Friday, September 6, 2013

Pets in cars: interview with driving instructor Evan Giles

Driving instructor Evan Giles, quite possibly the most patient man in the Universe next to the Dalai Lama, with his cat Mozzie. Mozzie ain't so sure about a trip in the car!
SAT interviewed, in our opinion, the best driving instructor on the planet, possibly the solar system. He taught yours truly to drive, he’s teaching my cousin to drive, and he has patience in spades. Anyone who trusts an inexperienced driver with their life as they lurch around in a tonne of metal in Sydney traffic is remarkable. But to do it with humour and compassion? That's a gift.

What do you do for a crust?

I have been a driving instructor for 14 years and before that was a taxi driver and wheelchair taxi driver.

[Evan is too modest to mention that he runs Bamster Driving School, which you can visit at]

What are the potential hazards of driving with a companion animal in the vehicle?

There seem to be 2 big issues: Distraction and inertia.

If an animal by its natural behaviour, or fear of being in the car, causes the driver to be distracted then we have a problem. A small animal scurrying, flying or jumping around will have the same effect as playing with a mobile phone or GPS: forcing the driver’s attention away from the road. Even if the animal is properly secured in a pet carrier the owner must not let the animal’s yowls and distress affect his or her driving. Put the carrier in the back seat perhaps?

In the event of firm braking or turning, or in a crash, any loose objects in your car will become deadly missiles. The heavier the object the more deadly it will be. In the case of animals that means deadly to both you and the animal.

In the case of utes, inertia and natural dog behaviour can lead to dogs being thrown off the vehicle. In one case involving some friends a dog fell over the side and was dragged on its leash for some distance, resulting in severe foot and leg injuries.

[Ed. I have seen numerous injuries and I am going to let you all in on a disgusting inside secret: in the veterinary emergency room, the characteristic foot injuries produced are known as street pizzas. They can take months to heal and are easily prevented].

What precautions can we take to ensure the safety of or non-human passengers?

All animals need to be properly secured. A pet carrier needs to be secured by a seatbelt. An animal not in a carrier needs a proper harness. If it is only secured by a leash then there is a risk that the leash will break, or if not then the animal will be severely injured if thrown around the car. Even if the animal seems distressed your first priority must be road safety. A similar problem applies when you are driving young children.

You have taught thousands of people to drive including myself. What are your thoughts about this student?

Porter is performing well for a first lesson, although I think he may have trouble with clutch control so should stick to automatic. I would like him to show a little more accelerator confidence so as to be able to match normal traffic speeds. An occasional mirror check would be nice. Also he seems to be very distracted by pretty girls on the side of the road. The instructor sounds a lot like me!

Can you tell us about any non-human companions in your life right now?

Mozzie looking adorable.
“Mozzie” (short for “Mozart”, named after T’choupi’s pet in the children’s TV series) is our cat. He could have been called “Micra”. He was a stray kitten when sighted under my Nissan Micra driving school car. In order to escape us he climbed up into the engine bay and was rescued via my opening of the bonnet. With a little help from Anne he has never looked back.

How does Mozzie behave in the car?

I have met cats who would jump into a car to explore or say hello. Mozzie is not that relaxed. I have also met cats who yowled pitifully for the entire drive. Mozzie is closer to that but I guess he could be worse.

A decent cat carrier is mandatory for safe cat transport.
 Any general driving tips for veterinarians or budding veterinarians?

Don’t drive impatiently! Your patients need you.

If you drive without patience then your patients might be without their vet.