Tuesday 6 December 2016

'I'm independent, successful and courageous in many ways, so why am I scared of driving?'

Getting to almost 30 without a driving licence makes the entire experience daunting, writes Vicki Notaro

Published 15/05/2015 | 08:51

Learner Driver, Louise McSherry pictured with her L plates yesterday.
Learner Driver, Louise McSherry pictured with her L plates yesterday.
Learner Driver, Vicki Notario pictured with her L plates

I was quite a precocious child - you know the annoying kid who learned to read before school and had a grown-up vocabulary? That was me. And in most ways, I continued in that vein through to adulthood - well, in every way but one. At 29, I haven't passed my driving test. The reason? Getting behind the wheel scares me.

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Driving is seen as a rite of passage, something that teenagers the world over are desperate to be able to do, and those in more rural areas have to do in order to have any precious freedom.

So many people I know have been driving since they were 17, independent and unable to imagine a life without that ability. Getting from A to B on four wheels is something billions of people do every day, so why am I so frightened of it?

A while back, I had a provisional licence, was taking lessons and even sat my test. But I wasn't very good at it - and more importantly, I didn't enjoy it.

After I failed the test and had a minor accident involving a bollard in the same week, I gave up. It's not like me to let defeat or any little bump in the road affect me in any way; normally I would just dust myself off and try again. But for some reason, driving daunts me like nothing else.

However, it's starting to get ridiculous. As a journalist, I really should be able to drive for work. Up until now, I've depended on my partner to chauffeur me to jobs around the country, and that's not fair. I'm sick of begging for lifts, taking taxis and public transport.

In my life and career, I've always been advanced, having moved out of home and in to my first job as a journalist at barely 22.

I'm independent, successful and courageous in many ways, but feel oddly stunted because I can't do this thing that other adults do every single day, mainly because it frightens me.

It turns out though, I'm not alone. Broadcaster Louise McSharry is 32 and only now in the process of learning to drive properly. After a few false starts in her early 20s, and with a new home in Dublin that boasts a free parking space, she's decided that now is the time.

"I've always lived in the centre of town, so a car just wasn't necessary, or convenient given the cost of parking. However, I just felt I'd got to the point where it was a little embarrassing to have to bum lifts from mates to weddings and festivals.

"I also wanted to be on my own time, so that if I got up early on a Sunday morning after a weekend away and wanted to go home, I could."

The urban excuse, as I call it, is a good one. Living in Dublin means a relatively good public transport system and an abundance of taxis to get around in. Since the arrival of Hailo and Uber, hopping in a cab has become more convenient, another reason not to bother getting my full licence.

As someone who actually doesn't dread exams, it's odd I'm so daunted by the driving test. But I think it comes from low confidence in that area, and feeling like I'm useless at the very act of handling a car.

Damien Deehan from driving school Pass My Test finds clients tell him that often.

"The only reason you think you're awful at it is because you were not getting the correct instructions on how to drive," he explains. "We get students coming to us saying the same thing, and it generally boils down to their confidence being knocked at some stage or another, or just from getting bad driving lessons. This could have come from a driving instructor, a family member, friend or partner."

Confidence

"Low confidence is one of the main contributing factors to someone being, or thinking, they're a bad driver," adds Damien says the key to combating this low driving esteem is to know exactly what you're doing before you ever turn the key of the car. "With confidence comes comfort and relaxation, with less stress."

Louise is finding driving lessons to be exciting and terrifying all at once, much like myself.

"I had my fourth driving lesson this week, which meant that I dreamt about it the entire night before. I have felt really anxious before every lesson, but always feel great afterwards. Today I feel like I finally understood the clutch properly which was a big moment, and genuinely exciting.

"I can't imagine driving on my own without feeling completely terrified, but everyone assures me that moment will come!"

For Louise, being able to drive herself home from her night time radio job at 2fm is the goal. "It's really annoying to rely on the bus to take you home when you finish work late at night.

"I'm also looking forward to being able to pick up and go to the beach on a sunny day, or go down to my parents' house in Wexford on the spur of the moment."

Pregnant

Shelly Jeffares (31), just passed her test and got her full licence. The stay-at-home mum from Bray succeeded at her second attempt, after starting to learn when she was six months pregnant.

"I had never needed a car before. I cycled everywhere or depended on public transport. However, when I discovered I was pregnant, I figured it was time to get it done no matter the cost. I wanted to be able to get to places with a little one."

As good a reason as any to begin later than normal, Shelly admits that she was a nervous wreck both times she took her test.

"I was very on edge and teary, and made lots of silly mistakes which I knew I'd made as soon as they happened. When the tester told me I'd passed, I had a happy cry in front of him - the relief was immense."

It's perhaps odd that driving is such an emotive thing, but when you consider the responsibility of being in charge of a car, maybe it's good to be afraid.

According to Karl Walsh, the managing director of the Irish School of Motoring, overcoming this fear is possible if you engage with a professional instructor who will put you at ease.

"The fear factor can creep in all right, but it's so important that the instructor that teaches you is patient and makes the experience fun," says Karl. "It shouldn't be a chore but rather a positive experience."

For freshly qualified Shelly, it's a new lease of life. "The very first time I drove myself to a friend's house, I couldn't believe I had waited so long to get this slice of independence. It's brilliant being able to go somewhere on a rainy day with my daughter."

Conquer

So it seems the answer is to feel the fear and do it anyway, conquering previous bad experiences.

Having taken a refresher lesson this week, it appears that driving is sort of like riding a bike - you don't forget the mechanisms that easily.

I guess I'm back on the road to becoming qualified, and if I follow both Karl's logic ("preparation is key to passing the test") and Damien's advice ("know and believe you can do it"), it's sure to help.

As Damien says, "I bet you even know a few people that make you wonder 'how on earth did they ever learn to drive?'. Well they did, and you can too." Sound advice.

Herald

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