Driving After Taking a Year Off (and changing instructors)
Admittedly, driving does not come naturally to me! Before my first lesson, I remember Googling which side of the road you have to drive on! I need all the help I can get, and with a busy schedule and a tight budget, learning to drive safely and responsibly is definitely a challenge.
A levels, a part time job and driving lessons! I started learning to drive back when I was around 18, in 2013, when the cost of a theory test was £31 (DVSA have now reduced it to £23), and I bought my first block booking of 20 lessons for £360 (£18 an hour). I was in my last year of my A-Levels at the time, while also working in Primark on weekends. In between studying for exams and working towards coursework deadlines, I did not have a lot of spare time to practice driving, and since my parents both have automatic cars, I wasn’t able to pick up extra hours that way either, so I did a two hour lesson each week for about 6 months… and I absolutely hated every moment!
I made progress in the sense that I went from having no driving experience whatsoever, to being able to do a couple of basic, and I do mean BASIC, requirements, but ultimately I was nowhere near ‘test standard’ when I was getting ready to leave town and head to university 150 miles away.
At this time, I had lost quite a lot of the motivation needed to keep me interested in learning to drive, so I took quite a long break and went to university instead.
A nervous return to lessons and instructor number two! I decided to pick it up again 4 years later when I was in my final year of university. I realised that I had been actively putting it off, but I finally had enough time in my schedule to arrange a couple of hours of lessons each week. I also found that my attitude to driving had changed quite a lot. I was a lot calmer and controlled about driving, and less panicky and scared about my actions.
After such a long break, I was so nervous returning to lessons, as I thought that I would forget everything that I’d spent so much money on before, and to be fair, I had forgotten quite a bit initially. But this actually ended up being a bit of a blessing, as my new instructor noticed that I had picked up a couple of bad techniques from my old instructor, and he was able to quickly help me to correct them. He also helped me to see a couple of things that should have been obvious, or second nature, in a completely different way. For example, I remember him actually explaining how the clutch worked, something that my old instructor never mentioned, and suddenly the actual act of driving made a lot more sense. He also explained the difference between diesel and petrol engines, and the things they can and can’t do.
Changes in the driving test The test had changed quite a bit since my initial lessons, for example reversing around a corner was no longer a possibility (yes!!) and I now had to work out how to follow a sat nav. It always looked so easy when my Dad did it, but knowing how to read it, and then working out which lane to be in before it was far too late, was definitely a learning process for me.
A couple of points came back naturally for me, for example, the cockpit drill was easy, and balancing the clutch was the same as what I was used to. I used to live right off of a roundabout in my hometown, so I knew what I was doing there, but I needed just a little more encouragement now that I was in a city I didn’t know particularly well, with the biggest roundabouts I’d ever seen! Changing gears was quite easy, the only difference was learning the new manoeuvres, and the fact that the hill starts needed a lot more power than they did in the first car I learned in many years ago.
My new instructor taught me a new method to learn the art of the parallel park, ( 1-2-1 Left/Right/Right/Left) and it clicked straight away. The reverse bay park took up a lot of my lesson time, as I couldn’t get used to it, but eventually, muscle memory kicked in, and I was able to complete it without my instructor guiding me through.
One thing that I did struggle with was independent driving, especially because I didn’t know the roads particularly well. I was fairly faultless when copying my instructor’s directions, but left to figure it out by myself, I was pretty hopeless at first, and this definitely was my weakest area, so something I had to really work on.
Instructor number three I spent around 6 months learning to drive that year, but unfortunately wasn’t able to pass my test in time for graduation, so even though I was quite annoyed that once again I had to stop lessons and pick them up later, I was grateful that I had learned a lot and actually remembered it too.
Last year, (12 months after my last lesson) I had a gap in between jobs that needed filling, so I filled the void with driving lessons. I was back living with my parents, but they had actually moved house while I was at university, so I was in yet another different city! I had to find my third instructor!
This time around, I found that I could pick up from where I left off in my lessons. It was the biggest relief. I actually hadn’t forgotten anything! I was naturally a little rusty in a couple of areas and had to adapt to this different car and needed to get to grips with learning the new roads, especially when using the SatNav for big roundabouts, but it was all fixable.
And then lockdown happened The pandemic definitely stopped me in my tracks, but obviously, I knew that I just had to wait it out until it was safe to drive again. I haven’t driven since the pandemic started but I am fairly confident that I will be able to pick up where I left off a few months ago. By watching lots of instructional videos on YouTube, and reading up on driving blogs, I still feel that I am in the loop and am a safe driver. I will have to re-sit my now expired theory test, but this is just a good opportunity to keep productive during the lockdown and stay up to date with my driving knowledge. Now that I have racked up over 100 hours of driving lessons over the years, a couple of refresher lessons aren’t going to put me off.