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Fifi and Dave with Alex from Driving Zone

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For a sharp learning curve, safety’s everything
The Age
By Rachel Wells
December 15, 2004

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Learner driver Laine Pappas receives a driving lesson from Alex Vouvaris yesterday.
Photo: Craig Abraham
Driving instructor Alex Vouvaris, from the Driving Zone driving school in Melbourne, yesterday welcomed the move to introduce compulsory driver training, but said training would be more beneficial before young drivers obtained their P-plates.

“I believe they should have compulsory lessons for learner drivers before they even sit for their P-plates,” Mr Vouvaris said. “There’s no point making lessons compulsory for a P-plater who is already on the road and who has already developed bad habits.

“There are a lot of young drivers out on the road who have never had a professional lesson in their lives. They have been taught by their parents and the truth is, most parents simply can’t give the professional training that we can.

“I had a learner yesterday who told me that while she’s driving her mum reads a book because she feels so confident in her driving. But the thing is, there were so many areas of her driving that needed correcting to make her a safer driver, and her parents hadn’t picked those up.”

Mr Vouvaris said Australia’s driver training was lagging behind many parts of the world.

“I can’t believe the Government hasn’t introduced something like this sooner.”

Learner driver Laine Pappas, 18, from Albert Park, who has had about 15 lessons with Mr Vouvaris, said she would be willing to undergo compulsory training but said it would be more beneficial for learner drivers.

“A lot of people I know on P-plates didn’t have professional lessons at all. They just learnt from their parents,” said Ms Pappas, who hopes to sit for her licence next year.

“A lot of them have really bad habits and they’ve got their licence already. Those things should be corrected before they get on the road. So many accidents happen just after people get their P-plates.”

There’s Much To Learn, For Starters
The Age
Wednesday March 28, 2007
Lucinda Schmidt

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Learner driver Clea-Pitts Hull is about to start a driving lesson from Alex Vouvaris.
Photo: Craig Abraham

IF ALL goes to plan, Clea Pitts-Hull will graduate from L-plates to P-plates before the new learner restrictions come into force on July 1.

Clea, 18, was booked to take her driving test yesterday, after two years – and about 90 hours’ experience – as a learner driver. Most of those hours have been with her dad, but she has also had four 90-minute lessons with driving instructor Alex Vouvaris, of Driving Zone.
As I hop into the back of Mr Vouvaris’ Corolla for a spin round the block with Clea, I realise that I have never been driven by a learner. I am nervous, but take comfort from the fact that Mr Vouvaris is there in the front passenger seat with his feet poised above the dual controls. Anyway, what could be so hard about a slow trip around Albert Park’s quiet back streets at 5pm on a Tuesday?

Plenty, as it turns out. To start with, the switch from Clea’s dad’s BMW to the Corolla causes several “windscreen wipers instead of indicator” moments, as well as some jerky braking.
At one stage, it seems we will run over the edge of an admittedly narrow roundabout, but Clea stops and corrects her steering. At another point, she accelerates too long in first before changing to second. And there’s a fair bit of clutch-riding.
Overall, however, Clea does well – but with plenty of quiet coaching from Mr Vouvaris.

“Make sure you’re not sharing lanes; you should be indicating now; come to a stop; check over your shoulder; careful of the cyclist.”

He won’t be in the car once Clea passes her test. Her biggest problems are the everyday hazards we all encounter – a pedestrian stepping unexpectedly from behind a parked car, an aggressive driver shooting across her path as she turns into a parking bay, a cyclist riding a fair way out onto the road and a tram taking right of way through a roundabout.

Clea says the things she finds hardest are the gear changes and watching for changes to the speed limit.

Mr Vouvaris, who has been a full-time driving instructor for four years, says most learners look down at the gear stick too much when changing gears and have trouble with steering, consistent acceleration, smooth braking and staying in one lane.

“I wouldn’t get into a car with a learner without dual controls,” says Mr Vouvaris, who believes the 120-hour rule is good in theory, but will be impossible to police.

— LUCINDA SCHMIDT

Left turn brings L-platers unstuck
October 12, 2013
Adam Carey
Transport Reporter for The Age

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Learner driver Rosheen Kaul and her instructor, Alex Vouvaris. ‘I have had many applicants fail for not stopping, and also been told to wave pedestrians through,’ Mr Vouvaris says. Photo: Pat Scala

A grey area in the road rules that cover a driver’s duty to give way to pedestrians at left-hand turns has been blamed for some people failing their driver’s licence tests.

VicRoads has admitted the law on giving way is sometimes ”debatable”.

In one case last month, VicRoads allowed a licence applicant to resit her test free after she disputed a testing officer’s decision to fail her because she had not given way to someone at the corner, waiting for the car to pass.

In that case, the driver, Rosheen Kaul, and her instructor, Alex Vouvaris, challenged the testing officer’s ruling that Ms Kaul had failed to give way. The dispute was referred to VicRoads’ senior learning and development consultant, Ian Brown, who confirmed that the law did not state that a driver must give way to a pedestrian in all situations.

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The Victorian rules state that drivers turning left must give way to ”any pedestrian at or near the intersection who is crossing the road the driver is entering”.

But the law is less clear about what to do when a pedestrian is standing at an intersection but is not in the act of crossing the road. The rules state that the driver must ”remain stationary until it is safe to proceed; or slow down and, if necessary, stop to avoid a collision”.

Ms Kaul, 21, a psychology student, was driving north along Lygon Street when her testing officer told her to turn left into Lytton Street towards VicRoads’ registration and licensing centre.

A woman was at the corner, waiting to cross the road. ”I looked straight ahead and I saw a pedestrian, so I began to slow down and the pedestrian looked at me and she stopped,” Ms Kaul said.

”So I continued slowly approaching with my indicator on, and then again I looked at her to make sure that she was not going to cross the road, and she actually looked at me and smiled, so obviously, body language-wise, that meant go.”

The testing officer failed her on the spot. Mr Vouvaris, who was in the car, immediately disputed the decision.

VicRoads said the road rule was clear, but acknowledged it could also be open to interpretation. ”At times, the perception about whether a pedestrian is standing still or about to cross the road at a give-way sign may be debatable, leading to some differences of opinion,” a spokeswoman said.

”In such cases, a learner driver who may have failed their test as a result of this important aspect of safe driving has the opportunity to raise their concerns with the manager at the local office.

Local managers are empowered to offer the learner driver a retest free of charge, or alternatively, uphold the decision by the licence testing officer or the appeal by the learner driver. Each case is dealt with on its merit.”

Mr Vouvaris, an instructor for 10 years, said he had seen many clients fail their tests due to an officer’s contestable interpretation of this rule.

”Over the years, I have had many applicants fail for not stopping, and also been told to wave pedestrians through,” he said. ”This has caused financial distress to my applicants because of retest fees”.

VicRoads allowed Ms Kaul to sit her test a second time.