Baby, You Can Drive My Car
February 5, 2011 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Where is the best place for a scared 30 year old woman to learn to drive in the DC area?

I never learned to drive. I've driven twice in my entire life, and I found both experiences terrifying. I have very little interest in driving, but it seems like one of those things an adult should know how to do, just in case. So I've decided, for my 30th birthday, to give myself driving lessons. The question is, with whom?

I live in Washington, DC. I have a pretty flexible schedule, but not an infinite amount of spare cash. I can afford to devote about $500 to this, maybe a bit more if that's unreasonable.

I need someone who will be very nice and patient with me. I've never been able to drive more than about 8 miles an hour without feeling completely panicked, and I don't want to add to that pressure.

I have no friends with cars who are interested in teaching me, and frankly, I'd be nervous about crashing their cars. I also can't tell left from right, so I want to be in a car with a second brake for the instructor until I can make sure I know the difference. I don't want to sit in a class with a bunch of 16 year olds watching those videos about dying on the way home from prom. I'd prefer private lessons, if that's possible.

So, have any of you taken adult driving lessons? Have a specific recommendation in the DC area? Thanks!
posted by decathecting to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I learned to drive as a scared adult, and while I have no DC insights for you, I can definitely offer some other advice.

The more calm and soothing your driving teacher's voice is, the better the learning experience. I tried FIVE driving teachers until I finally found one who spoke in a soft, gentle voice that didn't make me nervous. I've since recommended him to many late-driving friends who also found that he was the only person whose voice didn't make them freak out when they were feeling a little panicky. So don't be shy to shop around. If you notice that an instructor's manner grates on you or makes you nervous, move on.

More advice: practice a lot. Every day if you can. I tried weekly lessons but forgot everything all the time; when I switched to daily lessons for two weeks straight, things got a lot easier. Yes, it's more expensive to practice often, but it's much more worthwhile as the new knowledge sticks better. If your lesson is going well, ask to extend it if the teacher has time. Might as well piggyback on your successes.

Always eat before a lesson- low blood sugar will make you more likely to feel anxious/negative emotions. And pick a time of day when your energy is good. For me this was often mid-day, once I was fully awake but before the mid-afternoon slump.

Try asking the instructor if you can drive the same routes over and over, since turning anxieties will be less if you already know where you're going.

When you book your road test, ask the instructor for feedback on when and where to book it. Mine had very specific advice- a route in a quiet industrial area, not during rush hour. Before my test, I borrowed a car (as driving-school cars were not allowed on the test site), and he took me on the route so I could practice. I drove the test route about four times the day before my test, which helped tremendously.

Good luck- you can do it! I tried driving again and again for five years until it finally took, but passing my road test was one of the best days of my adult life!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:26 AM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have taken adult driving lessons, more than once, both because I wanted better winter driving skills, and to lower my insurance rates. These aren't exactly cheap, but they are absolutely excellent.

My advice is to look for professional "Defensive Driving" courses. They will take never-evers, they will treat you like an adult, and you won't have to deal with the disaster porn videos.

On a quick google search there's a number of hits for the DC area. Now, despite being a DC native, I'll have to let the locals speak to the specifics here as I've not lived in DC for 20 years.

I've also gone to rallye driving school, but that's because I got interested in SCCA racing. You may scoff, but the reason I originally did this was because I was a timid, nervous wreck of a driver as a teen, which was not helped by my overbearing mother. My SO at the time suggested a local rallye course and you know what? It was stupid ridiculous fun for a weekend, there was plenty of safety involved, and I had a BLAST once I got over my initial fear.

May definitely not be for you, but it certainly worked for me.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:31 AM on February 5, 2011

Having done a number of bike rides up there, I'd say that the roads in the Greenbelt/Bowie area are a lot "tamer" than the rest of the region. As an added bonus, you can meet the driving instructor at the Greenbelt Metro station.

Of course, if you want to drive in DC or NoVA, you're going to have to work your way up from there. However, I'd say that it's probably your best bet for a place to start. Honestly, the roads in the DC region are a bit nutty..they're not nearly as bad as people make them out to be, but I also wouldn't want to learn to drive here.
posted by schmod at 2:06 PM on February 5, 2011

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