Any tips for an older learner driver (UK)?
April 17, 2011 7:52 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to learn to drive a car. I have never driven a car before (unless you count, like, dodgems). I'm in my late 30s, and have recently moved to a town on the edge of nowhere (in Wales). The idea of driving is beginning to make me nervous. It's a combination of the "it's hard to learn when you're old" thing, the "rural place so no dual carriageways" thing, and the "oh my all those cars seem to go so fast" thing. What can I do to make this easier? Are there any "learning to drive for dummies" books that are worth getting? Or should I just stop panicking, bite the bullet and book myself some lessons?
posted by handee to Travel & Transportation (35 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Stop panicking, bite the bullet, and get yourself some lessons.

There are people out there who are professionals, and every day they teach people to drive for the first time in their lives. Yes, it's scary at first, but the more you do it the easier it becomes, just like any activity really.

Millions and millions of people in the world drive cars. Complete idiots drive cars. You can do this.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:58 AM on April 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Bite the bullet - you can do it! My friend has just been through the same thing (moved to middle of nowhere in Wales, very nervous about learning to drive) and she has just passed her driving test first time. Rural places can be easier - less traffic, generally slower pace, people are friendly than in London - and your driving instructor will be used to teaching people who are nervous.

Good luck!
posted by smudge at 7:58 AM on April 17, 2011

The latter. Just stop panicking, bite the bullet and book myself some lessons.

Well, you may not be able to do anything about the panicking, but just get in there and get started. At first its kind of like trying to blow dry your hair and brush your teeth at the same time, but after a while it becomes second nature.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:07 AM on April 17, 2011

Yeah, that's what driving instructors are for. If you do some research, you might even find one with experience in teaching older drivers. Get out there, take those lessons and get some practice. You'll have your license before you know it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:11 AM on April 17, 2011

Rural places can be easier - less traffic, generally slower pace, people are friendly than in London - and your driving instructor will be used to teaching people who are nervous.

Though to play devil's advocate here, they can also have many roads that are driven by the locals -- who know every bump and bend -- as if they're in the World Rally Championship. You've got to resist the temptation to mimic them.

Get yourself some lessons: there's really nothing better to ease the process. See if you can get a per-hour discount in exchange for committing to a decent chunk of them before considering taking your test.
posted by holgate at 8:14 AM on April 17, 2011

Everyone is telling to just go do it because no book can really make it easier. The skills you need to develop are physical: how much to turn the steering wheel to make a turn, how firmly to press the brake pedal, how to check your rear view mirror without swerving the car. And learning to drive is a bit scary. But reading a manual about those things will not make you do them any better.

Your instructor will probably start you off driving at low speeds in a parking lot in a highly insured vehicle with no other traffic, so not much can go wrong. And if you feel like he or she is rushing you along too fast, tell him/her you want to slow down and practice more. And if you feel like he/she isn't listening to you or is increasing your nervousness, find a new instructor. There are plenty of good ones out there.
posted by unsub at 8:18 AM on April 17, 2011

Drive to Survive is a good book on how to be a more aware driver. It may be slightly US centric but the advice is pretty general so it should serve you well.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:24 AM on April 17, 2011

I was a late bloomer as well with driving, and just as nervous as you. I decided to take lessons, and when I called I specified that I was an adult novice and was feeling pretty nervous - that way the instructor woudl know my situation ahead of time.

He had me driving out on the street on the first lesson after circling a parking lot a few times, and as I drove that first day, I started to feel the anxiety melt away. I think you should definitely book the lessons. No book is going to in any way be a substitute for just doing it.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 8:29 AM on April 17, 2011

Nthing lessons. No book can teach you what you'll learn behind the wheel with an experienced instructor.
posted by pink candy floss at 8:36 AM on April 17, 2011

I learned to drive when I was 30 in Baltimore City, where 99% of drivers lack functioning brain cells and the remainder drive like they don't notice that there are others on the road. Treat others with the courtesy you expect, watch yourself when backing up, and obey the traffic laws. Most of all... force yourself to take long drives on highways so that you get used to higher-density traffic. You'll be fine.
posted by brownrd at 8:45 AM on April 17, 2011

Book lessons and relax. Two pieces of advice: (1) get professional lessons, don't depend on a friend or relative — doing so is likely to strain the relationship and won't get you the best advice; (2) this seems to be not intuitive as I've seen multiple people not comprehend this when they first get behind the wheel: when you turn a corner, as the turn is being completed, you need to turn the steering wheel back to the straight-ahead position (just like the handlebars of a bike). One possible exception to point (1): get a friend to take you to a very large empty parking lot just to get the hang of the pedals and steering wheel. But then, get lessons from a pro. (Oh, and, I hear they drive on the left side over there — now, that would petrify me. So you'll be a step ahead of us Yanks.)
posted by beagle at 8:47 AM on April 17, 2011

Lessons, professional instructor - as others have said this is a very physical skill to master, lots of motions and activities to complete in specific order whilst observing the traffic around you. And yes, the instructor will break it all down into small, manageable steps and will guide you through until it is second nature so it will be a lot less scary than that sounded.

Don't get a friend to take you to an empty parking lot to learn pedals or to take you out for practice runs later - you'll just confuse yourself as all cars react a bit differently and are set up slightly differently from swapping side of washers/indicators to where reverse is and how you get into reverse. So just don't go there, pass your test and then practice at your leisure. And yes, you will still be practicing ;)
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:58 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go have lessons. You'll be fine. My mother learnt to drive in her early 30s, my former mother-in-law when she was 60. Both were fine, and I think my ex-mil passed first time. (I was 21 and it still took me three tries to pass.)
posted by corvine at 9:04 AM on April 17, 2011

What everyone else is saying- book some lessons, ideally from an instructor who teaches lots of adults and - if youre really nervous - has one of those cars with the extra brake on the passenger sides. I learned late too. Once i figured out there were lots of rules of thumb/systems i was fine. And don't practice with someone who's been driving for years and uses shortcuts and bad habits until your instructor has let the good practices sink in.
posted by jamesonandwater at 9:34 AM on April 17, 2011

I am a very anxious person, and I see much of the same fears and anxieties in your question that I felt before I started driving. Assuming that I'm right, and you are in fact a very anxious person like me, here's my advice:

Allow yourself to be anxious for a while. Accept that, when you first start out, things are going to be scary for you. That you find driving to be scary now does not mean you are fundamentally unable to drive or that you'll never get better at it. It just takes time. Just stomach through the anxiety at the start, and you'll overcome it sooner or later. Honestly, I found that the anxiety was a lot less severe once I just accepted the fact I was going to be anxious about it.

Good luck!
posted by meese at 10:14 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Learning to drive is quite scary because what you are doing is not entirely natural and can have dire consequences, so your hesitancy is not irrational; at seventeen you're too excited and too stupid to realize this. But driving isn't THAT hard, so don't blow things out of proportion. A good driving instructor will ease you into the process and teach you what you need to know to be safe.

Confidence comes with practice and experience. And therein lies your only problem: rural driving isn't specially easier (narrow, twisty roads with high hedgerows and the possibility of a very large tractor coming the other way meaning you have to back up, and so on), but it's different from town driving. Driving somewhere like London can be truly intimidating for someone who is not used to it*, so make sure you get enough practice in town driving, even if it means going a little out of your way.

Dual carriageways, and even motorways are actually easier once you are used to them, even if you are going faster, because they reduce the number of variables you have to worry about. Speed is scary at first, but that passes as you get used to it, and have the knowledge and experience to deal with it.

The media love the stories about the people who have failed their test fifteen times, mostly because everybody likes a story that makes them feel superior; it isn't that hard to learn to drive even if you are over 30 otherwise there'd be fewer stories in the paper and you'd know a lot more people without cars.

Don't over think this, and don't give yourself a chance to blow it out of proportion before you start. Go and take some lessons.

*I had a friend who learned to drive on the Isle of Mann -- watching him drive in London for the first time was amusing, at least for me.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:17 AM on April 17, 2011

You can totally do this. Nearly 40 is not at all too old to learn. That is true for a lot of things, certainly driving.
posted by theora55 at 11:29 AM on April 17, 2011

I've known a few older learners who have done well with the intensive "learn to drive in a week" courses (after failing with the more traditional one hour a week lessons).
posted by Lanark at 12:14 PM on April 17, 2011

I learned when I was in my late 20s, and I felt the same way. But I got lessons at a professional driving school, and I think it really made me feel less anxious that the cars had a front seat passenger-side extra brake which others have been mentioning. I found it helpful to have a few different instructors over the course of my lessons (I had about 10, each about 2 hrs) because they all gave me slightly different tips and taught me slightly different things so I felt like I learned better.

Since older learners tend to respond better to a very cognitive style of learning (so young kids who learn to swim just "do it", but adults learning to swim get taught how to hold their hands and rotate their torsos, etc.), I found it helpful to take notes and write up what I learned after each lesson, and also to focus on particular skills during each lesson, e.g. changing lanes, turning.

Good luck!
posted by KDj82kao at 12:21 PM on April 17, 2011

I've known a few older learners who have done well with the intensive "learn to drive in a week" courses (after failing with the more traditional one hour a week lessons).

Or see if you can split the difference and perhaps have 90 minute or two hours lessons twice a week. I'm wary of intensive courses, because I think the learning process benefits from a little bit of recovery time, but a good instructor should offer longer or more frequent lessons, and will be able to judge how well you're progressing.
posted by holgate at 12:30 PM on April 17, 2011

I learned to drive in the UK at age 30-something.

Lessons; several a week. Ask around friends and relatives for recommendations. You will be scared rigid the first time, but exhilarated when it is over. You will feel like an idiot when you stall it -- and you will stall it -- but so does everyone; controlling a car is a mechanical skill you learn by practice. You will feel like an idiot when you fail to observe the road well enough, especially if the instructor has to hit the brakes. You will feel like a god when you get through an entire lesson without making any major mistakes.

And then you will pass the test and wonder why on earth you waited so long.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 1:22 PM on April 17, 2011

When I learnt to drive, there was a minimum of 20 hours of driving lessons required. This turned out to be woefully inadequate for a nervous non-natural driver like me. I failed the first time round.

The second time I was wiser: I got myself one of those permits that let me drive for practice as long as ther was a lucenced driver sitting next to me. And then my husband made me drive. And drive. And drive. He bullied me until my feet made braking motions in my sleep.

I passed.

You sound like me. You don't need talent, you need shitloads of practice. You will need double as much practice as normal people seem to need. Make sure you get it in whatever way possible.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:22 PM on April 17, 2011

Take the lessons as a way to learn more about driving.
Good driving teachers are patient yet direct in their instructions.
I was in my late twenties before I needed to learn how to drive.
Having a paid instructor helped me feel that I was in control of how I learned to drive-- if that makes any sense...
posted by calgirl at 7:03 PM on April 17, 2011

Learn on a manual. After that automatics are a breeze. I learnt at 35, and yes it was scary but it's great fun once you get the knack.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:13 PM on April 17, 2011

Like everyone I would just book some lessons. I am taking lessons now to learn to drive "The English Way" (tm) and it infuriates me to no end because I've been driving in the US for 17 years. Having to unlearn all of the unconscious things that I do, according to the test, wrong is difficult.

I would practice a bit on some videogames which have an actual wheel just to get the feel of it, but you will be fine.

You will be very sick of hearing Mirror-Signal-Maneuver and feeding the wheel after a short while.
posted by koolkat at 1:59 AM on April 18, 2011

I learned to drive last year, in a semi-rural part of Wales, at the age of 41. I'd never had any interest in driving (or aptitude for it), and it was only my nothing-much-within-walkable-distance location, and the looming prospect of re-entry into the job market (I was studying for an MSc at the time) that forced my hand.

I would also strongly recommend taking a course of lessons, as experience behind the wheel is really the only way to learn. I would second what others have advised, and likewise recommend additional supervised practice with L-plates in your own or your partner's/parent's/friend's car if at all possible.

Even with many lessons from two patient instructors over many months, it took me no fewer than six attempts to pass my test. Be warned that in a worse-than-average case like mine, learning could take a long time and involve no little expense. It took me a lot longer to master the niceties of the driving-test manoeuvres than it did to feel comfortable with normal everyday driving...

Don't forget you will also have to do a theory test before getting your licence. This book helped me pass mine. A DVD like this one may also be useful when preparing for your theory test.
posted by misteraitch at 2:01 AM on April 18, 2011

I recently passed my driving test in Yorkshire aged 43.

I have to say that for 20+ years I really didn't care that I couldn't drive but over the past few years I started to realise how much difference it would make to me. For instance I enjoy photography and the ability to just drive to somewhere scenic on a nice day and shoot a few rolls appealed a lot.

The actual driving lessons were fun, and although my test was cancelled due to snow and not rescheduled for a whole 3 months (thanks York test Centre) I passed with one minor fault (that was me being adventurous with gears).

I'd suggest phoning/emailing a few instructors and see what they seem like, the chap who taught me was great and we had a good laugh while he was teaching me.

Bear in mind that learning is not cheap, but I'd say bite that bullet!
posted by hardcode at 9:34 AM on April 19, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks all. First lesson booked for Saturday!
posted by handee at 1:32 AM on May 12, 2011

Response by poster: OMG that was scary but fun. What a lot to remember!
posted by handee at 5:28 AM on May 14, 2011

Response by poster: Now 7 lessons in and beginning to really enjoy the whole exercise. It's really interesting to see myself progress, on a lesson-by-lesson basis.
posted by handee at 2:39 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I passed last Friday - 2nd time round, but no faults (not even a minor).
posted by handee at 12:08 PM on December 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

posted by unsub at 12:31 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 3:27 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yay! Well done Hannah! It's a hell of a relief to finally get there isn't it. Now it's time to learn how to do it in the real world, have fun!
posted by hardcode at 11:23 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Way to go! Now, drive carefully!
posted by beagle at 7:44 AM on December 12, 2011

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