This time ten years ago, I never imagined passing my driving test. To be fair, I was right, as I didn’t actually pass until two years later. I had my first driving lesson in May 2009, and I eventually passed my test in September 2011, two weeks before my theory test expired. I remember sitting in a car and thinking that I definitely was not clever enough to be driving. In September 2019, I will have had my driving licence for eight years, and it’s got me thinking about the journey it took to get me here. In sharing my story, I hope to hand out a few driving test tips, and a little insight into how I dealt with the asshole that is driving test anxiety.
Driving Test Fails
I started learning to drive pretty much as soon as I turned 17. My Mum had been given the number of a driving instructor for BSM, so I had a lesson booked for the week after my 17th birthday. She was lovely, and she did everything by the book – presumably because they worked for a bigger company, they had a structure to follow. At first I took this as a good thing, because it meant things were thorough, but after 5 lessons, I still hadn’t gone out onto a main road. I’m not sure why this was, and no one else knew either because no one else saw me driving.
It became clear that things weren’t progressing too well with my BSM instructor, so it was very quickly decided that I would change to someone else. Luckily for me, my boyfriend’s Mum (now my Mother in Law) was a driving instructor so I started lessons with her. I progressed so much quicker in a few weeks with her than I did in the few months with my first instructor, and I passed my theory test that September. Mid-way through 2010 however, I failed my first test with just 4 minors. I had a complete cock-up when I was changing lanes at a roundabout and apparently got too close to a parked car. I was absolutely gutted, but took solace in the fact that a lot of people don’t pass the first time.
In September, the day before I was moved to Northampton, I took my second driving test. Again, I failed. If I remember correctly, it was another major steering fault when pulling into a junction, and a couple more minor faults. Again, I was gutted but both my Mum and Mother in Law to-be told me to focus on the positives, that tomorrow was going to be incredibly exciting and it would be the start of my new life as a student. What also made things better, was that my Mother in Law emphasised the fact that I’d now essentially driven without proper instruction twice, and the fact I’d only scored a couple of minor faults was amazing. She made sure that I was still proud of myself, despite the fact I hadn’t got the outcome I wanted.
During that first year of university, it became apparent that I couldn’t really afford to learn to drive anymore. So, I decided to buckle down with my studies and look at the situation again when I had enough money. I started learning again in 2011, where I managed to find an instructor that did a student rate. He was a nice enough chap, but every now and then I struggled with him and some of his rules. For example, he told me I always had to 25 in a 30mph zone, 35 in a 40, 45 in a 60 and so on. No wonder people get so pissed off with learners! I took my third test again that summer and surprise surprise, I failed. I failed through another lane cock-up at one of Northampton’s crazy ass roundabouts. The worst part? I had one minor. Some people would say that’s a good thing and to focus on that, but not Mr Instructor. As he drove me back he continually emphasised how bad it was that I’d only gotten one minor and STILL failed. He made it very clear that I was incredibly stupid to have failed despite having a near-perfect drive. This time, I was more than gutted, I was heartbroken. I was a failure, and the person who was supposed to be supporting me had basically confirmed that.
By this point, there was only a few months until my theory test expired, so I made the decision to try one more time, and if I failed, I’d pack it in for a while. I managed to find a cancellation for the 13th September – which was a year after my second failure, and a week before my theory test expired. I was absolutely shitting myself, as this felt like it was well and truly my last chance. It was the longest forty minutes of my life. To start with, I read the licence plate on the wrong car where I was so anxious, and later on I completely buggered up my maneuver, which was the left reverse. I ended up on the wrong side of the road and asked the examiner if I could just take a minute, where I welled up and had to calm myself down. Thankfully, he was genuinely the loveliest examiner I’d had, and he very calmly told me to take some deep breaths, that I hadn’t failed, and to carry on when I was ready. For the rest of the test he kept me chatting, which I think really helped. Thankfully the rest of the test went pretty well, aside from a few silly mistakes. We got back to the test centre where, with a fair amount of pity to his voice, he said “So that’s the end of the test…” I instantly welled up again and said “I’ve failed again, haven’t I?” He then gave me a big smile and said “I’ll pass you.” I think my response was “are you serious?!” I couldn’t believe it. I’d gotten a total of 10 minors, but at this point I didn’t care – I’d passed!
A Confidence Knock and the Kindness of Strangers
As soon as it arrived, my driving licence became my most prized possession. I couldn’t quite believe I finally had done it. I felt so proud after doing that first ever drive on my own, with no one else in the car. It was all going well until I tried to reverse out of a space in Asda. It took me a few attempts to reverse out, but my anxiety instantly shot up when I saw a woman stood by the car next to me, giving me the filthiest look. I rolled down the window and said “I’m really sorry, I’ve just passed my test,” to which she asked if I’d scratched her car. Of course I hadn’t, but this wasn’t enough for her and she continued to tell me that I was incredibly close to damaging it and that I needed to “look at the way you’re fucking parking, love.” She got in her car and drove off, and I sat in the car and had a little cry. I had another attempt to reverse out of the space, but by this time, the lady on the other side of me had come back to her car which just made things worse. She tapped my window to ask if I was okay and I just sobbed at her. Very kindly, she offered to try and reverse the car out for me, but because I’d fucked things up so much she was a bit concerned she’d end up hitting her own car in the process. In stepped the trolley man, who had been watching everything kick off and came over to see what was happening. I was still in a state, so the lady explained everything to him. One thing lead to another and he was lovely enough to reverse the car out for me while the lady calmed me down. It was just a classic example of how for every asshole you deal with, there’s still some decent people in the world. While I attribute this incident to me still not being very confident with my parking, I’m so incredibly grateful to the lady who helped me, and the man who reversed the car out for me. As for the first bird that had a go at me, she can go fuck herself.
Sorry, that was uncalled for.
Lessons I’ve Learned
At one point, I never thought that I’d end up passing my driving test. It was incredibly stressful, caused me a hell of a lot of anxiety, and it was bloody expensive. But I did it. To be honest, I think if I took the driving test again, I’d probably fail. Although I think a lot of us would, because we pick up bad habits. My parking is still shockingly bad and I still make stupid mistakes. It’s been 8 years and I haven’t even driven on the motorway either. Baby steps though, guys.
Anyway, through the 2 years I spent learning to drive, there were a fair few lessons that I learned. While they won’t tell you exactly how to pass a driving test, hopefully, they’ll at least be able to help you get a little perspective and help you to ease that pesky driving test anxiety.
- Find the Right Instructor – It makes such a difference. Every instructor has different ways of teaching, and what works for one person may not work for another. If you feel like it’s not working though, it’s worth looking into other options.
- Think Positive – I’ve always been a pessimist, but I decided to try a little positive thinking when it came to my final driving test, and surprisingly, it did the trick. In particular, I thought about why it was so important for me to pass my test, and what the benefits would be for me if I finally got there – like having my own car, not having to rely on getting the bus into uni, and having my own independence. It may not work for everyone, but I swear clarifying my goals and my reasons for doing this was enough to clear my head and help me focus.
- Don’t Compare – Everyone learns at their own pace, and driving is no exception. One thing I did in the early stages was compare myself to my friends. What I couldn’t see was that they were getting more practice and that they were older, so therefore had been learning for longer.
- Practice – Get in as much as you can. One difference between me and my friends was practice. A couple of them already had cars and their parents would make them drive everywhere. I wasn’t particularly very confident in going out in a car without dual controls so it meant that my weekly lessons were pretty much the only practice I got.
- Consider the Timings – This was particularly the case when it came to the second test I took. While it would have been incredibly handy to pass my test before I went to uni, it probably wasn’t the cleverest of ideas, given that the following day I was due to move into a new flat in a new town. If you don’t work particularly well under pressure, make sure you have plenty of time and no big events happening in the run up to your test!
- Check Your Finances – Learning to drive is very expensive. I guess it prepares you for owning a car. My point is, make sure you can afford it. By that I mean consider the lessons, the theory test, practical test, and even the insurance if you’re lucky enough to have a car of your own before you pass. In the UK, you can rearrange your test up to 6 times, so if you’re concerned you may not be able to afford another one if you fail, you’ve got the option to postpone it.
- Treat the Test as Any Other Drive – It’s easier said than done, but if you think about it, treating your driving test as though it’s just a normal drive is a good way to help ease any last minute nerves. Definitely when I began chatting with the examiner in my final test, I felt my anxiety easing because it felt more like I was giving someone a lift rather than being assessed! Of course this may depend on the examiner you have, but you can still treat the run up to the test as though it’s just another driving lesson.
Find out more about learning to drive, how to book your driving test, and advice for when you pass at Gov.uk.