One of these things, for me, is driving. Don’t worry; this is not a How-to on driving from a woman. It is about learning something most people get over and done with in their teens. Why, when my sister learned to drive at 18, did I somehow skip this part of adolescence? Here’s my personal history of driving.
Davy has a strong Fife accent which would be fine because half my family is from St Andrews, but he also has a colossal lisp. This makes learning all the weird mirror, signal, manoeuvre mnemonics all the harder because I haven’t a clue what he’s saying. We try hill starts which I have massive trouble with because we haven’t dithcuthed clutch control much and (in my memory at least, though it seems implausible) we’re right by the kerb with parked cars behind us. I don’t learn to brake gently but Davy can’t work out a catchy mnemonic about the dashboard and bloody noses.
Easter holidays over, I return to Belgium informing everyone I can pretty much drive now. I never stalled, but I this might not have been down to skill so much as not spending much time behind the wheel.
Over the years it becomes more and more embarrassing to produce my provisional license with a big L on it as ID. The big L is youthful! I tell myself. When I move house, which is a lot, I have to either make train journeys with my travellers backpack and 2 holdalls or rely on the kindness of friends with cars.
Years later I am back behind the wheel. Pulling my seat forward, forward again. Bit more forward. Because I can’t reach the clutch with my feet. The lesson begins with a sense of foreboding as seconds after I get into my driving seat a bird shits on the windscreen directly in my eye line. As it happens, Squeamish Nicola, who is also late to the driving party (a party we had previously agreed must be no fun because there’s no drinking) has been taking lessons too. “What car are you learning in?” “A red car” “no, I mean like I drive a Ford Fiesta” “oh, it has a tiger one the bonnet”. Guessing it was unlikely Squeamish Nicola was learning in a Jag we worked out it was a red Peugeot. We enjoy discussing stuff like this; it makes us feel like real drivers.
My new driving instructor and I spend a total of 5 hours driving up and down a quiet road as I learn about the biting point, changing gears smoothly and looking where I am going in order to drive in a straight line. Friends and family make encouraging comments such as: “When you come late to driving it often takes ages”. Thanks. I feel really good about myself. According to DSA statistics whilst the highest pass rate is amongst 17 year olds it isn’t until learner drivers hit their 30s that the pass rate begins to significantly drop. It seems it isn’t until your 4th decade you realise you aren’t learning to drive a car so much as learning to wield a mighty weapon and this makes older learners rather nervy.
It is also often thought that the difference in pass rates between men and women are down to a too cautious attitude in women. DSA statistics show that 1 in 2 male test candidates pass their test first time, compared to 43% of female candidates. Last year’s UK pass rates were 50.7% for men and 44.1% for women. Women tend to fail for failing to use their mirrors (which doesn’t sound very cautious to me) and mistakes reversing (which I don’t mind telling you I am peculiarly good at). Men fail for the same reason their insurers give for charging them more, the urge to turn boy racer behind the wheel gets too much. Men tend to be failed for moving off too quickly or jumping the lights.
Caution is not an issue for me. My driving instructor is very kind, when I used to stall or cause my car to hiccough he would wonder aloud if that was an emotional response and down to anxiety rather than inability, it took me a while to admit I have an unfortunate inclination to forget it is best not to cross your legs when in the driving seat. I feel safest at top speed on the dual carriageway in fifth gear secretly racing the other drivers. Half my trouble is that I am now so used to being a passenger that on the occasions my instructor takes the wheel I naturally go into relaxed mode and gaze out the passenger window, forgetting I am supposed to be watching my instructor’s feet on the pedals, “did you see what I did there, with the clutch and the accelerator?” “…Yes.”
I learn driving is one of the many things I can’t cutes my way out of. Going wide-eyed and saying “Uh-oh spaghetti-Os” as your driving instructor slams on the brakes only gets you so far. Actually it doesn’t get you anywhere because the brakes are on and you’re about to be sternly asked to pull over on the left please.
The average amount of hours women learner drivers spend in lessons is 52. For men is it 36. I am 30 hours in and am pleased to inform anybody who will listen that at the very least I could nick my mum’s car and drive it down to Asda (the Big Shop looms large in my ideas about driving, a difference between me and a 17 year old learner) and back so perhaps I can beat the odds. Although I’m still not your best candidate if you’re after a getaway car driver, unless you have time for me to find the biting point, find the biting point, find the biting point…
Squeamish Kate - Any good driving lessons stories? Comment below or tell us on Twitter