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We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

When driving assessments go awry

April 8, 2011

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, April 8, 2011

If you saw this during a driving assessment in B.C., would you think you were seeing things and go home to bed? Driving instructor Steve Wallace did exactly that.

A driving assessment is not only an appraisal but also a chance to learn new driving techniques.

When should a person be denied a driving assessment? When should such a drive be discontinued?

Here are the most dramatic examples of situations which have caused me to think twice about getting in a vehicle for a sample drive.

I once approached a driver for an assessment, who was seated in the vehicle, seemingly ready to drive. After a brief check of the basic safety devices and the general condition of the car to be driven, I noticed a white cane in the back seat of the car. The question that I asked seemed quite innocent at the time. “Whose cane is that in the back seat?” The driver replied that it was his cane. He assured me that his vision was very good when looking down the road, but was a little shaky when trying to identify objects extremely close to the vehicle that he was driving. The drive never happened! Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the driver was legally blind.

The strangest drive, which was initiated but never completed, was with a gentleman who greeted me with a kind “hello” as I entered the car to be used for the assessment. After the normal formalities were complete, the drive began. When we had driven for a few minutes, I noticed that the driver was using only one hand to control all the functions of the car. I explained that two hands on the wheel would be required. The driver asked whether I was blind, crazy or just plain rude. He only had one arm! Because of his seating position, I had not noticed the missing limb. I had to inform him that I was not aware of the missing appendage. Legislation in most jurisdictions requires two arms or a prosthetic limb or other adaptation, in order to drive legally. The drive was discontinued. A prosthetic was subsequently acquired and the driver kept his licence. I was curious to know how long he had been driving with one arm, and equally surprised to find out it had been 16 years without a ticket or crash.

The reasons for the discontinuing of an assessment drive can also be the attributed to the instructor being unable to function. I will never forget the time I had to end a drive in short order because I thought I was seeing things, really odd things.

The drive started uneventfully enough, on a very early Saturday morning. I had been out late the night before at a retirement party for a fellow teacher. I don’t drink alcohol. It just doesn’t mix with my chosen profession. Despite that fact, I was totally unnerved by what took place about 10 minutes into the drive. We had pulled up to an intersection, only to be faced with a huge animal walking across the street in front of me, positioned perfectly between the lateral white crosswalk lines. It was an elephant! It was not alone. Behind it was a baby elephant. I asked the driver being assessed to confirm what I had just seen. She answered that it was two elephants. I asked what colour they were. She replied that they were regular elephant colouring. I was relieved she did not say “pink.”

I quit the drive immediately and drove home and went directly to bed. I thought I was seeing things. As it turned out, the circus was in town and the mother elephant had slipped her anchor chain and gone for a stroll through the city of Quesnel. The driver being assessed was not unnerved, since she was from Asia, where the beasts were commonplace. It took a long time to live that one down, thanks to my wife!

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Interior of B.C.

stevewallace@shaw.ca
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