To celebrate the fact that I’ve held a driving license for one whole year I thought I’d post about my experience as an older learner driver.
Learning to drive is one of the most horrible things you will ever have to do in your lifetime. Fact. Learning to drive as an older learner is even worse. It’s also, unfortunately, one of the most useful.
I’m not good when told I have to do something. Call me stubborn, but I like to make up my own mind about what I want to do and when I should do it. So it’s no wonder that when all of my friends started learning to drive at 17, I chose to stand my ground and be the odd one out. Eventually I caved in when my parents gave me driving lessons for my 18th birthday (I think they were getting board of driving me everywhere) but I managed to take a few and then escape to university where all was forgotten.
Years passed and boyfriends with cars came and went, meaning I could always get where I wanted to go. Living in a city for most of my twenties meant plenty of public transport, and eventually came the other long list of competing expenses like getting married, buying a house and then taking a belated gap year, so driving wasn’t a top priority.
Finally, aged 32, and expecting twins, I’d reached the end of the line; there were no more excuses to make. Although there were plenty more other ways to spend my money, none were as important as allowing me to be mobile with my babies.
Then morning sickness took over my life. When I came out the other side I was heavily pregnant (two babies = one huge bump) and completely exhausted. Not an ideal time to go through the stress of driving lessons.
After my gorgeous boys had arrived I was a full-time mum, up all hours of the day and night feeding, changing, washing and sterilising. I had no inclination to leave them and quite frankly I didn’t possess the energy to get through a driving lesson either.
Eventually, when they were six months old, I decided to bite the bullet. 15 years of avoidance is quite a time to build up a sense of dread, but I knew that I had to do it so decided – like pulling a plaster – to get it over with as quickly as possible by taking two hour lessons two or three evenings a week.
It was awful. I hated every minute of it, from the moment I booked my first lesson, to the moment the examiner told me I’d passed my (third) test.
I hoped driving would get less scary with each lesson, but each one got more terrifying, with faster roads and bigger roundabouts. And to make things worse, just as I thought I’d got the hang of something, the next lesson I’d have lost the ability all over again. I lost count of how many times I stalled that car.
I hated the clutch, could never find the right gear and always panicked when I approached a roundabout. Yet, slowly things did start to fall into place. Manoeuvres started to get easier and then the actual driving part seemed a bit easier too. I still never lost the sense of dread though.
Something I realise now is you will never feel 100% ready for your driving test; you’ve just got to give it a go and hope for the best. I stalled while pulling into the test centre for my first test (with my instructor in the car, not the examiner luckily) – the test went perfectly apart from one major fault on a roundabout (oops). The second test was terrible – after a couple of minor problems I completely lost all self confidence and made far too many mistakes – including speeding on the road back to the test centre. On the third test everything was in my favour – the roads were quiet, the examiner patient, the route was easy and, other than a few minors, I sailed through. It was purely down to the luck of the day rather than skill.
So the moral of my story? Make the most of being young and fearless and learn to drive when you hit 17. Although you may not feel you have the cash to do it, you’ll have even less spare cash when you get older. And the whole process is far more terrifying when you have more life experience and understand that accidents can really hurt.
I always laughed when people used to tell me that learning to drive as an older learner is much harder, but it turns out it was true all along. Damn it, I hate being wrong.