For once the Camry had both warrant and registration. All the signal lights were working (although the left indicator was a bit flickety-floo − you had to click it twice to make it stop over-blinking, like a terrible liar). The great big dent in the boot didn’t even seem to faze him and I couldn’t remember how it happened, parallel parking between a Porsche and a Mercedes in Wanaka, I think.
“Identify the hazards,” said the instructor, as we set off through the suburbs. “That jogger isn’t wearing a bra,” I said. He didn’t laugh. Wasn’t the laughing type, apparently. We went into a roundabout, around the block and into another one, and then another, doing a pensioner 30kph the whole time, super alert, hands at ten and two. The instructor seemed to be jotting an awful lot down. Maybe he was writing about how awesome I was. The test took 15 minutes, instead of 30, still, I was hopeful. But no. Of course it was the roundabouts that did for me. I forgot to indicate coming off them. Twice. Which is now the number of times I have failed my driver’s license.
The last attempt was ten years ago. I was working at Dunedin’s Fortune Theatre at the time and turned up in the promo car; a little blue Ford Focus decorated with a pair of less-than-pert naked bottoms advertising Roger Hall’s Spreading Out. Everything had been going swimmingly until we drove up the hill towards the start of the motorway. From the top, I spied the 100 sign and sped up to meet it. “That’s an automatic fail,” shouted the instructor. “Abort! Abort! Return to base, return to base.” I burst into tears. He, unhardened of heart, stared straight ahead, an Easter Island statue in nubby grey slacks.
Sadly, official statistics show repeat candidates are more likely to fail, the pass rate falling with the more times people sit their drivers’ test a clear sign, ‘If at first you don’t succeed try, try again,’ simply does not ring true for some. ‘Pack it in before you embarrass yourself,’ much better advice. Interestingly, men are more likely to pass after repeat attempts than women, however, women show the greatest determination to persevere no matter how many times they fail, which says everything, really, about our sex and the triumph of hope over experience.
Some people are simply not cut out to get behind the wheel of a car, and they know it. Lena Dunham, American actress and writer says, “I don’t drive. It’s not going to happen. Some women are not meant to be mothers, and some people are not meant to drive.” The question of whether particular humans are congenitally unsuited to control a clutch is one oft-pondered by road safety campaigners, psychologists, and the economist. “Oh dear,” he said of my twofer, sensibly keeping his voice neutral (which, incidentally, is what I should have been in when I started the engine).
While this is turning into an expensive and long-drawn-out series of driving lessons − wonder what I’ll learn next time − I just find there’s so much going on, what with the steering wheel, the pedals, gear stick and everything else happening on the road: getting the finger from other motorists, everything flying off the passenger seat when I slam on the brakes, and missing the lights changing when I bend down to pick stuff up.
Luckily, for my dented pride (nothing worse than sucking at something a 15-year-old boy can do), it doesn’t mean I’m a dummy. Albert Einstein never learned how to drive, saying it was far too complicated, and anecdotal evidence suggests a number of highly intelligent people are similarly afflicted. During her test, Spectator columnist Mary Killen arrived at a T junction, and not knowing what to do, took both hands off the wheel to cover her eyes. And it’s all so primitive: sitting in box belching toxic fumes, using your feet and hands … futurist and host of Tomorrow’s World, Chris Riddell, believes we are the last generation to drive a car; automobiles the smelly successor to the more stinky horse, we are currently living in the motorised Middle Ages.
With driverless cars rapidly on their way, if I just hold out for another 15 years, chances are I won’t have to go through the humiliation of failing my full ever again. “You are so ahead of your time,” said the economist. “You’re actually avant-garde. Avant car.” In your face, VTNZ.