A day in the driver’s seat

“A little left” said Tony in that same calm tone I had grown used to over the past twenty minutes.

In that time, we had become a well-oiled machine. Tony carefully directing me around Sandown Park, and me following his every word intently.

“A little right, a little more, more more more…” the car juddered slightly. Tony and my dad, who was sitting in the back seat, laughed. “You just went over the ripple strips” Tony explained. I laughed too.

As someone who is blind, I rarely get the opportunity to drive a car.

Several posts ago now, I explained that I don’t think being blind is all that bad.

In fact, I described it as only being a “slight inconvenience now and then”. Not being able to drive can be one of those times occasionally. I hate travelling in the rain and have often thought that being able to drive from A to B on cold wet Melbourne days would be such a luxury. Another time I wish that I could drive is when I need to transport something heavy or awkward from A to B.

Doing this without a car is made harder by the fact that we are usually down a hand too! By the time you hold a guide dog’s harness, use a cane or be guided by someone else, you only have one hand that can be useful for anything much (thank god for keep cups that don’t leak when you put them in your handbag)! The third and final reason why I wish I could drive from time to time is that I love a good road trip. I love the idea of just hopping in your car, turning the music up loud or enjoying the present company and going somewhere ages away. A car brings a sense of freedom that I do long for sometimes.

Every year the Lions Club of Warrandyte run a day called In the Driver’s Seat where people who are blind or vision impaired are paired up with a driving instructor, and a dual control car, for a thirty-minute drive around the racetrack.

Communication is crucial

Communication in this scenario was obviously crucial. As someone who couldn’t see the dashboard let alone anything beyond the bonnet of this Toyota Corolla, I had to trust Tony and his directions. Understandably, there were many of them. “A little left, a little more, hold, accelerate slightly, hold, and off the accelerator, a little right, hold, straight, we are coming up to the corner, a lot left, a little more, hold, straight, accelerate.”

Tony had obviously decided he could trust me too. When we had first buckled into the Corolla, he had explained that we would start out slow to see how I responded. Before long, we were speeding along the straights and never once did he reach over to take the steering wheel or use his own set of pedals. He had even encouraged me to beep the horn for the onlookers and had directed me to overtake several other cars on the track.

I grew up in a car and motorbike family. I spent many a weekend as a kid at car shows, swop meets and drag races (and not the RuPaul variety). Bathurst was always a big event for the family. My brother is a qualified auto electrician and mechanic. My dad has a hot rod, and both dad and my brother have Harleys.

One of my favourite things to do is to go for a ride on the Harley with dad. My parents live in an outer suburb of Melbourne not too far from the Yarra Valley. I love riding through the hills and around the sweeping bends with dad. I love being able to smell the horses in their paddocks as we zoom past. I love feeling the temperature changes as we move under the canapes of the trees and then back out into the sunshine again. It really is quite a sensory experience (especially when you can smell the sausage sizzles in the suburbs on a Sunday afternoon). But being able to drive isn’t something I often feel I miss out on. I live in inner-city Melbourne. There is public transport on my doorstep, and Cora and I can walk to most places I need to go. Plus I know that owning a car is expensive! Not to mention the annoyance of having to find car parks. So that’s why I say not being able to drive is only a “slight inconvenience”.

“We are nearly on the back straight again, I snuck us an extra lap.

A little right, hold, and straight. We’re on the straight now, go as fast as you want.” I pushed down the accelerator and the Corolla quickly picked up speed. I briefly wondered how dad was going. He wasn’t usually one for thrill-seeking activities, so I was surprised when he had asked to come along for the ride. Dad works as a truck driver and had driven me all over Melbourne as a kid. But today, the tides had turned. I imagined him clutching the camera tightly as he filmed this momentary change of roles. I followed every direction Tony gave, knowing that the drive was soon coming to an end. “Brake, brake hard.” The car slowed.

I think I would have been a good driver if I could see. I was naturally braking and accelerating more smoothly than many taxis I have been in over the years. “How was that?” Tony asked, “you just did 130 km/h along that straight.” Oh, what a feeling, I thought to myself, as Tony carefully directed me back into the car park.

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