ONE recent evening, driving along a road near Woden, my husband, our two kids and I were behind a small sedan that wobbled and then its left front tyre flew off and rolled away on to the footpath.
The car came to an abrupt stop and, as we passed, we could see an obviously distressed young woman at the wheel.
We pulled over and my husband walked back to offer assistance. The cause was quickly apparent. The tyre had punctured and quickly deflated. Despite obvious noise and compromised steering, the young woman had continued driving until the wheel rim neatly severed the tyre tread, which separated and ended up in the bushes by the side of the road.
The driver was beside herself and at a loss about what to do. The operation of the car was a mystery to her. She didn’t know how to change a tyre. She didn’t know there was a spare tyre in the boot. She didn’t know that tyres were filled with pressurised air. When her tyre punctured she had just kept on driving on the flat tyre.
My husband and 15-year-old son offered to change the tyre for her and she gratefully accepted.
I don’t make any big judgment here. When I was a new driver many years ago I knew little about how my car worked and it was only after a few incidents and breakdowns that I got the gist of the mysteries of engines, tyres and other bits and pieces. I quite understand the young woman’s confusion and distress.
Still, we were startled when some of her friends arrived on the scene. Not one of them knew how to change a tyre, let alone anything else about what might go wrong with a car. One said he’d have to look at DIY clips on YouTube to work out how to change a tyre. It was clear none of them had ever looked under a bonnet. Another went looking on her phone for any app that might somehow help. Another said that in the future it wouldn’t matter because one would just summon another self-driving vehicle to get to one’s destination.
I’m not sure how representative this small group was, but it did raise doubt about the capacity of a generation so immersed in virtual life on mobile phones that they may struggle to deal with some of the basics of real life.
My son can’t wait to get behind the wheel of a car. Unlike me, who was terrified of learning to drive, he sees a car as his ticket to freedom and independence. He fills the car up for me at the petrol station. He knows how to check tyre pressures, oil and water and is the master of the flat-tyre change.
He has been studiously observing and asking questions about driving and mechanics for more than a year. I am all for encouraging this. I want him to know as much about the mechanics of a car, how it works, how to drive it and the road rules well before he does eventually embark on what will be yet another important stage of life – exciting for him, scary for his mum – learning to drive.
The young lady we helped was soon on her way. She won’t drive on a completely flat tyre again. Meantime, I wonder whether basic vehicle maintenance and safety should be a compulsory subject at high school and college. It is one of those things that you just can’t learn online.