Help me become a better, more confident driver
July 18, 2013 8:14 PM   Subscribe

Until very recently, I lived in a college town where having a car was completely unnecessary. Though I had my license, I rarely drove. I am now in a place where having a car isn't absolutely necessary, but more convenient. At my parents' behest, I also now have a car, which I'm very grateful for. However, there's such a mental block for me to drive said car that I haven't driven anywhere for over a week. Any suggestions to overcome this general avoidance of driving?

I've driven before (local roads as well as long stretches of highway-- I recently drove halfway across the country... in good weather conditions), but I find it incredibly stressful. I avoid driving whenever I can. For example, even if a store carries an item, I go as far as considering ordering it on Amazon just so that I won't have to drive. It's ridiculous, I know. Oh, and I find parking lots and pulling in / out of parking spots perhaps even more stressful than driving.

I'm not a very assertive or confident person, which I think plays into my problem. My sense of direction is probably about average or slightly below average, but I can't really drive anywhere comfortably without looking at a map first (I wouldn't want to follow a GPS). I am familiar with most traffic rules, but intersections on roads with many lanes and certain left turns still stress me out.

I am particularly stressed and mentally tired from thinking about driving because I have people who are expecting to be able to hitch a ride from me from time to time. I normally would be completely fine with this, but I just don't feel comfortable driving somebody/taking responsibility given my general feelings about driving at the moment. I don't want to talk while driving, either, but my friends are really chatty people. I am embarrassed to explain this to others. Please help!
posted by gemutlichkeit to Travel & Transportation (32 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Are you inexperienced? When I was a new, inexperienced driver, I would feel like I was having a heart attack every time I even thought about driving. If I knew I would have to drive that evening, I would get the pounding heart and nervous sweat all day.

It stopped happening when I started driving a lot. Eventually, normal everyday driving would be ok but I would never get on a highway or drive to unfamiliar places or whatever.

Then I started having to drive on the highway, so that was eventually ok.

I still don't like to drive unfamiliar routes, and I will study maps beforehand AND use GPS (some of them are really great at giving plenty of warning about turns and such). I also still, and always will, hate driving when it's rainy and dark (which is the entire winter where I live) but I am now good for most driving.

TL;DR drive a lot. Force yourself to do it and you will get used to it.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:30 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Take a couple of lessons. Having a neutral stranger along to help guide you and let you know that you're actually doing okay should help your confidence.

Other than that, just force yourself to do it, especially in relatively low stress situations -- when you're not under time pressure, outside of rush hour, to places that aren't too far away. Drive a couple of blocks to a grocery store with good parking and pick up a treat for yourself. If you get comfortable with that, pick one a little further away, or go to a place where you're more likely to have to park properly. Those kind of little low impact errands will give you a lot of practice just getting in the car and going places, and will make it easier when you have to get in the car and go places.

I grew up in a town of 275 people, so the first time I drove on the freeway through Toronto, I thought I was going to have a heart attack. When I got back to my house I couldn't even go inside, I just ended up sitting on my car for about 10 minutes until my legs worked again. I do understand the feelings you're feeling, and it does get considerably better with time and practice.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:36 PM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

I also have driving anxiety. A lot of people have anxiety about driving. You are not alone in this.

After I got my license I didn't drive for like a year because I was so scared. I google map the fuck out of places I haven't been to before and still get anxious when going somewhere new. Left hand turns with no traffic lights freak me out. Parallel parking is something I try to avoid at all costs.

Despite all this, I drive regularly. What got me over my anxiety to do this was...driving regularly. Basically, you have to drive a lot to get comfortable driving a lot. You can practice in early in the morning or in places that have low traffic.
posted by nooneyouknow at 8:38 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was 19 I was the driver in an accident where someone was killed. After that I became a very nervous driver and would think up every excuse in the book to not have to drive. If I was going to somewhere unfamiliar I would ask someone to drive me there first so I could make mental notes about the journey.

Now however (I'm 30) I love driving and go lots of places including highways/freeways and interstate drives. The key for me was choosing and getting a car that I was comfortable with, and as others have said, practice.

Do you like your car? Spend time in it! Get some nice seat covers, have some driving music ready. Get to know it's dimenstions and how it parks. Slam on the brakes in an empty street and see how fast it pulls up. I love my car, and I have no desires to upgrade as it suits me just fine.

Get out there and drive, drive, drive! If I can do it, you can!
posted by Youremyworld at 8:42 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

This previously might be useful.

Take lessons. Specifically, take lessons from someone who teaches adults, not teenagers, and has specific experience with anxious adult drivers. Finding an instructor might be trickier in the US than in other countries, but they do exist.

That said, I think your fears -- the "mentally tired from thinking about driving" bit -- might be tipping over from being specifically a driving issue towards the domain where a more general therapeutic approach (CBT-ish?) might be useful.
posted by holgate at 8:42 PM on July 18, 2013

What kind of car are you driving? That may be a factor. Up until very recently, I was just like you. Also up until very recently, I was driving a rather large and cumbersome truck. It was nice seeing traffic up ahead and I felt a little safer in case of an accident, but I just bought a Honda Civic and life (while driving at least) is soooooooo much better. I can actually pull in parking spaces in one try. I can see much better out of the car, as the seat is adjustable vertically, while the truck did not have that option. (I used to have trouble seeing over the hood and steering around corners, etc.). It handles so much better than my truck did too. I have driven and ridden in other cars and thought things like "omg, I could never see out that back window!" and "how do you see out this thing at all!" So, think critically about the car you have. Maybe ask if you could drive a friend's car or your parent's car around the block to see if you notice any difference.

I used print out directions and a large-ish map to reference at stoplights or in case I got really lost and had to pull over. If you have a smartphone, you can always rely on that for navigation. It made me feel a lot less anxious to find directions on google maps and then look at the streetview for every step. It sounds tedious, but I felt so much better knowing exactly where to look for that exit ramp, etc. After you have been driving a bit and have gotten used to the kind of streets you might encounter, this all becomes a bit less necessary. Seconding everyone who said you just have to do a lot of driving to get comfortable with it.

I would be honest with your friends about how you feel about driving. If they are your friends, I would think they would be understanding of your situation, or at least be accommodating while you are driving them around. If not, maybe you should think twice about letting them lean on you for transportation. Your safety and peace of mind is important.
posted by sevenofspades at 8:43 PM on July 18, 2013

What is it exactly that stresses you out about driving? Is it just the parking lots and difficulty with directions? Also, are you located in a major metropolitan area, or somewhere with lighter traffic?

It sounds like some of your directions-related issues might have something to do with the fact that you've recently moved to a new city. Give yourself a break about wanting to look at the map. Personally, I tend to pull up the route on my phone, look at the map that way, take a look at the step-by-step guidance, and then activate the voice GPS if I feel like it. Maybe you should do all three of those things until you're more comfortable with directions in your new surroundings.

Here is a decent-looking resource about overcoming driving phobia. Do you by chance suffer from other forms of anxiety or more generalized anxiety? This also might be of interest.

My kid brother had a similar issue, including the panicky feelings about giving others rides, and I'll give you the advice I gave him: pick your closest friend who is comfortable behind the wheel and confide in that person about these feelings. Ask that person to accompany you (for rides to and from school?) as you drive around and get used to driving and to your new car. A lot of times, anxiety like this becomes even more powerful because of the isolating and catastrophizing we do about it; let someone else support you a little for a few weeks. That way, you'll have 1. an outlet to express these feelings and help you process them; 2. a scapegoat who is in your corner, if someone else asks for a ride and you feel you just can't handle giving anyone a ride right then ("Oh, I'm sorry, I'm taking X to Far Away Place in Opposite Direction!"); 3. another person who can drive your car in a pinch if you find yourself in a ride-request situation you feel you can't wriggle out of; and 4. someone to help take your stress level down a few notches while you're in the car.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 8:48 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

You know what helped me out with that when I got my license at age 19? Steering with one hand and listening to really loud King Tubby. Find your own way to be comfortable, and it'll help bunches. Also, get used to going to a certain place in your car so that it feels like second nature to get there.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:07 PM on July 18, 2013

Oh, and maybe you just don't feel safe in your car? Maybe consider trading up to a used Jeep or something while you're still working on feeling safe on the road.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:09 PM on July 18, 2013

I drive about 28,000 miles per year. I drive in NYC and upstate NY where I won't see another car for miles and miles. Overall, I am a very confident driver, but I am less so on roads I don't know. The simple answer is familiarity. The more you drive on certain roads, the more you start to recognize driving patterns and what is expected of you on that stretch of road. Drive to and from places you expect to go to a lot. Drive the routes at different times of the day and night. There will be different traffic patterns and different expectations of you. To me the most important aspects of driving are equipment (car or truck), road conditions including weather related factors and pavement condition, and driver skill/experience. Know your car's limitations and strengths. When you need to hit the gas in a hurry, how will the car respond? Will it hesitate or will it immediately produce power? How are the brakes? How are they will a full load in the car? What is the car's road stance? It is a high riding pickup or a low to the ground two seater? What kind of speeds can you corner at? Get to know how your car responds so when you need it to, you are prepared. Are there any weather issues to consider when driving? Do you need to adjust your brake timing? And, with apologies to James Marshall, are you experienced? The answer to all these questions and the many many I left out, will only come with road time/experience.

Practice, practice, practice. Familiarity.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:34 PM on July 18, 2013

I put off learning to drive till I was out of college. I didn't get my license till I was...23? All these folks telling you to drive more and get more experience -- they're right.

The thing about driving is, driving as a new driver is nothing at all like driving when you're an experienced driver. Right now, there are so many little things to think about and motions to make that it's really daunting even just driving somewhere, parking, pulling back out, and going home. But once you've done it enough, so much of driving is muscle memory. One day you won't have to think, "If I'm reversing and trying to go that way I turn the wheel this way," or "If I'm turning right I push the blinker lever up with my left hand." It'll just happen one day and you won't ever think about it again.

Good luck! Driving is actually pretty fun once you get good at it.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:43 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh! And my tip for learning how to navigate around a city is this: first of all, make errands for yourself and write yourself good directions on how to get there. Take trips with multiple stops (think of all that parking practice). Second, listen to the radio or watch the news, and when they mention an intersection or a major highway, picture it in your mind. You'll start to make your own mental map of the area, so you can associate areas with landmarks.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:46 PM on July 18, 2013

I used to be a sporadic driver, but now I live in a very car-centric area. One thing I noticed when I was making the transition was that if I avoided driving for days on end, I felt a lot less confident. When I had to drive every day or so, I very quickly got more comfortable with it. Even now, if I work from home for a week, I feel slightly less comfortable behind the wheel and have to sort of rebuild my tolerance for driving. So it might be the avoidance of driving that's contributing to the mental block you have.

Try driving on short errands every day or so, just around the neighborhood, in places where you know the landscape and you're less likely to run into whatever particular aspects of driving make you nervous (whether thats highways, or sprawling and complex intersections, or unprotected left turns, or whatever). Keep it low-stakes. You're just driving to the store for some ice cream. NBD.

As far as getting oriented in a new city as a driver, my best tactic is just to not freak out too much when you get lost. You'll get it eventually.
posted by Sara C. at 10:00 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't want to follow a GPS

Why is this, if you don't mind me asking? I was worried about it when I first started using one, but the user experience is actually designed pretty well in terms of giving you time to change lanes and the like. They still make me slightly nervous in an "electronic box shouting commands at me" sense, but really, the thing will not blow up if you stop paying attention to it and do what you need to do.
posted by Sara C. at 10:02 PM on July 18, 2013

I'd been driving around a big city for a couple of decades before getting a GPS as a gift. I love it. It hugely reduces the amount of stress I feel when searching for a location in unfamiliar territory.

Mount it close to your line of sight so you can mute the voice directions and just glance down for info when you need it.

If I have any advice to pass on to a new driver it's this:

-don't EVER let an impatient driver pressure you into making a snap judgement. Ever! Fuck 'em.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:13 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't want to follow a GPS

The number one thing that made me a stronger, safer driver was getting a GPS. The thing about them is that you can make wrong turns, and they just pick a new route.

Before: I'd be going at a normal speed but then realize my turn was ten feet in front of me and I'd slam on the brakes and just generally drive erratically because I only had one route. Construction! One way streets! Panic!

Now: I drive past whatever the issue is that would have made me an unsafe driver and make the next safe turn which my GPS helpfully warns me about.

I also am inclined to speed when just generally stressed. My GPS has made it so that I never stress-drive due to directions/being lost anymore and so on top of killing erratic driving, it kills the unintentional speeding.

Seriously, if you know you hate them, fine. But if you haven't tried them... they are a godsend to me. And I don't even mount mine on my windshield, actually - I just keep it in my lap and listen to the audio and keep my eyes on the road.
posted by vegartanipla at 10:19 PM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

I get anxious too, not so much about the driving itself, but driving in unfamiliar places. If you can have a friend in the car giving you directions, then you need only worry about the actual driving and not navigating. Tell them that you need them to give you directions like "after this traffic light, the next turn we make will be a left turn, so get ready to change lanes", and "you're looking for the third street on the right" as opposed to "turn left at Mockingbird Lane" or "in 500 metres, turn right" which is what google maps tells me and I hate it.

When parking, your friend can also provide reassurance like "there's heaps of room on this side, you can straighten up now" type of thing. I've even had friends get out of the car to direct me for parallel parking. Better a bit of embarrassment than a damaged car.

Oh, and I think it's perfectly OK to do a small circle of right turns to avoid a horrendous left turn. It can be more efficient even. Don't some truck companies program their GPSs so they follow right turn only routes? I'm sure they tested this on Mythbusters once...

It's also OK to tell your friends that you're not good at talking and driving. Once you've got a bit more experience, you'll be able to talk and drive, but for now, it's fine to say that you're not a great conversationalist in the car as you'd prefer to concentrate on the road. Friends will understand!
posted by pianissimo at 10:20 PM on July 18, 2013

My GPS also made me a more confident driver. I thought I would hate it, but it's one of the nicest gifts I have ever received. It gives me one less thing to think about when I am driving, which makes it possible to memorize routes faster and really get used to the roads you use frequently.

Also, make sure you can really see everything when you're driving. Get comfortable, have your mirrors set up well, use a seat pad to elevate yourself if you're short. I am short and a seat cushion really helps.
posted by k8lin at 11:57 PM on July 18, 2013

You sound a lot like me.

I really suggest getting a GPS (or using your phone). Vergertanipia said why better than I could.

Try saying yes to the quietest, calmest, least chatty friend you have at first - and not the others.

A friend of mine at first asked everyone to stop talking to her while she was driving - people generally respected this after a request or two. Put the most talkative people in the back seat, where they can talk to each other without being as distracting - and the quietest person in the front seat.
posted by Ashlyth at 12:17 AM on July 19, 2013

With regular practice you will feel comfortable driving someday, and you'll feel awesome about yourself when this happens! I was just like you in high school and college, known among my friends as a non-driver since I was up front about it. Then I decided to move to Boston after college and chose a job with an 18 mile round trip commute via city and highway, in a city notorious for its crazy driving. It was extremely stressful for three months, I got hand cramps from gripping the steering wheel, but suddenly one day I realized I was just driving comfortably without even thinking about it and it was one of the most empowering realizations of my life and I've loved driving ever since! That said, I also know many people who avoid driving for more altruistic reasons and make it a priority to bike anywhere possible and supplement it with public transpo, which I admire as well. Is it realistic for you to bike many of the places you need to go regularly? But if you're eager to overcome your anxiety I agree with just driving as much as possible.
posted by wannabecounselor at 1:32 AM on July 19, 2013

I've been driving for 6 months now. I ended up being thrown in the deep end because where I bought the car necessitated motorway driving. I am still pretty nervous when driving new routes, and bring my sat nav with me. Absolutely seconding everyone else saying a GPS unit is really, really useful. You essentially no longer need to worry about where you're going too much, and mistakes have a lower penalty.

Generally speaking most people only need to drive a few places regularly: the vast majority of driving I do is my commute to work, which I have done so many times now it is no longer even slightly worrying. For new routes, take your time, and ideally bring someone with you to help you out and spot road markings. Intersections can be confusing, and it is easy to approach one in the wrong lane. The best thing to do is just to take the wrong direction then allow the re route, which should be fine if you leave yourself lots of time. Don't force yourself to do stressful things. Drive at speeds you are comfortable in, stay in the slow lane unless you feel comfortable leaving it.

Parking is a bit horrid. Take your time picking a space. If you are not happy with pulling into one space then don't. Try and find spaces you can drive through so you can leave them facing forwards. Don't feel compelled to parallel park or reverse into a space if you are not comfortable with doing so. If you have to park a bit further away then do so. If you have to do some horrible parking, get your friend you've brought with you to get out and help you (note, make sure they also drive, so that they know what directions are helpful to you).

I find the most unpleasent routes to be built up areas with narrow parking, because other drivers tend to go way too fast. Slow down if you want to. Do not feel compelled to overtake cyclists when you do not feel you have room to do so. If you don't want to make a turn yet, and wait for oncoming traffic, do so. Some of this will annoy drivers behind you, but they can just deal with it to be honest.

You will absolutely make mistakes, and thats fine. It can be hard to get over them initially. I do, and have done, stupid things, make silly mistakes, but other drivers are capable of responding to your behaviour. If you find yourself nervous and panicy, find the nearest safe spot to pull over and do so. Have a breather. Drink some water. Do not drive when you are feeling very panicked. Do not drive when feeling tired or headachey. You will get better with practice, and the panic will begin to subside. Breath deeply. Have music you like playing, or podcasts if you prefer voices.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:14 AM on July 19, 2013

I used to be a horribly nervous driver and would also do ridiculous things to avoid driving (like 2 hours of walking to get somewhere even when I could have driven instead).

Two things helped hugely for me.

The first was doing a six hour drive - by far the longest I had ever done. I was terrified, and I mapped it all out carefully beforehand, and I stopped every hour for a break, but it was FINE. And then I was so proud of myself. The thing was, it was a very easy trip because it was all on motorways except the first and final half hours, but it was still such a confidence builder.

The second thing that helped was to be in a few near-accidents. After that I really understood that even when someone makes a serious mistake on the road, it isn't an automatic death sentence. Basically, the road rules are there so that everyone knows what they should be doing, but if someone does something unexpected, other drivers usually compensate. Most people are watching out and half-expecting other drivers to do stupid things, so they can often react to these stupid things in time to avoid accidents. For an accident to happen, you have to be doubly unlucky. You have to make the error AND other drivers have to not react in time. So mostly you will be okay. I've done a bunch of stupid things (up to and including driving the wrong way down a busy one-way street, changing lanes without checking properly and nearly running off someone in my blind spot, and turning out in front of a bus when I didn't have right of way). And each time I have been lucky enough that it just resulted in loud beeping of horns and pissed off people. Not deaths. And I've had other people on the road do equally stupid things in front of me. And still no one died.

Before that I kind of imagined that I was in a hurtling metal box where one misstep meant automatic death, which of course contributed greatly to my exaggerated anxiety about driving. Not that you shouldn't be careful, of course, but you also don't need to constantly fear for your life.
posted by lollusc at 3:08 AM on July 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

I grew up in rural Maine. Driving was a necessity early on, but it didn't prepare me for everything I would eventually encounter as I got older. The first thing is - it is okay to not be the best driver among your social circle. The goal is to be competent enough that people don't outright fear driving with you. At this point I'm a very confident and safe driver.

1. Practice in low stress. Going out at 8:30 AM Monday through Friday is probably ill advised for building confidence. Instead, go out for practice rides at 6:00 or at 10:00. Weekends are great. Around here sunday is generally a lighter traffic day in the morning (minus the church crowd) since Saturday morning is when the parents are all shuttling their kids to sporting events. Likewise, if you live in a city - go to a smaller town and drive around where tentatively fewer people will be on the road and they won't be in as quite as much a congestion induced driving frenzy. Once you get comfortable, find a new place to practice.

2. Drive in mixed situations - do some stop sign only areas, then do traffic light areas, then do downtowns, then get out on the highway for a bit. If your area has double lane one-ways - make sure you spend some time on those as well. Seek out construction sites. Hit them from every direction.

3. I used to have to do a piece of highway where there were Jersey Barriers on both sides of me. I would loudly sing the brass section of the Imperial March (from Star Wars) and say "Stay on Target". The key I found out was looking not at the 5' in front of my car, but looking 30 - 40' ahead and learning to notice what was going on 5' in front of my car. Deep breaths - the walls are no fun for anyone.

4. Practice parking, driving in reverse, pulling in to garages, and what have you.

5. You indicate you spend your time looking at maps and learning things first. That is EXCELLENT. Until you can draw a mental map in your head, place stores chronologically on your route, and maximize the efficiency between destinations, this is the best possible thing you can do. I can probably draw you a map of major routes from memory of my home town, my college town, south boston, somerville, cambridge, back bay, lawrence, methuen, salem, and my current home town. I remember a few specific locations, and as long as I can place a destination by my landmarks, I can probably find it.

6. GPSes are good to start with. Learn routes on the GPS. Then navigate with a map. Then do them without either. The problem with GPSes is that you generally don't learn the community that you are driving through - that is fine for long overland stretches that you don't drive daily, but if you are in an area you will be driving in for a while - you want to actually learn *as a driver* how things connect. My personal opinion of standalone GPSes that I've seen folks with is pretty poor. My andrioid phone with Google Navigator has better information about local traffic. Where I am, a localized traffic jam can quickly change the preferred route of travel. YMMV.

7. The biggest thing is - don't shy away from driving. You will be driving from now until you are Miss Daisy. Adversity builds confidence. Even accidents will help you learn to be a better driver. (Only tip on that: ALWAYS contact the police and your insurance - no exceptions)

Good luck! Have Fun!
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:59 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Nobody's mentioned using Google Street View yet. If I'm going to a new place, I'll take a look at street view ahead of time to get an idea of what the landmarks will look like, how the lanes are set up, think about how I'll get through a tricky junction, and so on.

And n-thing the comments that confidence comes with practice. I was a pretty confident driver for many years. Then I moved to the UK and felt like I was basically starting over - especially when I hit a wall with the left-hand mirror within my first mile of driving on the left. After that, I was white-knuckled for a while, especially with a narrow road or around parked cars.

One thing I did was making a point to go out during times when traffic was light to try streets that made me nervous. Being a dork, I also would be sure to let out a hearty "Ding! Achievement unlocked!" after successfully getting past a road that made me uncomfortable.

Oh, with parking, I find that it's actually easier to get into narrow spaces by reversing in rather than pulling in forwards. For one thing, you can use your side mirrors to judge how much space you have. The maneuver just plain works a bit better, and when it's time to leave, you can pull out forwards.
posted by penguinicity at 4:40 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

People trying to convince you to get a GPS are missing the point. No matter your age or how long you've actually had a license, you are a new driver, and as such you need to focus on driving without any distractions. No chatty friends, no radio, no GPS. A few lessons would be good - a one-day defensive driving course can be empowering. Go out on some non-specific drives. Purposefully miss a turn you planned to take and realize that it's OK, you can get there another way. Do that a lot - it will help you not be the hesitant, brake-riding driver who makes other drivers nervous. Go to the grocery store and park in the farthest possible spot to practice parking & get some extra stress-reducing walking in. Give yourself extra time and tell your would-be passengers that you will invite them for a ride when you are ready. No GPS though. Learn to be OK with being a little bit lost, and exploring new places while finding your own way back around.
posted by headnsouth at 4:50 AM on July 19, 2013

The more you drive the better you get and the more comfortable you'll feel.

Drive around early on a Sunday morning. There's less traffic. Put something soothing on the radio and just drive around. Do your neighborhood, go up to the Wal-Mart. Doodle around some schools. Slide into parking spaces, then back right out of them again.

Drive when you don't have to be somewhere at a particular time. No pressure. Take a friend for moral support.

Oh, and back into a pole, get a good ding on your car. That way, you'll know it's no longer perfect and you won't feel weird about it.

I learned to drive in the parking lot of a big box store when it was completely empty.

Here's the thing, it's okay to miss the turn. It's okay to have to flip a U-ie. It's okay to do a 'curb job'. We've all done it and we have all survived.

Cars are super-safe these days, people walk away from the most horrific wreckage so don't fret about that. So you're the asshole driver on the road for now. At some point in time, we all were. Practice your best, "Oh! My Bad!" look and mouth 'Sorry' to any drivers you make eye contact with.

You may never enjoy driving, but you'll be able to do it confidently and frequently if you have to.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:49 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I love all the suggestions above, but I think in order to get the experience you may need to actually set yourself a schedule and make an appointment with yourself to drive every day, even if you don't "need" to get anything or go anywhere. I would recommend that you start out going to the exact same place every single time. Pick someplace not far away, not too hard to get to, not too complex, etc. And drive there today. Do it again tomorrow and the next day and the next until you feel comfortable.

And then go through this thread with the suggestions of how to improve, and pick a route that would incorporate one additional thing to work on, and drive that route every day for a week or however long it takes. Keep adding one incremental thing when you are ready, and soon you will get over that "new driver" feeling.

(I give this advice as someone who just couldn't get used to wearing bifocals until I was FORCED to wear them everyday for 2 weeks on vacation because I didn't bring all my old glasses. Now I love them. So find a way to FORCE yourself to drive everyday and it will get better)
posted by CathyG at 7:59 AM on July 19, 2013

How do you get more confident driving? Find a time when traffic is light in your area, and drive around your neighborhood. Traffic is pretty light in most places on weekend, especially Sunday, mornings - figure out what errands you can run then, and drive around town. Keep consulting the maps if that makes you more comfortable. Just gradually ease into it.

However, I want to note that some of the things that you express apprehension about are totally OK - I'm a pretty confident driver, and I still find certain situations a bit stress-inducing. Like, it's good to be a little apprehensive about driving in bad weather, because you need to be extra careful. Nobody likes driving in the pouring rain, and people who just blithely drive around in those conditions like they normally would are doing it wrong. When it's raining hard I drive like a little old lady.

Ditto for certain left turns. I don't like making left turns into heavy, fast-moving traffic. I'll do it if I have to, but I prefer to avoid it. If I know it's possible, I'll actually drive around the block, or go to an intersection with a traffic light.

Checking maps isn't bad habit, too. I think you should learn your local area and your usual routes by heart, but anytime I'm going somewhere new I study Google Maps (I don't have a GPS, and don't want one, but I have a strong sense of direction). I zoom into the area to get a feel for where the streets are, if there any one-ways, etc. If there's a complicated highway interchange, I'll even zoom in on that to check out where the ramps go and which one I should be on. I like to know the context of the areas I'm driving in, and Google Maps is great for that.

Try not to beat yourself up so much - if you can drive halfway across the country, you can't be so bad about it! I actually think you're developing some good habits. Ease yourself into driving in your area, temper that caution with a little confidence, and you'll be fine.
posted by breakin' the law at 10:00 AM on July 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

How do you get to Carnegie hall? Practice, practice, practice.

Also, a small car helps - I heartily endorse the recommendations above for a Honda Civic.

The way I truly got to be confident in my driving was by navigating Cambridge and Boston traffic for a few weeks - after that I was honking at the out-of-towners with the rest of them. (Yes, *of course* you make a left turn from the middle lane while the left lane takes the underpass. Why do you not know this already?)
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:09 AM on July 19, 2013

Memorize every control by touch. Go out early on sunday morning and practice the hard stuff, loop through the airport, find the tricky spots. Do pre-runs at low traffic times. Feel free to pull over and stop to get bearings or just take a break. If nervous, hit the emergency blinkers for 5-10 blinks (you can do this without looking right ; -). Feel free to ask for quiet when there is a stressful intersection, I've driven for... oh my... and I still ask for quiet at a bad spot.
posted by sammyo at 11:42 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do pre-runs at low traffic times.
posted by sammyo at 2:42 PM on July 19 [+] [!]

Yeah, this is really key. Nobody knows where they are going the first time they go there. They may have seen it in the past, they may have a vague idea of where it is - but nobody knows with 100% certainty that they will get somewhere if the site is unseen and they have no mental map. Driving is very different from being a passenger - even if you have ever been the navigator on a long trip. Practice runs help you perfect a route, know what obstacles you might encounter (speed bumps, unexpected 1 way streets, school bus stops, heavily congested intersections, construction, school zones, or even a mime parade (don't ask - it happened). Pre-runs help alleviate stress because you've familiarized yourself at least once.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:52 PM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

In terms of chatty friends, I think if you just focus your attention on driving and basically ignore them, it's fine. Like, if they say something, and you wait 5 seconds and then say "...what?" in an absent-minded voice, it's not going to be rude in this context, they'll just get the message that you're focused on the road.

It's a social norm that the driver should be paying attention to the road first: to the point that sometimes when I'm driving, if I get too involved in a conversation my friends will stop talking to me.
posted by vogon_poet at 11:10 PM on July 19, 2013

« Older Home Renovation Software   |   Collection notice or ploy to get me to renew... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.