Saturday, November 20, 2010

Stay alert - stay alive, drivers told

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VEHICLES require essential maintenance, as any motorist knows, but driving instructor Richard Sparks did not get any letters from "the mechanics" when his own body needed a major service. Instead, Richard suffered the rapid onset of symptoms including numbness in his fingers and excruciating pain in an elbow. "I have a good GP; he ordered a CT scan and found discs in my neck were misaligned and were pinching a nerve," Richard said.

THE proprietor of Redlands Driving School has been recuperating at his Victoria Point home after surgery at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, where the surgeon took bone from a hip to rebuild two discs. Richard says the cause of the misalignment is a mystery but he played a lot of soccer and squash when he was younger. His neck, however, must have had considerable work during his time at the dual controls of the Holden Viva sedan he uses for the business that he set up in 2006 after two decades as a driving instructor in the Brisbane region.

THE need for observation is the golden rule that Richard impresses on his students. Richard is not the type of instructor whose passion for driving leads to an addiction to motor sport. He says he simply enjoys working with people and helping them get ready for the challenge of the practical driving test that will decide whether they can obtain a licence. He shares the much-reported belief that higher standards of testing hold the key to reducing the road toll.

"THERE will always be people who do the wrong thing but road safety does come down to attitudes," he says. "If it is is easy to get a licence the person may be less likely to value the process as much. The examiners do a good job but can only work with the guidelines they are given. I do believe that the test should be tougher." Richard says recent changes to the test have not been as comprehensive as he had hoped. He believes the emphasis on observation, for instance when changing lanes, is not strong enough. He says an observant driver can see a risk, take action and save lives.

RICHARD's students, the ages of whom have ranged from 17 to the early 80s, are unlikely to forget this message. He says he has instructed people with many disabilities – including quadriplegics and paraplegics – with modified vehicles, and the deaf, but not the blind. Now, back to Richard's own temporary disability: he expects to be back in action in a few weeks, again teaching Redlanders to stay alert, stay alive and, it is hoped, save other lives through observation.

Thanks for joining me to meet the people in the marvellous community of classified advertising. This column has appeared in The Redland Times.

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