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7. Driving in Melbourne

7. Driving in Melbourne

By Alena Lien, 

21 July 2018

Transcript:

Hi! How're you doing? Welcome to the Along Came English Podcast. I'm Alena and today I'm going to talk about my experience or experiences driving in Melbourne.


Now Melbourne, and probably for most of Australia, are one of those places where you can't live in without a car.


Brunei is also one of those places. I think public transportation wasn't introduced until I was in high school in the late 90s.


So yea, so Melbourne.


I know a few people who live in here in Melbourne without a car and it's pretty inconvenient especially if you live in the suburbs. Not having a car actually affects the kind of jobs you can get. The amount of travelling time increases pretty significantly when you are using public transportation - even just getting to the next suburb.


I mean, having a car can be pretty costly, but if "time is money" - which is a saying to mean that time is valuable, then it can affect your lifestyle in a not so positive way.


I also have friends who live in the city and don't own a car, but their livelihood is pretty much contained within the city. And Melbourne, if you don't know already is a pretty small city, in comparison to places like Singapore or Tokyo.


I met someone who told me that since they moved to Melbourne, they never left the city for a day trip or visit the suburbs or the countryside, and they lived in Melbourne for 8 years.


Now don't get me wrong, Melbourne city is very convenient place, and offers many activities to do, with really good restaurants and cafes, but it is a very expensive place to live.


Like, my current rent is almost a third of what my friends pay to live in the city. So it's kind of a compromise, either you pay a lot to live in the city with the convenience of the city, or you live in the suburb with the convenience and cost of owning a car.


Alright! Well, before we continue, don't forget to check out my website for this episode's vocabulary alongcameenglish.wordpress.com (<- This is no longer the official website). Also find me on facebook. Links are in the description as well.


All right.



Driving licence


A "driver's licence" or a "driving licence" is a document usually in the form of a card that permits an individual to drive a motor vehicle on Australian roads.


Now the age for getting a driver's licence varies between different Australian states, but in Victoria it is 18 years. After getting the driver's licence, usually there's a probationary period of 3 years, and after that you become a full-licensed driver - which you can then supervise someone who's learning how to drive.


You can start learning how to drive at the age of 16, with a fully-licensed driver of course, which is about 2 years of preparation before you can get your driver's licence.


Now while learning, you do need another document called a "learner's permit," which really just allows you to legally learn how to drive on Australian roads.


Now both driver's licence and learner's permit are considered types of identification as well. If you need to enter a club, or register for a new service for example.



Manual vs automatic cars


Now over here in Victoria, you also have the choice of getting a licence to drive an "automatic transmission" car or a "manual transmission" car.


"Manual transmission" is when you manually shift gears by using a "gearstick." The whole point of shifting gears is to get your engine working at optimal performance for each range of speeds - so changing to a specific gear allows the car to perform at its optimum within a certain speed range.


"Automatic transmission" is when the car does it for you automatically.


Now having the choice between learning to drive either is kind of interesting because if you learn how to drive a manual, which requires more skill, you're allowed to drive an automatic during your probationary.


But, if you learn how to drive an automatic, you can't drive a manual until you become a full licensed driver.


Now I only started to learn how to drive when I was 18, and got my licence at 19. Yea... 19.


Now the circumstances around when I started to learn how to drive was a little unusual because I already had a car that I couldn't drive.


Now my... at that time my siblings all left Australia just before I arrived in Melbourne. So I inherited a lot of things - clothes, stationary, a computer, and a car. I guess the idea was that I could start learning how to drive soon after getting the car, but that didn't really happen.


Now it's been more than 10 years since I got my licence, so the details are a little hazy. Like I don't remember getting my learner's permit, but I'm sure I had it because I had many driving lessons.


And my first lesson was driving a manual actually, and it was probably also my last time driving one. This was a weird experience for me. Maybe I didn't quite connect with the driving instructor, but I just couldn't comprehend the timing of the clutch and brakes and changing gears. It just didn't make sense to me.


So I'm a full-licensed driver now, so I can drive a manual, but I just haven't. And I'm not sure if it's also just human nature, but most people who choose to drive either an automative or a manual, just stick to what they've chosen.


Like I knew... I knew someone who got a licence to drive automatic first, but then wanted to drive a manual. And instead of waiting for the 3 years, he sat for another driving exam to drive a manual so he could get the sports car he wanted. Yes, he's still driving a manual.


I quickly changed to learning how to drive an automatic with an instructor - a driving instructor, who drove a Toyota Camry, which was about the same size of the Mitsubishi Verada that I had. A lot of driving instructors use small cars, but I wanted something bigger so that I could eventually drive my car.



Learning to drive in Brunei & Australia


As with any skill, "practice makes perfect," which is an expression to mean that regular practice of any activity makes you better at it. But the problem with being an international student meant I had to pay for all my practices. So.. if I remember correctly, I drove about 2-3 hours every week for a good 9 months until he finally gave me the OK to sit for my driving test.


And it's kind of funny when this experience is compared to the way people are taught how to drive back in Brunei. So in Brunei, what happens is when you're of age, usually just before 18, you enrol in driving school which also has a driving track for practice.


You get about 20 lessons, most of which are conducted at the driving track and you're only taught how to drive a manual car. And pretty much, at the end of the 20 lessons, you sit for the driving test, and if you pass, you get your licence.


Now for me, my first lesson was on the road in the middle of traffic. I was never taken to an empty car park for practice at all. Which maybe was a good thing, cos now that I think about it, it sounds pretty suspicious having a male driving instructor bringing a young girl to an empty car park. But yeah...


So most of the... oh yea, so most of the driving instructors here are independent rather than being part of a driving school. So no driving on a driving track either.



How to drive


So obviously all the driving practice was to prepare me for the tasks that are likely to come up during the driving test. I was tested for general driving and manoeuvring - driving straight, turning left or right.


Of course, you know I had to have good habits like putting on the seatbelt, checking the rearview mirror and wing mirrors, checking the speedometer and driving within the speed limit, holding the steering wheel correctly, looking in both directions before moving across the road.


Checking your "blind spots," which is what you can't see with your mirrors, so you usually have to turn your head quickly to check for any cars before changing lanes.


"Brake," or stepping on the brake pedal, when traffic lights are red or to slow down before any turns and things like that.


"Accelerate," or stepping on the accelerator pedal, when traffic light turns green.


"Signalling," or activating your turn signal before turning left or right, or changing lanes.

Yea.


And I was tested for different types of parking as well.


There's the "90 degree parking," which is also called "perpendicular parking," is where the parking space is 90 degrees to the wall or the curb.


"Angled parking," is when the parking space is at an angle of 45 degrees (<- This should be 60 degrees, not 45 degrees.), instead of 90 degrees.


"Parallel parking," is when the parking space is parallel or in the same direction as the road.


Now the funny thing is, for some reason, I had a lot of difficulty doing angle parking even though it's supposed to be the easiest to do. And I don't know why, I couldn't gauge the space around the car when I'm angle-parking.


And at that time as well, I also thought parallel parking was easier for some reason. It's really weird.


And also... my driving instructor never taught me "reverse parking," and this is where you back the car into the car park space. I actually didn't learn how to reverse park until like 5 or 6 years after getting my licence.


Oh, and we also had to do a "3-point turn," which is like making a u-turn in a narrow road.







The driving test


Now my driving test was pretty straight forward. It was conducted using my driving instructor's car. The examiner sat in the back seat and gave me instructions while my driving instructor sat in the passenger seat next to me.


Thankfully, I passed, not that I was expecting to fail, but people, especially during tests or exams, they get nervous and do silly mistakes. Like, I knew someone who failed an exam because they forgot to put on their seat belt first.


And I remember my driving instructor actually told me a story of one of his students who was a really good driver in general, but during the exam, he went over the speed limit for a few seconds before he finally realised and slowed down. But thankfully he didn't fail and neither did I.


Now the conditions for getting a driving licence has since changed. I think now people have to log in 120 hours of driving practice before being able to sit for the exam, which is a huge problem for international students and migrants. Sometimes I see ads for people... looking for people to accompany them learning how to drive just so they can fulfil that condition.



Car registration and insurance


Now to own a car in Victoria requires a few things. A car, duh, which I already have at that time.


"Car registration." So here, I'm required to register the car I own with the Department of Transport so that I can legally drive the car on Australian roads. Instead of "registration," we call it "rego" instead - which is a very Australian thing to do.


We also need a "car insurance," which, you know, is not compulsory, but is really to financially protect yourself if you get into a car accident because getting your car fixed can be quite expensive. And a lot of people need their cars to drive to work and things like that.



Traffic offences and penalties


Of course, there are "penalties," which are punishments if you commit driving offences, such as speeding, driving through a red light or drinking under the influence of alcohol or drugs.


Now if you are caught "speeding" - which is when you get caught driving over the speed limit, usually you get a speeding fine of several hundred dollars.


And "demerit points," which are points you get for driving offences in Victoria, and if you get too many within a certain period of time, you could have your licence suspended for 3 months or more.


Now I actually knew someone whose licence was suspended for 18 months, which is a long time particularly when you live in the suburbs of Melbourne.


There are "traffic police" or "traffic officers" on the road that monitor random cars' driving speeds and then go after the ones that are driving over the speed limit.


Another way of catching speeding cars are with speed cameras. So they actually take a photo of your registration plate or your plate number if they detect that you are driving over the speed limit.


Personally, I have never been caught by traffic police before, although I have seen them on the side of the road sometimes - possibly serving a speeding ticket.


I have been caught speeding with a speed camera many... many years ago. And also more recently driving through a red light, which is not like one of those car action movies. Like it was... it was just at a traffic light where the lights changed colour a lot quicker than I anticipated. So I was actually off by less than a second or something.


There're other offences like "drink-driving" and "drug-driving," which are expressions to mean that you're driving under the influences... under the influence of alcohol or drugs. And they're pretty big no-no's here - for good reason of course.


I mean there is a pretty significant drinking culture in general, both beer and wine, and drug has... is... has been a major issue in Australia, so road safety has to be emphasised.


The traffic police will sometimes set up buses on the road that we call a "booze bus." Here, they direct a number of cars to the side to get to do a breath test for alcohol.


Now if you're going out with some friends to a club or social gathering or something. We have an expression called a "designated driver," which is the selected person who's not supposed to drink at all, particularly where there might be alcohol involved. So that the selected person will be responsible for driving everyone else home safely.


I think this is a really good idea because, you know, it's responsible of course, and you can't always get a taxi in certain places in the countryside.


I have also heard a few stories of people getting a reading, an alcohol reading, after having dessert that contains a lot of alcohol. Particularly an Italian dessert called tiramisu, where the sponge cake is soaked in coffee liqueur.


So yea, I'm not sure what happened afterwards though, maybe they had to call their family to confirm the story and explain to the police why there's a reading.



Sharing roads with other vehicles


Something else to be mindful of when driving in Melbourne is that a number of roads are shared with bicycles, buses and trams.


On some roads, there are bicycle lanes on the left side, which is specifically designed for bicycle use. But where there isn't, cyclists would usually cycle on the left side.


As drivers, car drivers of course, you're supposed to keep a safe 1.5 metre distance from the cyclists. And usually when there're cyclists sharing the road, drivers will have to change lanes to the right and then overtake the cyclist.


Also, there are some roads where there is a dedicated red bus lane on the left side, which is good for helping buses be on time, not get stuck in traffic with the rest of us. And usually cars are not allowed to drive on this lane unless they are turning left somewhere.


A "tram" is a rail vehicle, kind of like a small train but built for roads. There's a pretty extensive tram network in and around the city. So when you're on those roads, the priority is given to the trams because even though you are kind of driving with them on the road.


So if you're driving behind them, they may stop at a tram stop and you have to stop. So you can't just overtake them either while they're stationery because there might be passengers getting on and off the tram, and you don't want to hit them of course.



My car accidents


In the first few years of driving, I admit, I wasn't very good. All the accidents I've been in have unfortunately been my fault.


If I remember correctly, my first accident was when I hit a car's rear. I think this was like possibly within the first year after getting my licence.


I also hit... had another accident where I hit a parked car. Not a proud one, this one, the owner of the car was an acquaintance as well! So yea, I was reversing at night, and there were cars parallel parked along the street and I just reversed too quickly and without realising the car was parked there.


And my last accident was during a "hook turn." They're usually in the city or close to the city, particularly where the tram networks are, to avoid conflict between vehicles and trams.


Now in Australia, we drive on the left, and the driver's seat is on the right. So usually in these intersections, we usually turn right from the right lane or the closest lane. But in the hook turn, you wait on the left side or the furthest lane until the traffic light of the road you want to enter turns green.


See, I think I'll have to attach a link to the Wikipedia page so you know what I'm talking about.


Now this was pretty bad for me... this was a pretty bad experience for me because I learnt how to drive in the suburbs and never learnt how to do this properly - which is one of the reasons why I had the car accident.


Now I have had more experience since but it still makes me a little nervous whenever I get to these hook turns just because of the accident.


All right.



Car fuel and services


In addition to the cost of insurance and registration, they are other ongoing costs like petrol and car services.


"Petrol" is another name for gasoline, which I think is more common in America or American English. Instead of petrol, vehicles can also use other fuel like diesel, which I think is more common for trucks.


Some people convert their cars to use LPG instead of petrol, which is short for liquefied petroleum gas. Usually the tank is installed in the boot of the car.


Now a friend loan me his LPG car while my car was at the mechanic's a number of years ago and the running cost of pumping gas was so much cheaper. But yea, but I think at the time when it became popular to convert cars to LPG, there were a number of news reports about cars not having been properly converted or they were done too cheaply or by less experienced mechanics. So some of these cars actually went up in flames unfortunately.


Anyway, the petrol stations here in general are self-serviced, so you would usually pump your choice of fuel and then go into the shop to pay for it. Now these days they have a credit card service at the fuel dispenser so you don't even have to bother going to the cas... cash register.


A "car service" is a series of maintenance procedures after the vehicle has travelled a certain distance or at a set time interval like 6 months.


So when I started driving, my ex- recommended a mechanic that I could send my car to, and for some reason, I just really liked him, I just felt he was such a trustworthy guy and even when I moved further away, I would still go out of my way to send my car to him.


But in 2011, I got rid of my old car and got a new Toyota Yaris. And this is significantly smaller. It's much easier to drive, making u-turns, parking, and fuel consumption is much less too.


But when you buy a new car, and I don't know if this is something that you have in your country, but they have this 3-5 year warranty with the car company if you bring the car in for services at their own auto service. So I did that for a few years. And after that expired, I went back to my old mechanic.


And what's funny is that, you know, I moved to the suburb after returning from Malaysia and I find out that him and his family live just down the road from me. Now I promise you I am not stalking him or anything. But what's really cool is that, you know, I can pass him my car key for a service and he'll just drive it to his workshop instead.


You know, I don't have to drive all the way to his workshop and get a friend to pick me up and then my friend has to drop me off again when it's ready. Anyway, yea, it's really convenient to have your mechanic as your neighbour. I highly recommend it.


All right. Well, I think that's all for today - talking about my driving experiences in Melbourne. And I hope you enjoyed this episode. And yea, have a lovely day and I'll catch you around next time. Bye!