Passing your driving way is a rite of passage for many young people. The moment you get to tear up those ‘L’ plates is the moment you also gain your freedom- not in the Braveheart away, of course, but moreso because you’re no longer beholden to your parents. If you want to go somewhere, you just hop in your car, start up the engine and drive to wherever you want. When you’re young, road trips with no pre-determined destination are the norm. However, having gotten older, to the point where driving is a necessity and not an exciting pleasure, I’ve found myself growing slightly older and way more cynical. Whenever I get into my car now, I don’t think of the endless possibilities I can have now that I’m on the road…instead all I can think about is where I have to be and whether I’m running late or not. But I try to remind myself that driving was once an exciting new world for me, and now that my girlfriend has started taking driving lessons, I realise all of the things that you now take for-granted. Here’s six of ’em.
You’re no longer reliant on other people
Do you remember the days before you could drive? I do, but only because, for a long time, I was that person who couldn’t pass their test. It took me four attempts and two different driving instructors, but I got there, and literally the first thing I did was get my car insured and drive my parents out for a meal. It was partly because I could, but it also was partly because they had spent years being my free taxi service, and now finally I had a way to pay them back a little.
However, the main advantage was that I could go to things now. If my friends were having a party, or going to the cinema, or just getting a pizza in at their flat, I could actually go and meet them. I didn’t have to negotiate a tricky deal with my parents about what time I could get a lift and what time I needed to be picked up. I had a car, I had petrol, and nothing could hold me back from what I wanted to do. And for the first time I could offer to pick my friends up for gigs and such because I finally had a car, rather than having to wait for them to come and get me whilst I sat there twiddling my thumbs like the car-less idiot I was.
I actually enjoy driving, too, so if I want to go away, I ask someone to fill up my car and then me and them will go on a mini adventure, whether that’s twenty minutes down the road or four hours away on the other end of the country. It doesn’t bother me- but that’s the freedom that having a car grants you. Of course, after having spent a weekend in London quite a few times, I also appreciate that having a car in a city such as that is relatively pointless. You spend more time stuck in traffic than anything else. Although, to be fair, that makes me more grateful for where I live rather than what having a car affords me.
You have some sort of responsibility
It’s fair to say that by the time you’re an adult, you have some responsibilities whether you’re ready for them or not. It could be children, a career, a house to maintain, or even just something as simple as making sure you’re clothed and fed and ready to act like a civilised human for a day.
But having a car is an undertaking, too, because the longer you own a vehicle, the more problems you come across. Sure, there’s a fair chance that when you passed your test, your parents were more than happy to help you out with insurance and tax, but as you get older you realise that these are things you have to finance yourself. And even if you’re fortunate enough to have a donation fund for those things, there’s still the issue of petrol- you know, that brown stuff you stick in your car to make it go. Unless you have a diesel car, of course. Filling one of those up with petrol is a bad choice to make.
Alongside that, you have to get the car regularly checked to make sure its roadworthy, which involves getting it an MOT, checking the tyres, and making sure you have the essential oil, water and wiper fluid (which I think we’ve all been guilty of topping up with just water every now and again…come on, admit it). All of that costs money, and if you have a job, it means you have to cope without a car for a while, which admittedly either means you walk everywhere, use public transport or have to hitch a lift. Some garages might be kind enough to let you use a courtesy car, but a lot of them will only do so if you pay them, which means that even getting your car worthy of being on the road can cost you heavily- and you end up paying to drive a car that isn’t even yours in the first place.
Oh, and then you have to keep the thing clean and tidy, or at least make sure you don’t have things blocking you from exiting and entering the car. It’s like having a child that doesn’t answer back but does still need to be regularly cleaned, fed and maintained.
You understand the plight of the learner drive- no matter how annoying they are
I have to admit that, despite my struggles with driving, I have been guilty of committing this terrible sin as much as the next person, because once you’re an experienced driver there is nothing more annoying than getting stuck behind a new driver who trundles along a National Speed Limit zone at 40mph. You want to shout and scream at them, especially if you’re running late or just feeling impatient, but then you stop yourself and remember what it was like when you were learning.
For me, it was a pretty big deal. Luckily I had experience of being on the run from my moped days- although driving a car was a much better experience than zipping about on a vehicle that sounded like a lawnmower but had considerably less power than a sewing machine. However, I was always a cautious driver, especially in my instructor’s car, and I was very aware of speed limits and not breaking them. That meant that I was often that poor learner driver who ended up with people tooting their horns angrily as they were tailed back as I drove along slowly. But, you know what? I don’t care now. I don’t care a jot. I was learning, and if you can’t be cautious and make mistakes when you’re learning, then you never can- I always used to just continue driving and ignore those impatient assholes behind me. And that’s why I try really hard now not to be one of those aforementioned assholes.
So now, when I’m out on the road and I see a big red ‘L’ up ahead, I slow down and allow myself plenty of space- I’m giving the learner driver the same courtesy that I expected when I was learning. A nervous driver is an erratic one, and a nervous driver is even more erratic when they’re inexperienced. If I can prevent the risk of an accident just by not being an ignorant cumbucket, I’m going to go ahead and do that. It’s common courtesy if nothing else.
You realise that some of what you learnt is useless
Sadly, the school system is going the same way as that of the driving world- you are taught how to pass a test rather than how to apply real skills to experiences later in life. In school, that can be annoying, but for a driving test it makes perfect sense.
After all, we all have our own driving style, and the soul aim of an instructor is to get you through your driving test with a pass at the end of it. Hopefully you and the examiner will be alive at the end of it. And so you spend hours doing reversing into empty side roads, and then you spend further hours squeezing your instructor’s car into tiny spaces between parked vehicles, and suddenly it seems to be as wide as a tank even though you know it was only a small car thirty seconds before. And then you pass your test and start driving on your own and you realise that a lot of the techniques don’t apply to you.
Now, I’m not saying that everything you learn on your lessons is pointless. The use of mirrors keeps you safe, and understanding how your car works helps you keep it under control so that you don’t end up embedding it in a hedge or- worse luck- into the chest of a cyclist. Knowing to check your blind spots, for example, is a vital skill that you should never, ever forget. But honestly, every time I’ve come to park in a space or turn in the road, the only thing I’ve ever recalled from my days of the L plate is to do it safely and to use my mirrors. The positioning on the road doesn’t matter because, for one thing, I’m in my own car now with its own shape and dimensions. Plus, you know, I’ve been driving for a while and I have my own method that works for me. I do it safely, and that’s absolutely fine. All drivers have their own technique, and whilst it may not mean you’d ever pass your test again if you were to foolishly lose your licence, it doesn’t necessarily make you a bad driver. Like all examiners, those on your driving test have a set criteria they need to mark against- and under no circumstances are they to deviate from that. That’s why your instructor teaches you one method and one method only- it may be a stupid one, but its the only one that’ll get you that pass mark at the end.
You realise just how many people shouldn’t have passed their test
I don’t for one second consider myself to be the best driver on the road but, with over five years driving experience and not a single incident to record, I think I can say that I’m at least safe behind the steering wheel.
However, I know many friends of mine, roughly around my age, who I don’t think should have even been allowed to look at a driving licence let alone be given one. For example: a female friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, passed her test first time (although I have no idea how this happened). She cannot reverse park. She never mastered it and, presumably, she got lucky in her driving test and wasn’t asked to carry out the one manoeuvre she was totally inept at. She drove to a coastal town about an hour away with a friend and, upon arriving and realising the only parking space she could claim involved reversing into it, drove all the way back home again. She literally sacrificed an entire day at the beach because she had never bothered to learn how to do something relatively simple such as park a car. For me, however, parking a car in a space is easy- although it took me 5 GODDAMN ATTEMPTS before I passed. Surely that makes me a better driver than her, just for the sheer fact I can actually do everything required of a competent driver.
Somebody else I know passed his test at the age of seventeen after just ten lessons, and in his first year on the road he had written off not one, not two but three cars- the latter of which ended up upside down in a hedge just outside Reading. His insurance was either sky high by the end of that or he had very nice parents who helped him sort out his mess on three separate occasions. He’s still driving now, so I assume the latter is true.
To this day, I meet drivers in country lanes who either never learned how to reverse or bought a joke car that doesn’t have a reverse gear built into it. Now, I’m not saying that all of them drive German prestige cars (BMW, Mercedes, Audi etc…) but it’s fair to say that the vast majority of them do. Some of them are in their sixties, and have been driving for decades longer than I have…that sort of experience should mean they can reverse a car, right? Wrong. Oh so very wrong.
So passing your test means nothing if you’re an idiot.
You watch movies and flinch at car crashes (and you don’t take any risks)
We’ve all watched a movie or two where, as the testosterone levels reach meltdown, a car or two (or ninety) collide with each other. If its a ridiculous Michael Bay movie, then those car will inexplicably burst into flames. But if it’s a movie that at least realises its audience have working brain cells and that not everything results in an explosion, there’s a fair chance you’ll see some twisted metal and shattered glass. Maybe, in true Hollywood fashion, a battered wheel will role nonchalantly away from the wreckage.
And that’s all well and good. Although, having been on the road, I have driven past police cordons that signify a bad crash- or, at least, the aftermath of one. I’ve seen squashed chunks of metal that were once cars, and I’ve seen people standing on the road side with dazed expressions, most likely due to the fact that they have just survived a pretty bad crash. And that’s why watching a car crash in a movie makes me cringe- because I know that just one moment of indecision can make the screen’s reality become an actual reality. And that’s a horrible thought.
I understand that young people want to impress each other. But honestly, I’ve found that most girls don’t care about whether you can drive your car fast or not- and there is precisely nothing attractive about doing doughnuts and handbrake turns in the TESCO car park at midnight, either. Any girl who hops into bed with out after that is also the kind of girl who will have 13 kids at the age of twenty. And she probably licks walls. Plus, its hard to be impressive when you, your car and the wall-licking woman you had in the passenger seat are wrapped around a lamp post that you hit whilst doing 100mph through the middle of town.
For that reason, I don’t touch alcohol if I have driven anywhere. Sure, there’s always a person who insists that you can have one drink and still drive, but I tell them, very politely, to shut their lying mouth. Firstly, alcohol hits different people in different ways- some people seem sober after drinking a bucket of vodka and others (like me) can barely stand after just sniffing a pint of cider. So there’s no way of me knowing if I’m safe on the road or not. And secondly, after you’ve had one pint, it’s all the more likely that you’ll get roped into having a second pint, and then a third, and before you know it the world is spinning and you’re in no shape whatsoever to drive home. You can barely even find your way to the car in the first place. If I’m tired, I’ll stop and rest. If it’s too dark to see, I simply won’t drive. Basically, I like to play it safe, and it’s because I’ve seen those crashes, and whilst I know that some of them are caused by sheer bad luck or a moment of madness, I also know that I’ve driven past at least one wreck that has been caused by drunk driving, tiredness or just somebody driving like a bloody idiot. I choose life, thank you very much.