Confessions of a Cayman driving instructor

The first driving lesson is widely credited to have been given by
Stanley Roberts in South London in 1910.

Graham Walker wasn’t quite around
at that time but for the last eighteen years he’s been a familiar figure on a
crusade to get Cayman driving safely.

“I’d never taught driving in the
UK… my wife Liz was speaking to a man who was an instructor and returning to
England. He was wearing a very nice and expensive Rolex watch so she thought it
may be an idea if I set up a one-man driving school,” said the chartered
electronics engineer, who spent thirty years working in a very senior position
in the defence industry.

“When I started the quality of cars
was not very good; if you had to do an emergency stop the car would skid and
swerve all over the road. In 1992, people were asked a question on the written
test about how to start a car properly. I used to smile because when I was learning
the answer was ‘with difficulty’.

“The attitude here has changed an
awful lot; there are a lot of people from abroad who have bought a license and
I get three or four a year coming over where it’s fairly obvious they haven’t
actually had a proper lesson before. I take them out and find they’re
hopeless,” the driving instructor noted.

 

Crosstown traffic

Over the years, he noted, Cayman
has changed considerably. The number of cars per household is now much higher
and the driving instructor makes a point of not taking lessons before 9am and
after 5pm due to the heavy traffic at peak times.

“Things have developed; the Compass
junction used to be much smaller and dangerous but now it’s bigger the number
of accidents is much-reduced. When people were first confronted with so many lanes
coming into that junction they were beside themselves coping with the problems
but now it’s settled down.

“The quality of the roads has
improved but it’s still not perfect. The design and layout of roundabouts and
the dual carriageways or single lanes approaching double lane roundabouts is
appalling if not dangerous. For example, if you come down the Harquail Bypass
down toward the Butterfield roundabout, the most extraordinary lumps of road
markings there are quite bizarre,” said Graham.

 

Memorable experiences

As you might imagine, the veteran
driving expert has had a few experiences with pupils over the years that are
memorable to say the least.

“One man, brilliant in the legal
field and no longer living on the island, comes to mind. I explained the controls
and said that when moving off from the side of the road a driver has to check
his rear-view mirror, indicate and then look over his right shoulder. The
student did the first two steps, then took his hands off the steering wheel and
put them on the open driver’s door window. He then stuck his head fully out of
the door to examine the world at large. I realized that I hadn’t explained
myself very well. Or, that I was probably going to have a difficult time with
this man. He subsequently passed his test.

“A month later he called me to say
that he was getting married and his bride to be insisted he drive away with her
from the wedding reception in a mountainous country in a monstrously huge car.
The problem was that it had a stick shift gearbox not automatic transmission.
It had been an accomplishment on my part to get him to be able to drive at all.
The thought of getting him to manage a clutch and gear lever in a coordinated
way was beyond his fiancée’s dreams.  I
said I didn’t have a stick shift car. He replied that a mutual friend had one.
Our mutual friend ceased to be my friend on the spot. Eventually he managed to
get the car up and down South Sound and off he went to get married. They
survived the experience,” chuckles Graham.

No accident

Walker famously is the author of
the essential tome Drive Safely in Cayman, which was preceded by Good Driving
is No Accident. He said that prior to the appearance of his best-selling guide
– which sells two thousand copies a year – there had only been a 1975 road code
available and copies of written test papers which were as good as useless as
the answers had been altered by would-be funny men.

The book is notable for pulling few
punches, with memorable passages including a rather explicit passage about the
state of the inside of Jamaican jails.

“It is quite different from any
other driving book I have seen and is intentionally hard hitting in places,” he
conceded.

Though drivers are savvier now, the
same issues inevitably crop up when dealing with would-be whizz-kids.

“Some young men who come out for
lessons think they are the best drivers in the world and as such have to show
me how fast they can drive. When I keep telling them to slow down and have to
do so a dozen times on the first lesson I know what is going to happen. At the
end of the lesson they will ask me when is their appointment. When you arrange
it with your next instructor is my response.”

 

Inherent risks

That’s a luxury that wasn’t
available to Stanley Roberts a century ago, although the first man to ever give
a lesson went on to do rather well for himself, forming the British School of
Motoring – now the UK’s biggest driving school by a country mile.

Walker noted that the examiners on
Cayman are pleasant and very fair in their decisions under difficult
conditions. Going out on the roads with inexperienced drivers day after day
carries within it inherent risks and the driving instructor said he often asks
himself why he is doing the job.

“I think I must be nuts,” he said
with a smile before recounting a story that says it all.

“I was walking by the Post Office
one day with my wife when we almost passed a young woman. She grabbed me, gave
me a hug and said, I haven’t had any accidents, Mr. Graham. My wife asked me
who she was. I truthfully said I couldn’t recall her name after ten years.

“It is more than satisfying to turn
a very nervous student into a competent driver; it is an unbelievable
privilege.”

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