I was a late bloomer when it came to learning how to drive. After living in city centres and/or being able to walk to work or have good public transport links, it wasn’t until I started my Masters degree and lived in semi-rural Fife that I realised that I was going to need to learn how to drive.
I took my first driving lesson aged 25 in October 2017 and took about 30 lessons over a 12 month period. A year ago today, I passed my driving test first time with 6 minors. As soon as I was handed my certificate, I was told by the examiner that this was the time when I actually was going to learn how to drive. I was somewhat sceptical at this comment as I was able to start, stop and drive a car from one end of the street to another. So I thought after a year on the road and now I’ve racked up nearly 12,000 miles on my clock, I thought it might be best to share my ramblings and advice of what I have really learned about driving as I celebrate the anniversary of an adulting right of passage.
It’s OK to be nervous
Learning how to drive nearly a decade after some of my friends was pressure enough in some social circles for me, especially to pass first time around as people regale how many attempts and minors they had when sitting their tests several years prior. Being in the “first time pass club” seems to be a badge of honour and those who posses it wear it with pride and brag about it to their friends. But after I passed my test, there have been times that I wished that I had passed a second or maybe a third time around. Like some people, I was not fortunate enough to have access to a car whilst I was learning to drive that I could practice in. So my first interaction with a car which wasn’t the dual control Vauxhall Corsa that I learned to drive in was a mix of cars that I was test driving.
I honestly felt quite uncomfortable getting straight into a car that wasn’t dual control at the car dealership when test driving cars, realising that my driving instructor was nowhere to be seen and if I messed up, there was going to be no-one able to slam the breaks on my behalf. It didn’t help that during a test drive, I stalled on a roundabout with traffic lights on it twice as I struggled to get the biting point of one of the cars!
The nerves amplified when I realised when I was about to drive out of the dealership car park and be in my little Kia Picanto on my own for the very first time. What made it worse was that I was in a city I didn’t particularly know that well and have never driven in (I learnt to drive in Dundee but had then recently moved to Perth) and it was dark. After I pulled up outside my house after the short drive from the dealership, my legs were like jelly, my fingers were white as I had gripped the steering wheel so tight and I am pretty sure I held my breath for most of the journey out of fear!
These nerves subsided over time as I got out of the road more and more and within a few weeks, I was confidently able to get to regular destinations such as work, the city centre of Perth, the supermarket etc.
Take a trip down memory lane
One thing I did to build up my confidence was to drive old routes that I took whilst I was undergoing my driving lessons. I cannot stress how valuable I found this to be! The first few weeks I was driving, I drove to Dundee on a Saturday morning and spent a few hours along familiar roads and practising manoeuvres.
I was also fortunate enough in the last month or so before my driving test that I managed to have a few night driving lessons. These proved invaluable as during the first few months of driving, I was driving to and from work in the dark and sometimes in poor weather conditions due to it being winter.
In situations where I need a bit more concentration at the beginning such as when I was driving unfamiliar routes or in tough weather conditions, I found it helpful to talk myself through the instructions I needed to perform… Mirror, signal, position, speed, look.
At the beginning, I used to say it out loud and as my confidence built, the voice went from inside my head to just being instinctual.
Just keep driving
I had my car a mere 48 hours and I decided to pick my friend up one evening from her house and drive us both to a commitment we had in town. She was instructing me on how to get take a short cut into the city. Instead of turning left, I ended up turning right. This resulted in what should’ve been a 5 mile drive into town into a very large 25 mile diversion around the Perthshire farm roads in the dark. As a result, we ended up being late for our evening plans. I just kept driving through my panic and hoped that a signpost would appear to get me in the right direction. Looking back, this story still makes me chuckle.
My first large drive was about 4 days after I had collected my car and I was driving to Edinburgh to pick someone up at the airport late at night. Little did I realise that a storm was approaching so I was going to be driving in 80mph winds and pouring rain in the dark. My little car was shaking as it went down the motorway and along the Forth Road Bridge as I was trying to drive into the crosswinds. It is still to date one of the hardest drives I’ve ever done. The sense of accomplishment I felt after completing it was unreal and from that point, I knew that it couldn’t get much harder than that. I still agree with that thought today.
I learnt as long as you don’t stop the car unless its safe and just keep driving, you will eventually sort yourself out. Sat-navs sometimes have a terrible time delay and it’s sometimes best just to keep an eye on the road. You’ll eventually hit a junction or roundabout that will help you get on the right path.
After a terrible drive, I would brush myself down and remind myself that tomorrow is a new day and at least I have learnt how to deal with a different road situations or where that mythical turning actually leads off to.
P Plates: Friend of foe?
Amongst the new driver community, there seems to be competition around who can have their P plates on for the least amount of time (or even put them on at all). It is worth noting that in Northern Ireland, it is a requirement to display a R plate for the 1st year since you pass your test and not to exceed 45mph so having the luxury of optional P plates as well as the ability to drive over 45mph for the rest of the UK is quite fortunate.
I took my P plates off after having my car for around 2 months. At that point I was able to drive comfortably to the next city on the motorway and had made a handful of trips to Stirling & Edinburgh.
Whilst having my P plates on, I received mixed reception. I had some people get impatient and deliberately try and intimidate me, to the point where people would perform dangerous acts on the road just at the expense of their rage or malicious nature. On the other hand, I stalled a few times whilst taking off during traffic on a busy street. The car behind me flashed their lights at me and when I looked in the rear view mirror, a women in her 40’s was smiling and giving me a thumbs up. My fears were instantly relieved at her positivity and I managed to make the rest of the way home without stalling.
Indicators are not optional
People’s lack of using indicators is incredibly infuriating. There have been many times that I have already committed to roundabouts when someone has not indicated properly, or worse, been in the wrong lane. I make a point to indicate correctly whenever I am on the road as I do not want to the run the risk of causing an accident or confusion amongst other road users.
Speed limits not targets
My driving instructor wisely once told me that “it’s a speed limit and not a speed target”. The motorway may be a 70mph limit but if you have a truck infront of you, you may need to go at 60mph until it is safe to overtake. Sometimes you need to read the road as to why traffic may be moving a little slower than the speed limit. Is it because of an accident up ahead? Or a tractor? Or are you driving up a steep hill where some cars might be struggling to maintain a the speed limit?
Just remember that if you are in a rush or wanting to drive a little faster than the flow of traffic, make sure it is safe to overtake and don’t be distracted by cars behind you that might be intimidating you.
Further to this point, be comfortable at a speed that is comfortable for you but make sure you’re not going ridiculously slow to the point where you are disrupting traffic. If you are on a country road which is 60mph but are only comfortable going a bit slower, there are normally many points where you can safely pull in and let cars overtake you if you are feeling intimidated by someone being close to the back of your car.
When I was sitting my driving test, I got 2 minors for going 45mph on a 60mph very narrow country road. However, as my examiner pointed out during at the end of my driving test, I probably would’ve failed my driving test over the actions of another driver as a van had whipped around a blind bend much faster than I was approaching it and if I had been going at 60mph, I probably wouldn’t have been able to process and stop the car calmly to allowed him to pass in sufficient time, or safely.
Many drivers will not adhere to speed limits and go significantly faster. It is important not to feel pressurised by this. I remember being intimidated by a driver who was tooting his horn and flashing his lights whilst I was going 60mph in a 60mph zone. He eventually overtook me and sped off whilst giving me the finger. It was quite frightening as I was still building up confidence on the road at the time. I centred myself as best I could and reminded myself that I was sticking to the limit and the limits are in place to ensure road safety. Also, I was secretly hoping he would get a speeding ticket. There is no way in hell I am risking having 6 points on my license because someone was trying to be and idiot and intimidate me!
The most important thing i’ve learnt about 12 months of driving is to have fun. I have had a new found freedom of being able to pop in a car and just go anywhere I want whenever I want. Who hasn’t dropped someone off/picked someone up in their pyjamas at some point because they could?!
I have also taken a road trip to the Isle of Mull in March 2019 and spent 2 days exploring what the island had to offer, along with the stunning drive through Loch Lomond. This was a big accomplishment and built my confidence driving on a variety of terrains and also single track roads. Given the limited roads on the island, there was no need for me to pay attention to directions.
There are places that I still don’t think I would be comfortable driving to. I am still nervous at the thought of driving into Glasgow. The furthest west I have driven to date is Cumbernauld. But there is time for that to change.
Oh! One final piece of advice is to MAKE SURE YOU HAVE SUNGLASSES AT ALL TIMES IN YOUR CAR! I never realised how bloody low the sun is, especially during the winter in Scotland. I have collected a few emergency pairs of sunglasses from my travels over the years and keep a pair or two in my car for those situations when the sun visor just doesn’t make the cut.