Learning to Drive
Yes you read the title, at last I’m learning to drive! I’ve wanted to get behind the wheel since I was fifteen, now that I am it feels too good to be true.
Driving is like nothing I expected it to be, it’s a lot harder, requires copious amounts of concentration and really puts my multi-tasking skills to the test. I don’t think I’m a natural driver but then I’m always hard on myself – my instructor, Bob, seems pleased with my progress.
He’s a retired highways agency traffic officer so knows his stuff where driving is concerned. He also has the patience of a saint and a sense of humour, which is essential when you put me and driving together in the same sentence!
I didn’t know what to expect before my first lesson, the closest thing I’d come to driving a vehicle was a motorboat when I was nine – and then I nearly crashed it!
Luckily I didn’t have any accidents, I hit the kerb but only stalled once which I was pleased about. I went through the basics, driving round the Heathfield Industrial Estate outside Newton Abbot slowly and carefully, trying to get the feel of this new skill.
Everything was completely alien to me, the pedals, gears, indicators, even the steering wheel – I have a tendency of crossing my hands when turning the wheel, which is not what you’re supposed to do. As I’ve been told I need to feed the wheel through my hands quickly and continuously, treating it like a hot cake which has just come out of the oven. It’s a bizarre image but helps me focus on the technique!
I drove through Bickington, along the A38, and back to where I live, in Ashburton. For a first lesson I couldn’t have asked for it to have gone any better.
The next time I went out driving was a bit different, it was a lot more intense and I felt exhausted by the end of it. That’s the other thing about being in control of a car, I didn’t realise it would tire me out so much mentally.
The first time my instructor took me out it was on a Sunday morning, and there was hardly any traffic around – this time he threw me in the deep end and made me go round Newton Abbot itself on a Friday afternoon, when it was busy. Thanks very much Bob!!
It wasn’t all bad, negotiating junctions and a roundabout was a tad hair-raising but I felt I was doing OK. I drove round a housing estate a couple of times, again to get in the zone and to get used to turning round corners, driving past parked cars, using hazard perception, etc. Once we went past Trago Mills and were on the A38 again I felt more relaxed.
I find driving on the dual carriageway easy compared to built up areas – the traffic is going in one direction, I’m not faffing around with the clutch or brake, I just cruise along in fifth gear, keeping a steady eye on what’s going on around me. It’s the only time during my lessons where I feel marginally relaxed!
Bob told me that most of the accidents he was called out to attend at night where one vehicle was involved were on the motorway, due to drivers following the line of cat’s eyes at the side of the road instead of the road itself. I can see how easy it must be to be hypnotised by them, no wonder you see so many signs on the motorway saying “Take A Break, Tiredness Can Kill”.
For my next lesson I went out driving in the evening, from 6pm – 7.30pm and it was awful. That’s the last time I’m doing night driving!
Things were going pretty well whilst it was still light, going round virtually every roundabout in Newton Abbot at rush hour wasn’t that pleasant but I didn’t have any majorly bad incidents – mind you a lot of that is down to the fact my instructor’s car has dual foot controls!!
On instruction I pulled up on a housing estate so Bob could explain roundabouts to me a bit more – basically they’re a junction with a circle in the middle designed to keep the traffic flowing. For that very reason they freak me out, the cars around me seem to be moving all at once and I’ve got to slot in there somehow, at the same time knowing who to give way to and where to go. See what I mean about doing a hundred different things at once?!
I was told not to worry too much, and there would be plenty more opportunities to go over them in the future. By this time it was dark outside, while we’d been talking the interior light had been on but once it was turned off I couldn’t see a thing in the car, only the signs lit up on the dashboard. That’s when I started to panic!
I went really slowly up to a junction, cars were coming across in front of me from both directions so I had to stop until the way was clear for me to get out. I braked but didn’t put the clutch down so what happened? I stalled not once, but twice, then the car behind overtook and the driver sounded their horn which got me into even more of a fluster. Bob helped me out on the foot controls and got me to pull over in a bus stop before I went off again, to get my focus back, but I was still a bit shaken up.
Things went from bad to worse when I kept going into the wrong gear on the way back home – I just cannot fathom out how you’re supposed to know you’re in the right gear without looking. Bob says I’ll soon be able to tell that by how the car sounds alone. At least he’s optimistic!
I didn’t expect my next lesson to go well seeing as I had a flu virus, and I was right. It wasn’t a total disaster like the night time driving but it wasn’t good by any means. The problem is just when I’m getting to grips with one thing, for example roundabouts, my instructor makes me do something completely new which throws me off course. Talk about curveballs! Compared to my first lesson I’ve obviously made progress but I’m not doing as well as I’d like to by my standards.
I spent the whole of the lesson driving round Liverton and Bickington, going over junctions and left hand turns. I stalled numerous amounts of times and was really getting frustrated with myself, every time I changed from first gear to second or vice versa I stalled the car. I knew I wasn’t getting the right balance of clutch up, accelerator down, and the more I tried the worse it became. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when that lesson was over.
The last lesson I had was a definite break through drive for me though, I don’t think you would have been reading this otherwise – I would have been too depressed to write about driving any further!
It was the best in terms of not making mistakes, every time I did something which I knew had gone well I kept getting little bubbles of euphoria in my chest. When I’d finished and pulled up outside my house that’s when I could let my breath out and feel pleased with myself, as nothing else could go wrong.
It was the first time I went round Newton and felt like I was in control, I knew where I was going on the roundabouts, I didn’t undercut any corner turns, I didn’t get in a muddle at the traffic lights. . . Because I was doing well I got even more nervous, in case my lucky streak didn’t last!
I did stall once at a junction, (my clutch control letting me down again) and went into the wrong gear joining the dual carriageway but come on, two mistakes in two hours – even I’ve got to be happy with that!
I even overtook two lorries in a row once I was on the A38, I was amazed I had the bottle to go to 70mph and zoom past them. I actually went up to 80mph when I was focusing on the lorries instead of the speedometre which was breaking the speed limit – whoopsie! I bet my instructor thanks his lucky stars there are two brake controls in his car!
I only hope my driving continues to go upwards in terms of progress, and not downwards. Now I know what a good lesson is like that’s the standard I want to have for every lesson from now on. I know I’ll have good days and bad days but I can’t wait for the day when those L plates come off. . . watch this space!