Verity Johnson is a writer, sometime comedian, presenter on the Paul Henry Show and big hair enthusiast.
I realised I was going to die. I could see the headlines now. “Girl resembling sweaty potato found impaled on stupid plastic flower in her car.”
“Look,” sighed my driving instructor, “if you keep driving 20km below the speed limit then I am going to fail you.” Ah. The restricted test. Gateway to adulthood.
In the end I didn’t fail. I passed my restricted driving test at the peachy age of 20. Then I promptly left to live overseas in a large city and took public transport everywhere. And I mean everywhere. (I once tried to take it to a LARPing festival held in a campsite, in a forest, in a country village, in the region of Total Arse End of Nowhere.)
Now I’ve arrived back in Auckland, armed with a restricted licence, a fourth-hand car and driving skills that have withered like a two-day old daisy chain.
I’m fully aware that I am the partial architect of my own driving misery. I should have practised more before going away, or practised while away, or been the person in my friend group who had their full licence by 18.
But I didn’t, and now I am the cause of every traffic jam in Auckland.
Not the sole cause obviously, but I feel the blame can be divided fairly between me and the Government. (Always blame the government for everything; they’re such a wonderfully easy target.)
But seriously, WHY have they not introduced R plates? No, not every R driver is as bad as me. But we still aren’t particularly brilliant. We need something to alert people to the fact that we have the driving skills of a particularly dopey slug. We need R plates.
At the moment, not having R plates intensifies the amount of hatred I cop on the road, terrifying me, enraging you and also ensuring that one of us will have a coronary in the next 30 seconds.
When we drive we make snap decisions on other drivers based on their appearance (Oh, a Granny? She’ll be slow. Oh, a teenager in a mini? She’ll be on her phone. Oh, a bald dude in a Merc? He’ll be driving fast to show he’s Still Got It). We then abuse them accordingly, depending on how much we think they deserve. You’re not as tough on a learner as you are on the old Merc driver.
Unfortunately, there is nothing to tell people that I am an R driver. They see a sensible young woman with a sensible car and sensible expression. People assume I’ve been driving a while.
But I am the kakapo of the driving world. I look like I can drive just like the kakapo looks like it can fly. But we can’t. We both just waddle along,squawking feebly and nibbling things. And as drivers find out that I am a fat green parrot, crawling along the left lane at a hair-raising 12km an hour, they become apoplectic.
They expected better. I’ve disappointed them. And I’ve disappointed them while driving. In real life you’d be sympathetic to such a pathetic sight. But in driving life, you just get even angrier. You expected something, now you’ve had that whipped away, and you’re even more incensed than you’d normally be. And we’re normally pretty incensed. Driving reduces us to irrational hulks of screaming emotions. Put the Dalai Lama in a Kiwi traffic jam and he’ll have dropped the c bomb by the second Suzuki swift.
And so they hoot. They make unsettling hand gestures. And I, as all fat green parrots do, respond to threats by panicking and going very, very still. This just slows us down further, makes me an even worse driver, and raises the chances of you smashing something repeatedly with your head while screaming, “WHY, GOD, WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO ME NOW? I’M IN A RUSH TO SOMEWHERE I DON’T CARE ABOUT, WITH PEOPLE I DON’T LIKE, TO DRINK WINE I CAN’T STAND!”
Now if I had restricted plates, people would expect me to be bad. They would make their abuse much more moderate. They’d accommodate a higher level of inexperience. They would still threaten to decapitate me — but perhaps with fewer creative details.
At the moment they have no idea what to expect, and so react with beyond normal rage and spit. Especially when I don’t realise the difference between the indicator and the windscreen wiper arms. (Whatever. They’re both pointy black wands.)
So, for everyone’s sake, can we please have R plates? I would be less scared, you would be less stressed, and we can both go back to abusing the bro in the Subaru Imprezza.