A man is behind the wheel of a red XT Falcon. We see his point of view of the road ahead.

Learning to Drive

Vintage films that make us better drivers
 Beth Taylor

The thought of watching a bunch of road safety and driver education films might sound pretty dry, but the films in our Learn to Drive curated collection are winners with vintage car enthusiasts and anyone with fond (or scary!) memories of learning to drive.

A green panel van and a yellow car involved in a traffic accident on a corner.
The Car Behind: Skills Of Defensive Driving Episode 3 (Peter Johnson, 1973).

You can enjoy watching smashes and crashes, identify shoot locations and pick out your favourite makes and models of cars. The films were made by the Commonwealth Film Unit, later known as Film Australia, from the 1950s to the 1980s.

It's interesting to see how much of the teaching in the films is still relevant and useful today. One film shows you how to drive to a system, complete with a stop motion animation made with model cars.

The 1950s road safety-themed short films such as Double Cross, Signal Advice and Cupid's Complaint (all made in 1958) were shot on 35mm film and shown in cinemas before the main feature. Cricketing greats Richie Benaud and Keith Miller feature in the films to broaden their appeal. By the 1960s and 70s, the films were shot on 16mm and shown in high school halls.


Before they were famous

The Commonwealth Film Unit (and later Film Australia) acted as a training ground for many famous filmmakers and actors early in their careers. For example, the funky 70s score for the Skills of Defensive Driving series (featured below) was written by Rory O’Donoghue who played Thin Arthur on The Aunty Jack Show (1972-75).

Cross Roads Crash: Skills Of Defensive Driving Episode 5 (Peter Johnson, 1973). NFSA title: 7202.

One of Noah Taylor's first roles was as a teenage drug dealer in the road safety film Out of Control (1988).

Cinematographer Don McAlpine filmed the How to Drive series. He went on to work on blockbusters such as The Dressmaker (2015), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), Moulin Rouge! (2001) and Romeo + Juliet (1996). 

Along with the educational road safety message the commentary in Skills of Defensive Driving has some fabulous lines, such as 'Don't be like the legendary Albert Day, who died defending his right-of-way'. Narrator Peter Gwynne, who delivers the lines so well, went on to act in TV classics such as Boney, Division 4, Homicide, and Flying Doctors. ABC news reader James Dibble was the narrator for the How to Drive films.


Vintage car heaven

You can catch these films, and a boot-load more, in our Learn to Drive curated collection.

Makes and models of cars featured include: Morris Mini-Minor, Austin, Holden Kingswood, Mercedes, Chrysler, Valiant, Mazda, Rover, Dodge, Datsun, Toyota Crown, Volkswagen Golf, Range Rover, FJ Holdens, MG, Torana, Cortina, Falcon and panel vans.