help me learn to drive a car
June 10, 2009 11:07 AM   Subscribe

I don't drive and I need to figure out how.

I'm in my thirties and have never had a license. I failed the driving test when I was 16 and just never found a reason to try again until now. I'm looking for recommendations of driving schools in the Middlesex and Monmouth County who welcome late-to-life drivers or just advice for the same.
posted by FunkyHelix to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You might want to tell us the state.

Anyway, I don't have specific recs, but as someone who got her license at the ripe old age of 26, don't worry about your age or the specific school too much. Sure, some schools are better than others, but really, the important thing is just getting lots of practice time behind the wheel. When you call, tell them you're an adult learner. If you don't like the first instructor, ask for a different one. And just get as much practice as you can afford.
posted by lunasol at 11:21 AM on June 10, 2009

Oh, and this probably won't be on the test, but once you've nailed all the stuff that is (parallel parking, 3-point turns, etc), ask to get some practice time on the freeway. Freeway driving was terrifying at first, but once you get the hang of merging, it's no big deal.
posted by lunasol at 11:23 AM on June 10, 2009

lunasol, the OP is in NJ.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:23 AM on June 10, 2009

Middlesex and Monmouth County are in New Jersey. But I don't have a recommendation.
posted by dfriedman at 11:24 AM on June 10, 2009

Best answer: Any driving school is going to take your money and teach you how to drive. You are in New Jersey - they are going to be used to older students, its not like you are in the midwest where driving is not a right, its an obligation.

Then find a friend who will let you practice with them often after you get your learner's permit, and you are good to go. Driving.
posted by RajahKing at 11:26 AM on June 10, 2009

I have taught(or helped teach) two adult people to drive. My wife just got a learner's permit, and I taught her the things on the test, setting up practice situations for parallel parking, etc, and just spending a lot of time driving around for practice. Another friend took the driver's ed classes, and I volunteered to help her get practice time in because her husband was too nervous.

Really, I think the key, classes or not, is to get as much practice in as possible. You want to really learn to be in complete control of the car, to be aware of your surroundings, and to have confidence that it's going to go when and where you want it to go. The only way to do that is to do it over and over, with some good advice(from an instructor or not-too-easily scared friend) dispensed as necessary.
posted by owtytrof at 11:34 AM on June 10, 2009

I'm following this question because I'm in the same boat as the OP, except I'm in my forties -- yow! You are not alone, FunkyHelix ... I'm in CA, and am about to sign up with a driving school that advertises that it helps older learners.

Could other posters who learned to drive straight out of school or earlier in life advise whether they find it intuitive to respond to other cars? As a lifelong passenger, I fear I won't be as tuned in to what's going on around me when I'm at the wheel.
posted by vickyverky at 11:54 AM on June 10, 2009

I got my license in TX a couple of years ago at the tender age of 35. Getting the learner's permit was easy. You should be able to view the book that has all the rules on your state website.

What the driving school I went to usually offers is 4 lessons, where the 4th is the actual test. I didn't feel this could possibly be sufficient, so I scheduled 2 extra lessons. I didn't otherwise have access to a vehicle, so I wasn't able to practice in between lessons. Nevertheless, I passed the test with a score of 95 out of 100.

Ironically, I haven't been behind the wheel of a car since.
posted by ursonate at 12:03 PM on June 10, 2009

Two pieces of advice:

It will take some practice before you can "feel" the car around you, but it will happen before too long. Try to "be" the car as much as possible, and eventually you will be able to feel it taking up the space around you.

Sounds weird, but it's an actual thing: your "body-sense" expands to include the car as a part of you, just like your brain up in the head thinks "you" are inside your arms and legs. Bizarre, huh?

Anyway, when this happens, you will no longer feel like you are inside a big box that you are working from the inside, but instead should feel like you *are* the car (to a certain extent, of course). Try to be aware of this and you will get there all the more quickly. It makes all the difference!

My other piece of more practical advice: definitely get one of these wide-angle rear-view mirrors (lgt amazon) - they are all kinds of awesome, especially as our old necks can't swivel all over the place as quickly as they used to.

Drive with confidence and awareness; good luck!
posted by Aquaman at 12:04 PM on June 10, 2009

To respond to Vickyverky, responding to other cars does become intuitive. Initially you are getting used to the feel of your car and focusing on it, but controlling the car really is pretty easy and you get the hang of it quickly and it becomes pretty automatic in terms of what you do. After that, almost all of your attention turns to other cars and features of the road... which you respond to by your driving. I think you need to get down the feel of driving, but once you do that, almost everything is awareness of what's around you and reacting appropriately in your driving (the latter part being an automatic response you'll have).
I think you get awareness of other cars, road risks, etc., pretty quickly once your attention isn't focused on how to drive.
posted by davidnc at 12:04 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another key (in addition to practice, practice, practice) is getting an instructor who has experience with teaching later-in-life students.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:54 PM on June 10, 2009

Could other posters who learned to drive straight out of school or earlier in life advise whether they find it intuitive to respond to other cars? As a lifelong passenger, I fear I won't be as tuned in to what's going on around me when I'm at the wheel.

Oh man... the only things you pay attention to when you're driving are the other cars, the road conditions, and (hopefully) pedestrians. No driver with more than about five or ten hours behind the wheel is even remotely thinking about actually driving the car. The actual driving part becomes 100% automatic.

Hell, I drive a stick shift. And I drive like a racecar driver--I don't mean that I drive fast, but rather that I drive technically. I bought the stick shift specifically so that driving wouldn't feel automatic, so that I'd actually have something to do while driving. Unfortunately, no matter how much double-clutching and left-foot braking and other totally unnecessary techinuqes I include in my driving, it becomes automatic within a few days.

As an ex-Midwesterner, where driving is absolutely and strictly necessary to complete even the most trivial of errands, I found basic driving to be trivially intuitive: you point the car in the direction you want it to go and goose the gas. When you're tired of going in that direction, you turn or hit the brakes.

It does take a lot of practice to drive smoothly or at high speed. But I found the basic process of herding your car from point A to point B really, really easy. Nearly everybody I've met has reported similarly. The only difficulties I've heard of were related to mental state: difficulty in controlling either excitement or anxiety. Nobody has ever said to me, "It's so hard to get the car going the direction I want it to;" but I have heard lots of, "Driving is so terrifying I couldn't do it."

[As an aside, I've never understood what's so terrifying about driving. I mean, yes, being in a car is dangerous. But, it's being in the car that's dangerous, not driving specifically.]

After you've tooled around the parking lot for a while to get the hang of how the car responds to your commands, the next part is learning to deal with traffic. This is the only hard part of driving. And it's the only thing you'll pay attention to once you're on the road. If there were no other cars, a chimpanzee could drive competently.
posted by Netzapper at 2:19 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Step zero: get yourself a video game like Forza and play it. Honestly, this might be considered optional, but you'll start to get a feel for the basic premise of driving that will serve you well later.

Step one: go get yourself a permit.

Step two: go find a friend to walk you through the basics and putter around a parking lot for a while.

Step three: sign up for a professional training course, the kind geared towards teaching new teen drivers how to avoid accidents, recover from skids, and that sort of thing (on a racetrack/parking lot, not on the public roads.)

Step four: sign up for an on-the-road driver training class.

Throughout all four steps, whenever you walk or ride anywhere, pay attention to what cars are doing, what signs/rules they're following, and how they're interacting with each other. Try to predict what people are going to do. Try to decide if they're doing things right or wrong.
posted by davejay at 4:35 PM on June 10, 2009

Oh, forgot to say: as mentioned above, the hardest part of driving is dealing with traffic/rules on the road, so you spend as much time as possible learning how to operate the car so that it's automatic, so that by the time you hit the road to turn your observational theory into practice, you can concentrate on the traffic/rules instead of where the brake pedal is.
posted by davejay at 4:36 PM on June 10, 2009

definately learn to drive stick. You never know when it will come in handy or neccasary.

intuition and anticipating other driver's actions takes many miles on the road. Someone who has been driving for many years can just seem to be able to sense the future; thereby avoiding accidents.
posted by captainsohler at 5:30 PM on June 10, 2009

Response by poster: ^ Thanks everyone!
posted by FunkyHelix at 8:11 AM on June 11, 2009

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