of the curves. Cars in the rear view mirror seemed to just fade away. Never did I go over the speed limit; it was all just a case of straightening out the curves. Surely enough, there was also a smile on my face, just to make it all worthwhile.
Isn’t that tool we all have, the human brain, the most magnificent thing ever? Its ability to safely retain certain instructions in one of its corners and its ability to draw these instructions out at the right time is just one of those true marvels of life in this universe of ours. Thank you again, Great Ocean Road, for giving me this magnificent display of my mind at work.