Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Driving in Oz

I’ve had a car for about 8 months now and feel somewhat confident in my driving on the wrong side of the road instead of what we in the US and MOST OF THE REST OF THE WORLD call the RIGHT side of the road. The above picture shows the right side drivers in Red and 'others' in Blue. See how other countries have adapted to the ‘right’ way: Of course, Aussies refer to themselves as driving on the ‘proper’ side of the road. Some passengers, pedestrians and other drivers may disagree with me that I’ve adapted all right, but I just hope they live by creed, Be Quick or Be Dead.

New South Wales actually has a very good system I think for new drivers. Even I can’t even apply for a driver’s license until I’ve been living here for 6 months. Apparently, that’s to ensure that I’ve adapted to traffic being backwards and that I’ve survived crossing the road during my adjustment. Adding to that excitement, Aussies do not stop for pedestrians unless (usually) you’re in a crosswalk. Here, pavement is for cars, period! When I told a co-worker that in the US you’re supposed to stop when you see someone standing on the corner of an uncontrolled intersection, his head shook and his eyes about popped out of his head! He’d never heard of such rubbish in his life and he’s older than I am!

NSW’s RTA (Road and Transportation Authority) which is a combination of our DMV, DOT and assorted government agencies, has 3 designations for beginners, “L”, Red “P” and Green “P”. “P” platers as they’re affectionately known cause more accidents than any other group, naturally because they’re usually young and drunk. The drinking age is 18 and lately, there’ve been rumblings about changing that to 21 (must be an election year). This is going on at the time the US is considering lowering it to 19, which I think is a fair compromise since technically, we can send 18 year olds to their deaths in war, but don’t let them drink!

Anyway, “L” = Learner and “P” = Probationary Driver. Red for the first 6 months and green for the next 2 years! To get an “L” license, you have to be 16 and keep a log book, recording a minimum of 120 hours of driving with a licensed driver! A red “P” plater has to pass all the stuff while an “L” plater including a driving test, and he gets to go a maximum of 90 kmh! That’s 10 more than when they were “L” platers! You are also restricted to only 1 passenger under 21 between 11pm and 5am. A green “P” plater is for 2 years minimum before they can apply for a full driver’s license. All restricted licensees have 0.00% alcohol limits and can’t drive high performance cars, even 8 cylinder cars! here’s the link in case you’re interested in the details.

The reason I’m boring you with all this detail is to suggest that the State of Washington, among other in the US, may want to take a look as some of these ideas/restrictions might be useful in creating better drivers with less carnage. Another thing the RTA does here is require vehicle inspections every year for cars over 3 years old. It is a very comprehensive inspection where goofy things such as worn windshield (or wind screen, here) wiper blades, seat belts that don’t fully retract or even if the ignition key can be removed while the system is on, requires fixing before the annual “rego” (registration or license) can be paid. Even rust spots can disqualify a car from rego and there are specialists who work on rust in order to pass inspection. The result of this is that there are much better and safer cars on the roads, but also you can be assured that if the car has time left on it’s rego, it’s probably in pretty good shape.

My Dream Machine is a 1996 Holden Commodore (think similar to a Chevy Impala) that I call my Hoon Wagon. A Hoon is a loudish, boorish type-lout that is often used to describe morons who drive like…well, morons. Those particular Commodores tend to attract Hoons and I’m proud to say, is the most commonly stolen car in NSW. In fact, there’s a sticker on it that says, “Drive It Like You Stole It!”

The headliner is falling down and in spite of spraying glue up there, continues to fall so every time I get in, I rub it to try and make it stick a little bit longer. My guests have always thought I just loved my car in an odd and strange way until I explain I’m not a pervert, I’m just trying to get the damned liner off my head.

If and when Holly does come down under to join me, now estimated to be June 2011, I think we’ll go out and buy a new car that she’ll enjoy driving. I probably should wait 6 months like RTA does and let her get used to the ‘proper’ side of the road in my Hoon Wagon before driving a new car.

Until then, I’ll be driving and signing to Bob Marley’s Jammin

I’m Hoonin
I’m Hoonin
I’m Hoonin’ like never before,
I’m Hoonin’ on the left cuz they don’t drive on the right.
I’m Hoonin and I don’t mean Chinese….

Maybe it’ll sound better after a couple beers. No! Unfortunately, that's not my car pictured.

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