Jakesy's School of Urban Driving
16 October 2003
OY YOU WANG-ER! We'll come back to him in a minute. Now, first things first, the beginning: You've just passed your test, learnt the rules of the road, proper due care and caution, mirror - signal - manoeuvre, and now, legally and with the full backing of the law, you can pilot a ton and a half of nearly solid metal through these crowded labyrinthine streets packed with maniacs, dopey pedestrians, psycho psychlists and glued-up schoolboys on scooters! Learning on pleasant country roads where the most dangerous thing you'll encounter is some roadkill is all very nice, but why do you think the tube is so bloody busy? Precisely, because people are too scared to drive in London. And so they should be. Leave your Range Rover in the double garage in Surbiton, please. And stay on the trains where you belong.
Now this where I come in. I run a service whereby I try to impart my knowledge and many years of experience of driving in this dirty town to people who need a bit of help finding their urban driving feet. When I first meet them, they are meek, too meek, and are getting intimidated by the slightest raising of the revs or hand gesture. But by the time they leave they have ain an understanding of how the roads of this city work, know what to keep their eye out for, and can get around without any feeling of apprehension.
So, what do I do? Well, it's like a normal driving lesson really. They drive, in my dual control Mondeo, and I assist. I normally start with some simple rules. Like always stop at zebra crossings. Only arseholes and blind people go through zebra crossings when there are people waiting. Because to be a good driver in London is not about being aggressive, it's about knowing the rules, the first one of which is to be confident that you are a good driver. And if you're a good driver, you stop at zebra crossings.
But the thing I must drill into my students is that you must drive predictably. You are driving in London, and all other road users will therefore assume certain things about you. And conversely, to drive unpredictably is to drive dangerously. A classic example is this. You are driving at normal speed (38mph) down a straight stretch of road, and you see a car on the right wanting to pull out in front of you. This being the big city, they are undoubtedly creeping forward. There are no other carts around, so what do you do? You accelerate. There is no traffic behind you, so you are not going to trap the other car behind a long stream. And most importantly, they are expecting you to. If you slow down because you think they might pull out in front of you, then they will. And if they hesitate because they wonder why the hell you're slowing down, then you will probably have decided to speed up again.
Think of it like one of those pavement two-steps where you and the other person keep second guessing each other and eventually you crash. Well, you don't want to crash, do you.
So, the art to urban driving, is being predictable, and being able to tell what other roads users are most likely to do. And the best way to help this is, when someone else on the road does something unpredictable, then you may parp, shout your gesticulate at them. Much of my teaching goes into the art of balanced road shouting, so that the target of your remonstration does not over react.
But the aim of your shouting is a purely social one. The incident may be over, and the perpetrator never broke any legal laws, but by shouting, or bird-flipping, you may reduce the likelihood that that person would do it again. That driver may be someone who hasn't been lucky enough to have had expert guidance like you, so take pity.
Let's leave this at lesson one. Next time, we'll go through the proper hierarchy, from Smart cars, through psychlists, buses, Beemers with blacked out windows, to white vans and cabs. And correct speed camera and speed bump procedures. Thanks, now that'll be a pony.