In the world of being a young person, there are some pretty big milestones to hit. Passing exams, going to University and getting your first “real” job are just a few examples. But one of the most nerve-wracking things to do (in my mind) is learning to drive.
I live in rural Cornwall. And unless you’ve ever spent some time living or holiday-ing in Cornwall, you won’t know that public transport here is slow, expensive and infrequent. A hour drive to somewhere like Newquay(for example) , can take hours on the bus and train. And there are some places that are virtually inaccessible to get too unless you drive.
So at the age of 23, I decided that enough was enough and I was going to learn to drive. And just under a year later, here I am, a week into solo driving with my test passed. So I thought that as I’m so new at driving, it would be a good time to offer my tips for any wannabe drivers out there.
1: Get yourself a driving instructor you trust and can get on with.
A simple enough suggestion, but one that many trip up on. Your driving instructor needs to be somebody you feel comfortable driving with, and who can teach you. I was very lucky with my instructor, but I’ve heard some horror stories.
2: Get your theory test passed.
The theory part of driving is something you need to study for, and you can’t book your practical without it. So get ahead and study!
I’d thoroughly recommend using the Official DVSA Theory Test Kit app. This is available to buy on IOS and Android, and I think it’s about £5. Within this app you get a range of hazard perception scenerios, mock tests, all the test questions you need AND a copy of the Highway Code.
3: If you have a car, use it.
If you have access to a family car, or are lucky enough to have your own, USE IT. Get temporary insurance, sit with a friend or parent and just practice driving around without your instructor. There are some learner friendly insurance quotes you can get that will cover you for a month or so, and although they’re expensive, I think they’re really worth it.
Just remember to check out the T&C’s when it comes to buying these. Some insurance policies will only cover you if the person sitting next to you is over a certain age bracket, or driving for a certain amount of time. I had to shop around for a while, but it was worth sitting in my own car and getting to actually go from A to B without relying on my instructor.
4: If you fail your practical, don’t give up.
This is tough, because failing really knocks your confidence. And believe me, after 4 attempts at my test before passing, I know. But just remember that everytime you fail, it’s for some reason. So take the examiner’s notes, study them, and make sure not to replicate the same issues repeatedly. The advice your examiner gives at the end of a test is INVALUABLE. So use it.
5: If you struggle with your nerves, do something about it.
I really struggled during my tests with my nerves. My whole body would shake, I’d panic and I cry. So after I tried using a few different relaxation techniques or taking some Rescue Remedy, I realised that nothing seemed to work.
And after explaining this to my instructor, he suggested trying some beta-blockers. These are prescription-only medication from the doctors which helps calm down the body and acts on nerves. They are perfectly legal to use during tests (as they don’t affect your driving and alertness) but can just help very nervous drivers like me.
So during my 4th test, I took one just before and it helped so so much. I still felt nervous, but I didn’t physically shake.
I’m not championing the use of drugs here, but if you really do struggle, I’d suggest going to your doctors and just asking about beta-blockers.
6: If you go wrong on the test, don’t do anything dangerous to correct it.
I probably should clarify. If you’re on the test and your instructor tells you to go a certain way, but you find yourself in the wrong lane, or panicking, don’t do anything silly to try and correct it. Just explain that you’re in the wrong lane/going the wrong way and stick to the road rules. You won’t fail for this. But if you cross lanes dangerously, or do something stupid, you will.
7: Stalling won’t automatically mean you’ve failed.
Stalling is one of my major ugh moments. I immediately get the cold sweats and start to panic. But on a test, stalling (as long as you’re not impeding traffic or in a potentially dangerous situation) is just a minor fault. And you get 15 of these before you’ve failed. So if you do stall, take a deep breath, and restart your engine.
8: Learn your tests routes.
This may sound simple, but learn how to approach any possible test route from every single way. If this means spending time going around roundabouts from every conceivable way, DO IT. You don’t want to be surprised on your test about going a way you’ve never done before.
8b: Learn how to follow a Sat-Nav.
Another simple thing, but Sat Navs are used frequently during tests nowadays. So learn how to follow one.
9: Find out what your weakness is, and make it your strength.
I hate roundabouts. I hate approaching them, knowing what lane I need to be in, waiting at them and just using them in general. But in the UK and probably across the road, it’s very unlikely that roundabouts don’t feature much in your day-to-day driving. So I spent hours and hours going around them, just so I can kinda feel comfortable with them now.
10: After you’ve passed, get behind the wheel.
Another simple thing, but the first time you drive solo after you passed is terrifying. But just take it slow, relax and remember that you can do it. Also, it may help sticking P-plates on your car for the first few weeks/months. This will give other road users a heads up that you are nervous/may be prone to stalling/and just to back off a bit.
But the worst thing to do is stop driving. You have to keep at it, otherwise nerves will get the better of you and you won’t want to drive again.