The arrival of Fathers’ Day should be extra special for me this year, if only because I am expecting one more present and card than I had in 2010. Dylan, born last July, may not yet know the best way to mark the occasion, but hopefully Archie (now 15), Eliza (12) and William (5) can offer him a little guidance.
I was interested to read Freya Berry’s article in the most recent edition of Good Motoring, in which she looked long and hard at how her parents influence her behaviour as a driver. Until then, I had always considered this question from the point of view of a son, not a father. I spent time thinking about what aspects of my parents’ driving had rubbed off on me. My father resolutely refused to sit in as my ‘supervisor’ during my days as a learner. It was left to my mother to sit alongside, a task she warmed to and carried off with great self-control.
Now, however, it won’t be long before Archie reaches driving age, so the time has come to put my own driving under the microscope and wonder what effect it will have on him.
What does Archie think of my driving, I wonder? Have my specific efforts so far to instil a survival instinct in him found a place in a brain that’s probably far too full of GCSE revision and statistics from the cricket team he captains. Let me tell you what I have done with him, from a driving point of view.
Two summers ago, we rented a cottage in Finland. Its remote location, at the end of a two-mile-long private farm track, inspired me to put him in the driving seat of the car we were using and get him familiar with the controls. He soon picked up the rudiments, rarely stalled and showed – I think – a good aptitude for listening and learning.
Last winter, Archie and I made a car journey together, not long after the snow had arrived and the temperatures had plummeted. There was little traffic on the main roads, and we had the rural lanes to ourselves. “Right,” I announced with enthusiasm. “Here’s a stretch of road covered in snow and ice. It’s long and straight. There’s nothing ahead and nothing behind. This is what happens when we apply full braking at 30mph.”
I braked hard, and we commenced a slide that went on and on… just as I had hoped it would. Archie was seeing a practical application of the physics he had been studying, and now had a much clearer understanding of how the coefficient of friction for a tyre on snow would be so much lower than on a stretch of hard asphalt.
So, when Archie does start learning, I wonder if he will keep these experiences in his mind. I have started quizzing him, during journeys, on what hazards he sees developing ahead, or what warning sign we have just passed. Excuse my enthusiasm, but I can see all sorts of opportunities to open his eyes to safer driving, long before he fixes on the L-plates for the first time. My only worry, at this stage, is that he might take things a stage too far, and buy me a copy of the Highway Code for Fathers’ Day.