Learning to drive at the age of 31 is like going for a smear test; slightly embarrassing and uncomfortable, but probably necessary.
I didn’t learn to drive in my teens, which I put down to a lack of confidence and an excess of laziness. I have a summer birthday so my friends passed their driving tests before I could start learning and they didn’t mind giving me lifts. Eventually, I took a few lessons but didn’t get far enough to be “test ready”.
During that first round of lessons, I realised that if I ever passed the driving test, I would need to get a car and start driving straight away because this particular skill didn’t feel like one I could bank for later. I was right; when I recently started lessons again, I’d retained nothing. At times like these, I think of noted neurologist Homer Simpson who once stated, “Every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain.”
I went off to University and didn’t want the hassle of car stuff, so lessons went on the back burner for *cough* five years. A while after graduating, I moved to London. What kind of fool wants the cost of running a car when using the tube every day?
So here we are, some seven-ish years later. After some pestering from my family, I decided to restart my lessons for three reasons: One, I’m not getting any younger. (Science needs to get on that, pronto.) Two, there’s a possibility that I might make a baby at some point and being able to drive is useful if you have kids. Three, I’m currently a freelancer with a flexible schedule, so I can make time for lessons.
I’m about a quarter of the way through a course of driving lessons and I’m struggling. To state the bleeding obvious, learning to drive in London isn’t a frigging cake walk. Aggressive drivers are the norm, even when you head to the quiet suburbs to practice. I got cut up at a junction by a minibus for an old people’s home. I was overtaken on a quiet, speed-bumped residential road. I came nose to nose with a lorry after an oversteering mistake on the main road. I’m no psychic, but I’m quite sure the lorry driver thought that if he slowed down to let me get my shit together, it would show weakness, so he bore down on me at speed. Thanks, dude.
It would be fair to say that anxiety and driving lessons are not happy bedfellows. I find my lessons very stressful and panic-sweat to the extent that I have to change my knickers when I get home. Yes, you read that correctly. I HAVE TO CHANGE MY PANTS. Not to mention that the rest of the day is a write-off; after concentrating on not killing anyone for two hours, I’m brain fogged and bone tired.
Tooling around in a tonne of metal is a huge responsibility and I feel it weighing heavy on my shoulders. I probably care too much. After my first lesson, I sobbed on my fiancé for an hour because I’d driven past several schools at home time and had been terrified of hitting a child. Amongst other foolishness, I’d seen a lone toddler heading towards the road with nothing between him and the traffic. People doing stupid things on and around roads happens everywhere, all the time, that’s a huge hurdle for me to accept and overcome.
My instructor has conceded what I already knew; my spatial awareness is terrible, I’ve made some absolute howlers. I struggle to judge the speeds of other vehicles. I can’t get a feel for the size of car I’m driving. I casually forget that kerbs exist. I’m not even learning in a manual car and I’ve got my foot pedals muddled several times, (Oh, and spare me the manual/automatic lecture, I KNOW.) To my huge embarrassment, I even got confused about reflections in mirrors because they are… uh… mirror images. Yeah. My instructor said I’m probably struggling because I’m “clever” and my skills fall elsewhere. Gawd bless her for trying to boost my morale. That’s the rub though, I’m frustrated because MILLIONS OF OTHER PEOPLE can drive and I’m finding it hard and I hate it and it’s stressful and scary and I don’t wanna and DID I MENTION THAT I HATE IT?
I’ve followed my driving school on Twitter specifically to see a steady stream of beaming youngsters clutching pass certificates. Some of them don’t even look old enough to have a paper round, let alone pass a driving test. It’s infuriating but it spurs me on.
A driving test has been booked, I’m not particularly hopeful for a pass but I’ll give it my best shot. I haven’t given up yet. I’ll put on my big girl pants (possibly two pairs, to be sure) and keep trying to improve, even though I’m terrified. If other people can learn to drive, then I can too. I just have to grit my (already gritted) teeth and keep going.
Please remember, if you drive a vehicle or even if you’re a pedestrian, do be kind to learner drivers and give them plenty of space… because they could kill you. Seriously.