Making The Most Of Your Driving Lessons

Learning to Drive:- your first few lessons

Extract from THE GIRLS' GUIDE TO LOSING YOUR L-PLATES by kind permission Maria McCarthy (Author).

Making The Most Of Your Lessons

And you’re off! You’ve booked your Driving lessons and you’re sitting beside your instructor. Not only that, but you’re actually in the driving seat, surrounded by pedals, brakes and gear leavers which one day you’ll have mastered. You could be feeling terrified, excited, impatient to get going – or a bewildering cocktail of all these emotions.

‘I felt very daunted as I hadn’t been a cyclist, had no road-sense and no confidence in my ability to control a car. My impression was that cars were powerful things with minds of their own, liable to leap forward or jolt to a stop and make loud noises and that I would never be able to drive one.’ Abigail, 27

‘I grew up in the middle of nowhere and was desperate to pass my test as soon as possible. I used to look forward to my lessons, because I felt that even the difficult ones were taking me towards my goal of becoming independent.’ Laura, 17

Some learners have a natural aptitude for driving, relate well to their instructors and find the process exciting and enjoyable – hopefully you’re going to be one of them.
However, many of us have times when we hit rough patches. When that happens it’s easy to feel as though you’re the only person ever to have struggled or worried that you’re never going to make it.

This section is aimed at showing you you’re not alone – whether it’s dreading your lessons, feeling that you’ll never master a particular manoeuvre or crying in front of your instructor, there are plenty of ex-learners out there who’ve been through identical traumas and have gone on to become confident and skilful drivers.
It will also provide guidance on understanding the learning process and making the most of your lessons from the very first time that you sit behind the wheel till the final polishing up of your skills before your test.

Before setting off

What not to wear
Like most things in life, driving is easier if you’re wearing the right outfit. Fortunately in this instance you’re not going to have to spend next month’s wages on designer clobber – any comfortable clothes will do. However the right footwear is vital. Heels are best avoided as it’s difficult to get the leverage you’ll need to operate the pedals. And boots or trainers with thick soles aren’t a good idea either as it makes it difficult to feel the clutch bite. Trainers with thinner soles are fine though. Avoid flip-flops because they can slide off too easily. And don’t drive without shoes. Who do you think you are, Joss Stone? 2passMore


Before taking any medication, check the label to make sure it doesn’t affect your ability to drive. For example, some hayfever and cold remedies can promote drowsiness, as can certain anti-depressants. If you’re using an over-the-counter remedy then consult the pharmacist for the right option and in the case of prescribed medication, talk to your doctor.

Your first few lessons

These will probably be spent in quiet locations getting to grips with the car.
‘There are two aspects to driving,’ explains driving instructor Clive Greenaway. ‘Car control and roadcraft, and they’re completely different things. Car control is learning how to handle the car itself – stopping, starting, parking and so on. Roadcraft is dealing with everything that’s happening on the road – such as other vehicles, roundabouts and hazards. If a pupil takes 60 lessons, then 8-10 will probably involve learning about car control and the other 50 will be roadcraft. It’s very important to get on top of controlling the car before you hit the heavy traffic, otherwise the student has too much information to process at once.’

Car control is a lot to take in initially – it’s a physical process which requires a new range of conditioned reflexes, response times and hand-to-eye co-ordination skills. Even a simple procedure like moving off involves dealing with the clutch, gears, handbrake, indicators and checking the mirrors – it’s like you’re in multitasking overdrive.

It might feel difficult to believe at the moment, but this will get easier. Eventually you’ll be carrying out the correct sequence automatically. It’s a bit like learning how to tie your shoelaces – your first attempts will have been a real effort, involving much concentration and guidance from your mum but now it’s something you do without a second thought.

The first stages of learning a skill are the most difficult because you’re still at the stage where you have to remember everything – the knowledge is in the conscious part of your brain. However, as it’s more ingrained it becomes subconscious and automatic, and the space freed up in your conscious mind means you’re more able to pay attention to what’s going on around you on the roads.
You might find that as you progress to driving in heavier traffic, you hit heavier traffic you could find yourself getting flustered and feeling that you’re holding everyone up when other cars are behind you, waiting for you to pull out at a junction or complete a manoeuvre.
But don’t let it get to you.
‘People often tend to think they’re making more mistakes than other people when they’re not,’ says driving instructor Peter Blackburn. ‘They also worry that the licensed drivers are looking down on them, but on the whole other drivers are fine. They remember that they were in your position once and will cut you some slack.’

Just the two of us

Many learners find they feel really self-conscious during their lessons and loathe the sensation of being watched by their instructor all the time.
This is perfectly natural and is partly down to the fact that being tutored in a one-to-one situation can feel so unfamiliar. Most of us are more used to being taught in classrooms where there’s the opportunity to blend into the background and try to figure problems out for yourself if you prefer.

Bob Smalley of ROSPA sympathises, ‘If you were going to choose an ideal learning environment, it certainly wouldn’t be the seats in the front of a car. On the one hand it’s a claustrophobic situation and the learner can feel that their space is being invaded. If things are going badly, you can’t escape from each other. But when you’re driving the instructor and pupil can’t make eye-contact because the focus needs to be on the road, and that can make the experience seem impersonal as well.’ The worst of both worlds basically!
But don’t worry if this makes you uncomfortable - hopefully you’ll relax as you become familiar with the situation.

Get the timing right

Schedule your lessons for when you’re at your most fresh and receptive to learning. Mornings are best for many people - there’s a Chinese proverb which says ‘an hour of instruction before noon is worth two hours after it’. Though obviously disregard this advice if you don’t fully wake up till lunchtime.

Start preparing for your theory test

It’s a good idea to start preparing for your theory test from your first few lessons. When you’re driving along it can feel as though there’s a tremendous amount to take in and understanding the road signs and markings will help you feel more on top of things.2passMore

Pin up a map of your test centre area

This is particularly useful if you’ve got a rubbish sense of direction. If you’re accustomed to familiar bus routes or walking everywhere, then whizzing around bypass’s and suddenly finding yourself in a different part of town thinking, ‘how on earth did I get here?’ can leave you feeling very out of control.

Studying a map of the relevant area can help you become more aware of what’s going on. You can also mark difficult areas on it – such as sneaky one-way streets or double mini-roundabouts, so you can psyche yourself up for them as you approach rather than feel that they’re coming at you out of nowhere! The routes are designed to be equal in terms of difficulty – a mixture of easy and more challenging junctions, right and left crossings and so on. However don’t let knowing them allow you to become complacent – driving examiners can change the route in response to roadworks or traffic jams and take you off in a completely unexpected direction.

Invest in some learning aids

Some companies, such as Focus Multimedia have developed DVDs and PC-ROMs which show tutorial sessions or let you practice driving a 3D car using the mouse.2passMore

Enjoy the learning process

If you’re finding driving a struggle it’s tempting to deal with it by telling yourself, ‘Right, I’m having my lessons, it’s being taken care of’ and feel that all you have to do is turn up, grit your teeth, count the minutes till the lesson is over and then scramble out of the car thinking, ‘Phew, at least I won’t have to do that again until next Tuesday.’
But although that strategy will get you through a situation like ongoing dental work where all that’s required of you is to be a passive patient, learning to drive is an active process and the more you engage with it, the easier it will be.
Studies have shown that people learn more effectively when they’re happy and relaxed so you owe it to yourself to make your lessons positive experiences. How you do that is going to depend on your personal situation, but it might involve:
• Changing your driving instructor if you don’t feel comfortable with them.
• If you’ve got a perfectionist streak and tend to beat yourself up when you don’t get everything right first time, then see this as an opportunity for learning to be less hard on yourself.
• Focus on the aspects of driving you do enjoy, such as bowling along a clear bit of dual carriageway with a liberating speed limit. Tell yourself, ‘I love driving, me!’ If you think it often enough, you’ll come to believe it.
• Recognise learning to drive as an important rite of passage and give it the respect and attention it deserves. Watching the traffic as a passenger, chatting with other learners on internet forums or using positive visualisation will help stop you ‘closing down’ around driving when the going gets tough and keep you actively learning.

Collingwood Learner Driver Insurance