For the Learner Drivers
The trials and tribulations of being a learner, and why you shouldn’t be ashamed if you still have your L plates.
As James May once said: ‘If you can’t drive, you’re a loser’. Some wise words.
To my shame, I am nearly twenty-one years old and despite three years of practice, two different instructors, two practical tests and two theory tests, I still cannot drive. Embarrassingly, it’s not from a lack of trying. I am not what you would call a natural driver, and as the years have passed, I have become less confident in my ability to not cause someone serious harm.
It all started after I finished school and decided that rather than going and building a well somewhere, I wanted to spend a year at home. One of my central aims for the year was to get my driving licence, a task I thought was within reach. My first driving instructor – let’s call him Rick – was ex-army. Each lesson felt like an army exercise; there was always the potential that we might not return home in one piece. One particularly bad morning I was driving to my new job when I failed to notice a zebra crossing. I saw a pedestrian and came to an emergency stop. In a cruel twist of fate, the woman I had nearly hit was my new colleague, on her way to open the shop. To make matters worse, I proceeded to have a meltdown and stayed stationary on a busy road, blocking all forward moving traffic.
Fast forward to my first test. I remember it was a sunny morning and Rick decided to take me out for a warm-up drive. This essentially functioned as a mock test. Not to toot my own horn (apologies) but it was fantastic. I was on fire. Onto the test. I don’t think I’ll ever know exactly what happened in those 45 minutes, the memory is so painful my brain has chosen to forget it. Suffice to say, it was as close to a car crash as a test can be without involving an actual car crash.
One moment I do recall was at the end – as we pulled up to the test centre my examiner asked me to execute a bay park. I was thrilled because we were in the only place I had ever practiced bay parking. A creature of habit, I realise now that every time I was practicing, I had parked in the same spot. The examiner requested that I ‘park in any spot, any spot is fine’. On that morning the car park was empty, apart from one single car. Any guesses where it was parked? I went to execute the manoeuvre, feeling very confident. It was only when I started to reverse that the examiner repeated himself, a bit louder, ‘any free spot is fine’. It took me another two minutes to realise I was backing into the only car in the twelve-bay car park. In my defence, it was the only spot I knew.
Obviously, that test was a failure. I built myself up for the next test, which was delayed because of Covid. By the time the test came around, I was a worse driver than I had been six months before. A bold statement. Again, I have a slight memory lapse. The only thing you need to know is that the test went so badly it only lasted 15 minutes.
After effectively giving up on driving and accepting my fate as a loser forever, this year I decided to try again. New instructor, new area and hopefully a new examiner when the time comes. Just this week I had to retake my driving theory, always a deflating experience. Only this time I took it at the Dundee Seagate centre. I have never seen so many seventeen-year-old boys with fades in one room.
St Andrews is a strange place for student drivers. Most of us don’t have cars, perhaps due to the cost or simply because everything is in walking distance. The drivers we do have seem to overcompensate, making as much noise as possible. You know the ones I mean, the boy racers. What is so road about revving a blue Honda Civic down a quaint cobbled high-street? I’ll never know.
Hopefully this is the year I get my licence, even if it is three years later than planned. For any fellow learner drivers, I salute you. It’s always embarrassing driving in a car designed to mark you out as a hazard. And to the boy racers on Market Street, pipe down until you get yourself a sports car.
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