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Off Road Driving: Teach Them While They’re Young

Recently Loaded 4X4 joined the crew from Adventure 4WD on one of their advanced driver training weekends called Weekend Walkabout, a two-day affair in the southern Flinders Ranges on a property known as the Bendleby Ranges. Amongst the attending clients were a Dad and Son team of Matt and Lachie Richards driving their black Pajero. Over the course of the weekend young Lachie got his first opportunity to drive (he’s 12 years old) and in an off-road environment (have a look at the video below) that was going to give him some serious bragging rights amongst his mates back at school.

It got us thinking back here at Loaded about when we all first started driving and the importance of doing it early. Preventing road trauma is a massive challenge in this country and the way we see it the emphasis our authorities has is largely wrong, focussed on the punitive rather than the pro-active.

Gone are the days when you could visit a relative who had a farm and cut some laps in a paddock, do some circle work and find out about over and understeer. Any “unacceptable” behaviour like that today will likely land you a big fine, yet the skills learnt in a session or two are likely to be enduring and potentially life-saving. We reckon get them their road-craft early and worry about the stupid rules later.

We thought it’d be good to get an opinion from both Matt (as a parent) and Lachie (as a willing participant) about the importance of learning some skills when you are young.

L4X4 – Matt, when was the first time you drove a vehicle, what was it and where?

MR – Wow! I remember it vividly. I was probably about 13 at the time and the old man and I were out on someone’s farm buying pea straw. Parked out in the middle of a paddock, he asked me to move the XF Falcon forward about 10 metres – by myself! Thought I was driving pro after those 10 metres!

Realistically, I first drove car properly at about 15. It was a manual Mitsubishi Sigma. Only a handful of times, Dad took me down to Marion Shopping Centre on a Sunday (back when you survived without shops open on a Sunday!) and we drove around a little.

L4X4 – What do you think were the most important lessons learnt in those first sessions and why?

MR – Well clearly from those 10 metres in that paddock, I learnt four fifths of not much, but those trips to Marion – they were valuable. Firstly, I had to get past the idea that I was solely in control of a car. And of course there was the mechanics of understanding how to physically control the vehicle – how hard to push the accelerator & brake, how far to turn the steering wheel and of course the relationship between accelerator, clutch and gears. But most importantly, it was learning how to pay particular attention to my surroundings… to read the environment and act accordingly… to make predictions. We can just say “drive defensively”.

 

L4X4 – Watching both you and Lachie over the weekend it was pretty obvious that the weekend was fun for the two of you and a great opportunity to spend some quality time together. How often do you get that chance?

MR – Life with three kids is like one busy roundabout of work, school, and after school activities. Needless to say – not as often as I would like. Sounds like a cliché. Sick and tired of buying crap for birthdays, this trip was Lachie’s 12th birthday present. I figured an experience like this would be far more valuable – both for him personally and for us to take some time out together.

L4X4 – Lachie took to the driving like a duck to water, it was a natural fit. How was his control over the Pajero?

MR – Pretty good really. Took a bit of time to realise that the driver’s seat wasn’t in the centre of the car – and how that related to the car driving in the middle of the track. Likewise, smooth control over the brake and accelerator all improved after a bit of experience.

L4X4 – Flushed with your success on this weekend what plans do you have now for your own family adventures, where to next?

MR – As a family, we love our caravan travels. So far they have taken us across SA, Vic and some parts of NSW. Wherever possible, I let the kids have a turn behind the wheel. Personally, I would love to explore the red centre and North-West of this beautiful country of ours!

L4X4 – Now Lachie, firstly congratulations on getting behind the wheel of Dad’s Pajero, you did a really good job. Was this the first attempt for you to do some driving?

LR – Not really – I have done just a little bit before. We like to go away with our caravan and when we do, Dad sometimes finds private tracks that I can drive on. Other than that, this was my first time driving properly over long distances. The first time I had a drive I was about 9 years old. Dad found a quiet back corner in a caravan park well away from other people. I drove a loop on the caravan park road with Dad in the passenger seat.

L4X4 – What was the most challenging aspect of the driving for you? Was it the seating position and view over the bonnet, grappling with the controls – steering, accelerator, brake, keeping an eye on the twists and turns of the tracks or the gradients as we went up and down some steep tracks?

LR – I think I was able to manage all the controls OK. Probably the hardest part was staying in the middle of the track. I kept going to the left – I think because I thought I was the centre of the car. In the end I figured it out.

L4X4 – Judging by the big grin on your face you enjoyed it. How did you go on Monday back at school when you told your mates, were they jealous and what comment did they offer in reply?

LR –  When I got back to school, I told them what I had done but they didn’t believe me. The next day took in some GoPro footage of me driving. They were very impressed. The look on their faces said it all.

L4X4 – Was there one special moment you enjoyed most on the weekend on the trails, whether it was either you or Dad driving that you want to share with the readers?

LR – Other than than me driving, there were really two of them. One was Dad driving down a particularly steep hill. It was slow-going and really slippery under the wheels. This probably tested my bravery the most. The other time was simply sitting around the fire with everyone and getting to know them.

L4X4 – What do you reckon about the importance of learning to drive as soon as you can?

LR – I think it is good that I have had some experience before I properly go out on the road. I know what it feels like to steer, how much pressure to put on the accelerator and brake and of course staying in the middle of the track. I think all parents should give their kids a chance to drive a car so they can get some experience and get a feel for driving.

L4X4 – How good was Dad’s driving? Was he OK or did you have to coach him over some of the rougher stuff?

LR – Oh yeah… definitely! Dad was a big wuss and I had to encourage him to keep going.
Nah… Dad was confident when it came to the hard tracks. He likes a challenge and won’t give up on it. He kept calm even when the car could have used a lift kit! (Mum wasn’t too impressed with the lumps and bumps he brought home though!!)

L4X4 – And finally Lachie, when the time comes to buy your own 4WD what will it be? What brand/model and why?

LR – I am hoping for driverless car – but off road, I can switch into manual mode and have some fun with it!!  …but until then I would settle for a newer Pajero. They aren’t too big or too small and can get over hard tracks.

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Thanks boys for coming along you were great and enthusiastic company all weekend and congratulations too Matt on the efforts with the drone. Have a look at Matt’s work below (Looking Down on SA), this YouTube video will give you an idea of what we got up to over the weekend and the Flinders Ranges at its brilliant best!

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