Flooring it in the straights

Katrina Doolen
It's not often you get the chance to do something that your disability stops you from doing. I was born with low vision so I could never get a driver's licence. But recently I got the chance to drive a car for the first time. It was at a free event called In the Driver's Seat Day at Sandown Raceway in Melbourne. People with a vision impairment get to drive a car. I went with two of my friends. The driving instructor told me when to brake and when to turn. Driving felt incredible and I'll definitely go again next year.
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Katrina Doolen on 27/07/2012
A steering wheel from the driver's perspective.

He let me know which way to steer.

As a kid I just wanted to be like everyone else. But because of my low vision I couldn't do everything they did. Just sitting on the sidelines and watching wasn't fun either. I had to watch my sighted friends get their licences and first cars. This was a big deal at 17. I'd missed a stage of growing up and felt left out.

The break

It's rare to get the chance to do something that your disability stops you from doing. But this year I got to drive a car for the first time. It was In the Driver's Seat Day at Sandown Raceway, a free event held every year by the Warrandyte Lions Club. On the day people with a vision impairment get the opportunity to drive a car.

In the past I had always missed this event because I'd find out about it too late. Thanks to some friends though, I was able to go this year. My friends Jenny and Jordie, who both have guide dogs, have also never had licences but had been to the event before.

Jenny and I want to own dream cars. A blue Monaro for Jenny and a green 1952 MG for me.

For Jordie, it's getting around with more than a backpack's worth of stuff.

How to drive

How do you drive when you can't see? No, there weren't guide dogs or long canes stuck out windows.

It was like a 30-minute driving lesson with a driving school car and instructor.

I told my instructor what I could see and he described the course and how to drive. He told me how and when to use the pedals and when other cars were overtaking.

He explained how to do turns by using a clock face as a guide. To turn right I turned the steering wheel to 3 o'clock or more. He let me know when a turn was coming up and which way to steer. He then counted down into the turn and how far to turn the steering wheel. For example, he said Turning right in 5,4,3,2,1 to 4 o'clock.

Our experiences

Because I'm always a passenger in cars, getting into the driver's seat was weird for me. This was nothing like driving dodgem cars at the show and just driving in a straight line took a lot of concentration. The first few corners really freaked me out but flooring it in the straights was a major adrenalin rush.

Since she was 12, Jenny's had light perception which means she can see light and dark and some colours. Her husband looked after her guide dog while Jenny went hooning. She loved flooring it in the straights and getting up to 90 km an hour.

Just putting the key into the ignition was exciting, said Jenny.

This year for the first time Jenny took passengers with her in the car. Her two granddaughters sat in the backseat and they loved it.

Jordie has been blind since birth. She recalled the first time she drove In the Driver's Seat Day.

I remember my first experience really well and the adrenalin rush of actually making a car accelerate or turn, she said.

The whole event is a great opportunity. She's also impressed by how much concentration the instructors need.

Next time

For that 30 minutes I was just like anyone else. Nothing could beat that feeling.

I'll be definitely lining up for next year. Whenever a chance like this comes along I'm going to grab it.

Some chances are only once in a lifetime and I hate missing out.

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