Three learner driver kids multiplied by 120 hours, divided by 2 parents, equals carnage, right?
Rob Pegley

26 Sep 2019 - 9:48 AM  UPDATED 26 Sep 2019 - 9:49 AM

When my Dad taught me to drive, it was an absolute nightmare.

I grew up in Portsmouth, which - believe it or not - is the most densely populated city in the UK. It was 1985 and I drove a clunky, manual Ford Escort around the tight, terraced streets. To say that my dad’s generation were less patient and touchy-feely, is something of an understatement. And I was a ‘difficult’ teenager. More often than not I stomped home after shouting on both sides ended with some door slamming.

There was no set number of hours in the UK back then though, and I swear I took my test after less than 20 hours on the road; so the pain was sharp but short. (Although the fact I’ve written off three cars in the last 30 years may have some correlation with this.)

With three kids of my own and 120 hours each to get through, I feared the worst. And knowing my driving, so did they.

But it was great.

 I’d hear their stories of school and friends and love and life.

I should add the caveat right here, that my ex-wife did far more hours than me. I’m a good dad, she’s a great mum. I probably reached 100 hours all up with the three of them, but that might be an estimate that would slightly flatter me. I certainly spent a lot of time in the passenger seat over a concerted period of time though.

I have a 19-year-old son who dragged his heels learning, until his 17-year-old twin sisters really hooked into it. Suddenly he was keen, and there were three late-teen kids fighting for keys, L-plates, and the attention of their separated parents to get through a combined 300+ hours on the road.

Empty car parks and industrial estates were of course the first port of call. I took my son; my wife took the girls.

All picked it up fairly quickly. Whether it was driving an automatic instead of a manual; the fact I have a mini which is pretty easy to drive (and quite cool), or the fact we weren’t in the 13th most densely populated City in Europe, things seemed easier than I remembered from my youth.

One of my daughters was a more confident driver than me after about eight hours, to be honest.

There were a few raised voices, but surprisingly little of it. I wore out a spot on the carpet with my phantom braking on the passenger side, but held my tongue most of the time. Consensus was that I was calmer than mum. (Imagine a duck, with the legs going berserk beneath the water).

In the end I really looked forward to the drives and even initiated them.

Every opportunity from then on was taken by the kids to jump behind the wheel - nipping to the shops, or pick-ups from mates late at night.

We live on Sydney's Northern beaches and the roads are generally big and wide and tame. We did trips to the city, which raised the blood pressure slightly. My ex-wife even did a couple of jaunts to Canberra. But generally we drove up and down Pittwater.

And this was where we really hit our sweet spot.

Week after week from late Spring 2018 through to early Autumn 2019, we ploughed a furrow between Allambie Heights and Palm Beach, one or two nights a week. My son was often working or studying, so one daughter would drive to Palmy and her twin sister would drive back.

We’d usually pick up a pizza or do a drive-thru Maccas on the way - once we had a KFC feast - and we’d sit at Palm Beach under the stars before turning round for the return journey. In summer we had swims there.

The kids would choose playlists for the drive and I’d complain that the music was too loud and that they needed to concentrate. But I liked their music and we kept it on. And I’d hear their stories of school and friends and love and life.

Sometimes we’d pick up my son from his evening job at Narrabeen and all four of us would share laughs and banter as we drove the dark and fairly deserted Pittwater Road route. The Northern beaches seem to close around 9.30pm at night and that suited us fine.

In the end I really looked forward to the drives and even initiated them.

And now that all three have passed their tests and don’t need the hours, I wish I’d clocked up at least half of the 360. I miss the close bond we developed over those drives. Of course we still see plenty of each other, but there was something about those nights out driving and laughing that was beautiful.

I thought it would drive me crazy, but actually it was a joyride. And nobody slammed a door and walked home.

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