My son and I were out on our weekly Sunday afternoon stroll when we saw it. A brand-new BMW 120d came shuddering up towards the four-way junction where we had stopped seconds before. Normally, the cars tend to wave us through, but in this instance I thought it best to let the trembling driver be on his way before attempting to cross.
I expected to see a droopy-eyed drunken buffoon when he finally arrived at the stop sign, but I was instead surprised to see that the driver was a young boy. He couldn’t have been more than 12 years old. His face was almost against the windscreen and his feet must have struggled to reach the pedals.
You could tell immediately that this young man was in the midst of his first ever driving lesson on quiet afternoon when basically nobody else is around. The big smile on his face and the proud, yet frightened face of his father next to him, confirmed as much.
The incident reminded me that my own father taught me how to drive when I was a mere 12 years old. He called my brother and me away from a Gran Turismo match on the PS1 one morning and proclaimed that I should prepare myself for my first driving lesson. To say I was ecstatic would be an understatement.
My mom had a Toyota Tazz back then, so I assumed we’d use that, but instead my dad handed over the keys to his brand-new Isuzu KB 320 V6.
I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what he was up to, but I understand it now. Why teach someone to drive in a tiny hatch when you have the opportunity to get him or her behind the wheel of something much bigger? If you learn to drive in a massive double cab, you will be able to drive pretty much everything else the world throws at you.
After I had learned the basics on old disused gravel and tarmac roads, my father took me off-road driving and even showed me the naughty side of motoring. I fondly remember riding shotgun as my father made a rather impressive doughnut in a field in the middle of nowhere in the Nissan Hardbody V6 that had replaced the Isuzu. Afterwards, he told me to get behind the wheel and try the same. Back then I thought we were just having fun, but I now understand the method in his madness.
Learning to drive at such a young age was not without its problems. By the time I could legally get a licence, my driving style was set in stone. It was second nature, and I found it extremely difficult to adapt to the K53 method of tediously looking in every mirror until you eventually crashed into the car in front that you hadn’t noticed.
I failed my test twice because, according to the officer, I wasn’t checking my mirrors enough, but on the third try I lucked out and got a wise old ballie who saw straight through my K53 ruse. About 2km into our drive he asked me how long I had been driving and I told him. He told me to turn the car around, stop wasting his time and head back to the station. I assumed I had flunked again, but this nice man gave me a pass.
For many years I drove without a problem, but last year I had an unfortunate incident in our long-term Terios. I was cruising at a relatively stable 100km/h on a gravel road with my brother riding shotgun. We hit a crest in the road and I assume all four wheels left the ground, because when that thing came down it was all over the place.
The result was a rather wicked tank-slapper. It took me nearly 300m to get it under control and when I finally did, we simultaneously let out a sigh of relief.
“I didn’t know you could do that,” said my brother.
“Neither did I,” was my response.
That was the first time I had been involved in something like that and I can only thank my dad for all those years of fooling around. Instead of braking and hoping for the best, which would have ended up with the Terios in a ditch, my basic driving instincts kicked in and somehow I just knew what to do.
I’m not trying to illustrate my driving prowess, but I can’t help but wonder what would have happened with most young drivers in that situation. These days you get five basic driving lessons and that’s about it. Is that enough? Not even close.
So, thanks dad. I can’t wait until your grandson’s legs grow long enough to reach the pedals. Then all we’ll need is an old Isuzu V6 bakkie.