How do I pass my driving test after multiple fails?
March 24, 2015 1:03 AM   Subscribe

Several yrs ago I failed my test a monumental.. 9 times. The first couple of times I wasn't arced as it seemed within a normal range. Then I had the same examiner 3 times on the trot (who obviously recognised me because I'd failed before) I suspect this was one of the things that threw me. I feel there was nothing I didn't try - I tried a hypnotist/beta blockers/NLP/different instructors/Acupuncture/An intense course. Everyone finds it HILARIOUS.. except me. I've probably spent 7,000 pounds.

I gave up in the end, but fast forward several yrs and now a license is a requirement for literally every job I go for. I HAVE to get the fucking thing and the temp job I'm in now could only get made permanent if I get it (they do want me to be able to stay).

I don't know what the 'specific' problem is as my various tests were failed for different reasons, sometimes to do with reversing maneouvres (check! I can't even spell it!) but some were different stuff.

Instructors love and hate me. I am friendly and can 'look' like a good driver. Then I can be really inconsistent and do the odd quite crazy thing. Once recently I managed to try and drive off in 4th gear (that was a new one).

I have done my theory test 3 times and was getting 100% on some of it last time (you have to renew every 2 yrs when learning in the UK).

I thought my latest instructor had the patience of a saint, but I'm even stressing him out. He'll stop the car and seems totally irritated when I do something weird (he has a thing about you always touching the gear stick to knwo which one you're in and I touch it without putting my hand around it apparently, so don't get this feedback). He says 'why did you do that?' and I say I 'don't know' which really pisses him off. But I DON'T KNOW, I'm not being funny. I do what comes.. it's not like I have time to analyse it.

I do think I probably 'think' about how the road works to much though in someways (say when we stop at traffic lights, I ask a lot of questions.. like why is it like x/y/z?). I am a thinky/creative type but there are people like me who can drive.

Current instructor only has a crap slot for me at the end of the week when I'm drained from work, but I can't face changing yet AGAIN as they will have other ways of doing things.

I miss signs loads cos I feel like there's always so much else to think about. He syas I generally have good control of the car but sometimes don't read the road well. I am now trying to read the highway code more.

Has anyone been through this shit and actually conquered it? It's an expensive stressful nightmare that doesn't end!
posted by tanktop to Work & Money (39 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I ask a lot of questions.. like why is it like x/y/z?)

When in the car with your instructor, zip your lip and put all your attention into the road and listening to your instructor . Do not ask unnecessary questions, not one, unless you are parked. Your problems all stem from a lack of attention.

I am now trying to read the highway code more.

Yes, read the highway code until you know it back to front. You can't be a proficient and safe driver unless the road rules are embedded in your brain.
posted by Thella at 1:30 AM on March 24, 2015 [9 favorites]

If you don't yet have the mechanics of driving the car I suggest you find an empty parking lot and practice starting and shifting and stopping until you can do all of that without stalling or jerking. When that gets easy you're ready for driving around a busy parking lot.
It sounds life all of your problems come from not paying attention to the big picture. You need too get the small details into muscle memory, then you can focus on the road and the other cars.
posted by irisclara at 1:31 AM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I found when I was learning to drive that I couldn't concentrate on the road and concentrate on changing gears as well. Once I swapped to an automatic I actually start making progress towards become competent.

After a couple of years of driving I learnt how to drive a manual and it was much easier because I knew what I needed to look for on the road and get to grips with changing gears.

I still prefer to drive an automatic but with an hour or so of practise I'm good to drive in a manual again.
posted by poxandplague at 1:41 AM on March 24, 2015 [11 favorites]

How much road practice are you getting outside of your lessons? Road awareness comes from practice and if you're only getting a hour or 2 lesson per week, that's probably not enough to develop your "driving brain".

And stop asking "why"... why is irrelevant, why is because those are the rules.
posted by missmagenta at 1:56 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree that switching to an automatic might help. I realise that is what you would then be limited to driving, but I managed to find a used automatic astra for under 500 quid a few years ago.
posted by catspajammies at 1:56 AM on March 24, 2015

Have you ever been tested for ADHD?
posted by pretentious illiterate at 2:14 AM on March 24, 2015 [14 favorites]

Like you, I’m not a natural driver: it took me seven attempts to pass my test. One thing that helped me in general, and which bolstered my fragile confidence, was having my own car and being able to practice everyday driving outside of formal instruction: is there any way you could drive with a partner, friend or colleague or family member? In answer to your main question, I think the more practice you can get, the better your odds will become.

After a succession of four failures with one instructor and examination centre, I switched to another instructor whose teaching style I found more congenial, and who also suggested doing the next test at a different examination centre. It was my second attempt there when I eventually passed. Perhaps among all of the instructors you’ve used, you still might not have found the right one for you… If there’s another test centre not too far from you, then that might be worth a try too.
posted by misteraitch at 2:23 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

My wife just passed on her 4th time after switching to an automatic. One less thing to worry about during the test.
posted by laukf at 2:35 AM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Learning to drive is like learning to walk. You're learning how your perceptions and motor skills propel a very large body around the world in which there are also other large bodies, and obstacles, and rules. You have to learn the rules, but the rules are not actually the most important thing. You don't really use different motor skills to drive in the US versus the UK because you drive on the opposite side of the road. If you have a brain inclined to overthink, you need to work on disengaging that part, and then just doing it again and again.

The first thing about learning to walk is actually developing the muscles to get yourself on your own two feet, then dealing with propelling yourself forwards and maintaining balance. Eventually you also learn to turn and jump and run. At that point, once you're comfortable with your body and how it moves, you start to learn about other people's bodies. You learn to judge their body language to know that this person is moving out of the way and this other person is not. You learn how to keep pace with your mother as she's walking, slow down when she does, speed up when she does. Then you learn rules: don't run inside, don't cross the street without looking both ways.

When you still have to consciously think about how far you're turning the wheel or how hard you're hitting the gas to go forward, then thinking about all those traffic rules and the "body language" of other cars is overwhelming. Start, if at all possible, putting in time every day or every few days in a friend's car in an abandoned parking lot. They can read or listen to headphones or something, and you're not putting their car at risk, you're just getting a feel for it. Get cones or some other markers to practice parking, not because of particular rules of parking, but because it will develop your feel for where the corners of a car are. Then move up from there.

At the point where you can get licensed, you probably will still not be great at it, but you will be way better than you are now. 5+ years since I started driving in my late 20s, I can be on the interstate at rush hour and tell you that this guy in the white sedan coming up behind me is or isn't going to slow down and let me over if I signal that I need to change lanes. At first, I couldn't see that, so I gave myself much more space than I do now. Patience will pay off.

You're right now trying to run right off while you're still a wobbly walker, and the instructors may not be helping, because they tend to be used to teenagers and younger adults who pick this up faster. That's why friends and family are usually better to drive with you. You don't need more teaching; you've already had teaching. You just need practice. I tend to think driving schools are terrible places for anxious late drivers to end up; all the tools they have are the wrong ones for you. You can totally get comfortable enough to pass the test in just a couple months, but not at only a couple hours a week with someone who doesn't understand the process.

Those things said, practical stuff: If you tend to have anxiety symptoms, like dry mouth and heart palpitations kind of physical symptoms, while driving, ask your doctor about a beta blocker. They're non-sedating and help with those things while you're getting comfortable, and make it far easier. Also, yes, while you're still in the early stages, if you can get access to an automatic, do. Try the stick again later once you aren't thinking about just how to maneuver the car.

But, mostly, the way you learn to drive is by driving as much as you can, in environments where you feel safe and comfortable. The code's important, but in the end, not useful until you're in control of the car and no longer thinking about stuff like "which side is the turn signal on".
posted by Sequence at 2:43 AM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Is your driving lesson just once a week? If so, up it to 2-3 times a week and schedule your test to have no gap with your driving lessons.

I miss signs loads cos I feel like there's always so much else to think about. He syas I generally have good control of the car but sometimes don't read the road well. I am now trying to read the highway code more.

I think you're thinking a bit too much about driving and rules and such. Concentrate on starting, stopping, and being in the right gear at the right speed. Go somewhere deserted and practise until these are second nature (read: you're not thinking about them anymore so your brain is free to think about rules), especially gear changing. Then go on to things like turning, maneuvering (I can't spell either), etc. Get the basics absolutely down so that you no longer have to think about them. Trust me, you'll develop a muscle memory for this. And then you can do traffic/driving rules.

If it's the rules that are giving you problems, then ask your instructor to pick out the most important ones (for instance, stop signs, traffic lights, looking out for pedestrians before crossing intersections) and practice those first. Then move on to the more esoteric rules like giving way and stuff. You're a earner, you're supposed to make mistakes.

My instructors also got irritated with me (I almost drove into a bush once -.-'' he got annoyed with me and I almost cried and I shut down during that lesson) but I finally found one who used to joke about my incompetence and calmed me down. I stuck with him and passed my test about 15 lessons later. If your instructor is making you nervous with his irritation, find one who doesn't.

And don't ask so many questions when you're stopping at red lights, concentrate on being safe for your pedestrians first. They are your absolute priority. If you need to ask the why questions, do it while you're parked somewhere. You can talk about other non-driving things at red lights.

If all else fails, switch to automatic. Automatic will do the gear-changing for you, it's really less of a headache.

Can you post why you failed each test? Maybe we can spot a pattern.
posted by rozaine at 2:46 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Buy a very small automatic car and practice driving it frequently with a qualified instructor. Also, if possible, go out frequently with a competent driver near where you will take your driving test. Every time you go out, practice all the maneuvers you'll be expected to make on the test (parking, turning, negotiating busy intersections, etc.).

But maybe you should step back and rethink what you're trying to do. You apparently don't need to drive right now because you don't drive and have not been driving since forever. Could you apply for jobs that do not require you to have a license? If you are expected to have a car at your disposal in case of on-call emergencies but to rarely actually need a car in normal circumstances, could you use a taxi during the relatively rare instances in which you need to get up and travel by car for work?

What I'm trying to say is that maybe you should not be on the road. You want a job, but other people want you not to kill them and their families. A bad driver definitely should not have a job that requires driving -- you might ignore common sense and get yourself into dangerous circumstances because your job requires you to do things you aren't really suited to do.
posted by pracowity at 2:58 AM on March 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

First things first, you should not be concerned with passing a test but rather with learning to drive.

This is going to sound harsh but your problem is not passing the test, nor is it a manual gearbox, it seems to be that you are temperamentally unsuited to being a good driver. You seem unwilling or unable to pay attention to what is required for the task at hand and you are thus a danger to yourself and other road users. Driving is pretty much all about paying attention and anticipating what is likely to happen.

I needed to learn to drive in my late 30s and chose my instructor carefully (DIA member) and had 3 lessons a week for 6 weeks. The early stages of my driving tuition were to become competent with the foot pedals and manual gear change, while my instructor gave me a running commentary on the road around me. After a few lessons, I gradually took over the commentary and he just sat there. I made one slight mistake on my test (changed gear too early) but passed. Had a motorway lesson with my instructor after that. I had an accident on my first solo trip, misjudged the speed in stop-start congestion and tapped the car in front, (except for being in the middle the A1, miles from anywhere, I'd have been happy at that point to walk away and never drive again).

So learn the mechanicals while the instructor exercises observation and judgement, gradually take over the observation and develop judgement. Above all, focus on what you are doing. Also, try a female driving instructor, perhaps she will have a different perspective.
posted by epo at 3:17 AM on March 24, 2015 [19 favorites]

I failed the driving test 7 times. 1st few I just wasn't ready, 1- I ran a red light and 1 - I stopped at a light that I shouldn't have because I didn't want to run it.

Just stupid wee mistakes.

The thing about driving is that it's a constant process - do this and then this, then literally have to think about everything all the time. You are in a 1ton lump of metal hurtling down the road at 50mph with other lumps hurtling towards you in the opposite direction. You need your brain switched on all the time.

I was poor at hill starts (there was ALWAYS a car behind me!) and when I go that wrong I got flustered and the rest of the lesson would fall apart. Later I went off to a industrial estate with a hill and did hill starts over and over and over. Start, drive up, roll back. repeat. I knew that if I could do them OK then it'd be one less thing to get flustered about when the lesson came around.

Side note - that thing with the gear stick - I used to do that too and sometimes still do! For me it was to make sure I was in the right gear, or maybe it my brain firing off a command to change gear even when not needed. If you learn the sound of your car and the feel of the revs then you'll drop this habit, You get to know when the gears need changed.

TBH - all the mefi advice in the work may not help. Driving can be stressful, there are 100's of things to look out for. You prob have the ability, but need confidence in yourself do deal with them all.
posted by MarvinJ at 3:23 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Automatic. Change of test centres. More driving practice without an instructor.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:36 AM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I agree with everyone. First, your problem is not "how does a madcap creative type pass a zany test in order to keep a job," it's "how do I learn to drive." And the answer is study and practice.

There are a lot of red flags in your post. Sure, there might be personality or scheduling issues. But you've written the theory exam multiple times and get 100% on some of it? You can't learn at your designated time but you can't be bothered changing it? (Also, drivers do have to drive home after long weeks.)

I would stop focusing on the test and start focusing on learning to drive in a way that sets yourself up for a lifetime of driving your most precious family and friends around, surrounded by fast-moving hunks of metal containing other precious family and friends around you safely.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:18 AM on March 24, 2015 [14 favorites]

I also learned to drive as an adult, and have had a similar "making bad choices when panicked" types of problems. The most helpful thing for me, when I was still not confident enough to even practice a lot of driving myself, was to pretend I was driving whenever I was in a vehicle, and compare my choices to the experienced drivers I was with. "How fast is traffic moving? Is that faster or slower than the speed limit? If I'm turning left, I should get into the left lane here where the traffic is light. Oh, here comes a roundabout. Huh, I thought it was safe to pull in then, but they didn't, I should probably be more conservative about how I do that when it's me behind the wheel." This is the kind of stuff that goes into "reading the road," and you don't need to actually drive to get practice at it.

In addition to that, I think you need way more than one hour per week driving practice. In my US state we're supposed to have 40 hours on the road over a relatively short period of time. If you have any friends willing to sit in a car with you, it's time to call in those favors. As you're describing it, I also find driving to involve integrating a very dense field of information, and it's only practice and experience that shows you what is important within that wash of information.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:09 AM on March 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

When your instructor says that you don't read the road well, I highly doubt that he means that you need to go off and memorise the highway code. It is much more likely - especially considering that you even admit that you miss a lot of signs!! - that he's saying that you're not paying enough attention to what is happening on the road in front of you.

If you miss signs, what else could you potential miss? Are you going to reverse over a child that you didn't notice? Are you going to take out a cyclist that happened to be in your blind spot? Are you going to drive your car off the road when you don't see the sign warning you that the bend coming up is sharp?

You're failing your test because you're not ready. You're not paying attention to what is going on around you and it is dangerous.

It sounds like learning manual is not for you. It also sounds like you need to find a new instructor who is a bit more patient with you. Perhaps switch to a new automatic instructor and try to learn good habits so that they become automatic. Things like making sure that you do a head check every single time that you change lanes or turn, making sure that you stop for the appropriate amount of time at stop signs, making sure that you leave appropriate stopping distance between your car and the one in front.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 5:16 AM on March 24, 2015 [18 favorites]

The only thing that makes you a better driver is driving more! Practice, practice, practice. In addition to your Instructor, do you have a (competent driver) friend who could take you out for an hour of practice every day or at least several times a week for a few months?
posted by fourpotatoes at 5:21 AM on March 24, 2015

I feel for you, it took me 7 goes to pass the test (can't remember now if I passed on the 7th or 8th go), I was never very natural in a car and could easily feel panicked and have tunnel vision settle in

After passing I then did very little driving for 3-4 years and when I had to start driving again it was very difficult. I did consider switching to an automatic, as fiddling with gear changes was just another thing to have to pay attention to.. however I didn't and it is not something I have problems with now, it just takes time sometimes. It took me many years to get passed my nervousness in a car and only now 10 years later do I feel more or less comfortable driving, and still when I had a choice I walk or cycle somewhere..

still it keeps me fit!
posted by foleypt at 5:24 AM on March 24, 2015

This sounds like a lack of practice more than anything.

I think other people are being mislead by the manual transmission. It'll make some stuff (e.g. reversing into parking spaces) harder, but those are things you learn in an empty parking lot. (I learned in a manual, but, to be fair, I took the test in a borrowed automatic. I'm in the US, so this didn't matter.) The OP seems to be describing how I feel when I haven't driven for a while. It's information overload until you get used to it again. I recently started driving every day after nearly ten years of barely driving. It a while to get back into the swing of things to know "how roads work" and what I should be anticipating needing to do.
posted by hoyland at 5:29 AM on March 24, 2015

When your instructor says that you don't read the road well, I highly doubt that he means that you need to go off and memorise the highway code. It is much more likely - especially considering that you even admit that you miss a lot of signs!! - that he's saying that you're not paying enough attention to what is happening on the road in front of you.

100 x times. You're not asking the right 'why's. You are not aware of or understanding the road around you in terms of other traffic, signage, lane positioning, possibly also appropriate speed/gear choice. Unless you are forgetting what a road sign means, then reading the Highway Code again is missing the point. You're just not taking this seriously. "I pass some of it 100% some of the time" - no you don't, you just don't know it. It's minimising of your issue and it (and other aspects of your post) reads like you (deep down) just consider this something to be got past, rather than a skill to be learned and acquired. If you have been doing this for so long you should be able to get 100% ALL the time on all of it. You're just not taking it seriously enough.

when we stop at traffic lights, I ask a lot of questions.. like why is it like x/y/z?). I am a thinky/creative type but there are people like me who can drive.

Then shut up. Seriously. This is not about you being some zany creative type, this is you not giving the task enough effort or focussing on what you should be processing (how to drive, how to be safe) and instead allowing your brain to freewheel. Shut up and focus and STOP asking those questions. You need to be listening and watching while you are driving, not asking - driving is about responding to the environment around you, bit quizzing it - do that when you're walking or a passenger. If you don't understand something about how a road or car works when you are driving then you should have found out before you started driving. If you're asking about relevant stuff while driving then, honestly, what the hell did you spend 7K on, in the first place, and why are you not remembering it?

Driving is a series of repetitions of the same process/rules and signage. There is an enormous amount of repetition. It is not an unfathomable amount of new information constantly, but a framework of actions that you fit to each new junction and scenario. I suggest you try an automatic to reduce the workload so that you can focus on the more important safety stuff (stopping at green lights is a serious safety aspect). If you find the same problems with driving an automatic, then you need to accept the possibility that you are simply not suited to driving and truly give up.

People seem to think that driving is just something that you need to be able to do and *should* be able to do. Some people are not capable of controlling a car, understanding it's momentum and able to do so safely among other road users. One of the single biggest pluses about the UK road system is a driving test of sufficient difficulty that people who will not be good drivers *ever* consistently fail. So change what you are doing (automatic gearbox, shutting up, paying more attention) and if that doesn't give you an improvement than accept that you are unable to process the mental loads and physical need to drive. It's not just all about more practice, it's about being able to do it. Not everyone can and fortunately for you (and all the other drivers) the test in the UK is designed to keep the road safe by failing the people unable to drive safely (unlike the US, for instance, which just drops the test requirements down to a ludicrous level that a child could pass).

So, consider this. Creative type or otherwise, there may be a point you can't do this. At which point stop wasting money on it and find jobs that don't need you to drive. Not that many UK jobs require you to drive anyway (especially arty/creative ones) so this shouldn't be that hard but if - after all this time - you just can't drive then .... don't. It's safer for you and everyone else.
posted by Brockles at 5:40 AM on March 24, 2015 [18 favorites]

This jumped out:

"Current instructor only has a crap slot for me at the end of the week when I'm drained from work, but I can't face changing yet AGAIN as they will have other ways of doing things. "

It sounds like your current instructor's ways of doing things not working for you (s/he does sound frustrating for you), so keeping on with them is unproductive.

A good instructor should NOT get irritated with you regularly. If you're not sure why you do something, your instructor should be able to draw it out from his/her observations. A reasonable instructor will not insist you do something non-essential (like 'reading' the gear stick) if it's not working for you.

Educating someone is a skill and not all instructors can do it well.

A new way of doing things might help, and get you through a test. Just remember that there are abominable instructors, instructors who don't work for you, and you could need to shop around to find a good fit.

Good luck! (Passed on fourth go after three very so-so instructors -- found a great teacher and worked it out)
posted by NoiselessPenguin at 5:41 AM on March 24, 2015

Seconding have you ever been tested for some kind of ADD/ADHD. Driving is a classic problem area for that, I know several people who hyper focus on something when they're interested in it but fly off into la-la land when they get to a boring task like driving. Unfortunately driving isn't something you can dick around with, it literally only takes ONE INSTANT of not seeing something to get into a serious accident (I also know this from personal experience).
posted by anaelith at 5:52 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Get your vision checked. I've known of people who've failed a couple of times before finding out they need glasses - they could "just about" read the number plate at the beginning of the test and didn't realise that was supposed to be easy.

Switch to automatic. Manual is better, you tried manual for a long time, screw it. Better to pass with auto than fail with manual.

Find someone who isn't an instructor who'll sit with you while you drive, regularly. Repay with food, drink, whatever. Do it for at least 6 hours a week. It's getting light in the evenings now so you'll have more time to do it.

Change instructors if this one doesn't have time for you, you should be able to pick the time you want. If you're not booking lessons far enough in advance to get the time slots you want, book the lessons further in advance. I'd suggest an intensive course but it seems you've done that...

In terms of reading the road and reacting quickly (though not safe driving!) video games might actually help. Any good racing game (Forza, Gran Turismo), or even GTA.

When you take a test, or do a practice test, write down the things you failed on as soon as you get home, in detail, and focus on those things in future.

Are you getting multiple serious faults, or just failing on one thing (or minors)? My wife failed three tests pretty badly, and *almost* passed her last test (one serious, 5 mins before the end). She'll get it next time.
posted by dickasso at 6:16 AM on March 24, 2015

How did you do on the hazard perception section of the theory test? Those videos are all about reading the road and spotting potential dangers. One way to get better at doing this when you're not in the car might be to watch hazard perception videos and make really brief notes on what you're seeing - what are the signs, what are the road conditions, what are other drivers doing? Then go back, watch them again, see what you missed, see what stuff you're not currently looking out for that you might need to be looking out for. Watch a bunch of them. It should be much less stressful than doing it when you're concentrating on driving at the same time - you do need to build up the same skill while you're in control of a vehicle, but decoupling the two things and practising separately might help.
posted by terretu at 6:23 AM on March 24, 2015

Get your vision checked. I've known of people who've failed a couple of times before finding out they need glasses - they could "just about" read the number plate at the beginning of the test and didn't realise that was supposed to be easy.

This was my first thought. If you can't see things 100% clearly, you are not able to "read the road" in the same way as someone with better vision. Even if you have never worn glasses, go and get your vision tested.

I'm in the US and I benefited from our lax testing standards here (I drove through a stop sign during my driving exam and still passed, which in retrospect is ridiculous), but the best thing for my driving was simply lots of hours of practicing, first on dirt roads as a kid, and then once I had a learner's permit on-road with a parent in the car with me. There's no way you can learn anything complex and stressful in one hour a week -- you need an hour a day, if not more. Like people have been saying, driving is muscle memory first and foremost, and you simply aren't getting enough time behind the wheel.

That said, some people just aren't meant to be drivers. You are spending a lot of money and stress on something that would be helpful (eg your job) but perhaps isn't completely vital. Your question is full of red flags and I worry that you might find a way to pass the test without actually becoming a safe driver.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:25 AM on March 24, 2015

I miss signs loads cos I feel like there's always so much else to think about.

You know I'm still shocked I managed to pass my driver's test. If it helps, I took driver's ed at 16.. and didn't actually end up with a license until 29. (In my case I simply didn't feel ready/experienced enough/responsible enough/was scared of killing myself or someone else) I really only got my license because, like you, I had no other choice.

For the purposes of learning to drive and passing the test, forget all the other signs except the Stop Sign and the Speed Limit sign. Especially for the stop sign, learn to really keep an eye out for it. Here where I live, you're only going to find stop signs without lights in residential streets. So I conditioned myself to realize an intersection is coming up and there might be a stop sign so I should look for it. I also discovered that 85% of the time there'll be a speed limit sign right after an intersection. (Except for this one road that, despite traveling down it many times, I have no flipping idea what the speed limit is because I never see a damn sign)

Learn to read the road, not the signs. Look for intersections, pay attention where lanes merge and split.

Also, because this was something I had to learn, it's OK to go fast. Don't speed to beat a light or because you're impatient.. but if you need to pass someone, or you're trying to lane switch, it's ok to speed up. Just make sure you have enough room in front of you to do so.

Lastly, you've taken the test enough times to know the route(s) the instructors take you on. Find a friend or family member and drive the hell out of those routes. Go over and over them until you think you can drive them with your eyes closed. (but don't actually do that...)
posted by royalsong at 6:28 AM on March 24, 2015

forget all the other signs except the Stop Sign and the Speed Limit sign. Especially for the stop sign, learn to really keep an eye out for it. Here where I live, you're only going to find stop signs without lights in residential streets.

This is not strictly relevant - the UK probably has 50 actual Stop signs in the entire country - because the driving public is for the most part smart enough to cope with 'Give Way' (ie yield) junctions or roundabouts for the majority of intersections and lights for the rest. Stop signs are the lowest brow 'stop thinking' road signage possible. The road structure and signage (and relative crowded road sides) means driving in the UK is much harder than in the US and very different.
posted by Brockles at 6:36 AM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is kind of a weird suggestion, but do you cycle at all? I find that cycling (in traffic) and driving exercise a lot of the same road-awareness skills. And you can cycle without an instructor or licensed driver in the car, so you can spend more time on the road that way. The big difference is that when you switch from the bicycle to the car, it's harder for you to see others and easier for others to see you.

That road awareness piece is probably the absolute most difficult thing about driving, but it's also probably the most important. Following the *rules* will stop you getting a traffic ticket; knowing what other road users are likely to do and how everyone's going to react to each other will stop you getting into accidents.
posted by mskyle at 6:36 AM on March 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

(say when we stop at traffic lights, I ask a lot of questions.. like why is it like x/y/z?)

Are you actually talking or chatting more or less constantly while you're trying to drive?

Because I've been driving for 30 years, no ADHD, a "thinky/creative person", excellent driving record, all sorts of vehicles (including large trucks) all over the U.S. & a little bit in the U.K. - and I have real problems while trying to talk and drive simultaneously. Mostly this means my conversations have lots of random pauses and long "uuuuummmmmmms", but very very occasionally I'll do something bone-headed if I get too caught up in the conversation. (Once I realized I tended to do this I made a conscious effort to participate even less in conversations while driving.)

I can think about all kinds of stuff while I drive, but something in the process of converting thoughts to actual speech takes my attention off the road too much, even though "driving" in general is almost an automatic process by this point.

If you're talking, yes, shut it. Silence is OK. Concentrating on the driving is what you're supposed to be doing.

Driving is a series of repetitions of the same process/rules and signage. There is an enormous amount of repetition. It is not an unfathomable amount of new information constantly, but a framework of actions that you fit to each new junction and scenario.

Quoting Brockles for truth, here. This is why people are suggesting that if your only actual driving is during your lessons then you are simply not getting enough actual time on the road to truly grasp how repetitive driving really is. Sequence's analogy with kids learning to walk really applies here; right now you're a toddler that only gives it a shot once a week, so of course everything is new and surprising and distracting. But of course kids don't just try to walk once a week, once they start trying to walk they're trying every chance they get. You need to actually get behind the wheel more often.

I don't know how you'd go about getting more road time in the U.K. - in the US I think it's not uncommon for learners to go out with a friend or family member and find quiet suburban developments (either during the day when most people are at work or school or at night after most everyone is inside for the night) and/or little-used city streets and/or commercial areas after standard business hours so they can work on their road awareness and info processing without having to deal with a lot of other traffic or pedestrians. Of course, in the US you can generally get away with doing this without drawing a lot of police attention (unless you run into something, and of course it helps to be white and respectable-looking), and even if they stop you the cops tend to be forgiving about this if you've got a licensed driver in the passenger seat. No idea if this would actually be a plausible scenario in the U.K., but one way or another you need to spend more time behind the wheel.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:21 AM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Soundguy99, that set up is totally legal in the UK as long as both of you are insured on the vehicle. It's how lots of people learn to drive.

I noticed a huge improvement in my driving when I started driving myself to college and back every day (with my mum supervising in the passenger seat). It was like night and day. OP you absolutely need to drive more, seriously like 10-20hrs a week in the car for a month or two.
posted by tinkletown at 7:47 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

"sometimes don't read the road well. I am now trying to read the highway code more. "
Your instructor doesn't mean "read the book"--he means pay attention to the road ahead, the drivers ahead, behind, and along side you. You need to be scanning, checking your mirrors and driving defensively--as though the guy ahead of you will suddenly slam on his brakes, or try to change lanes.
Some of driving is muscle memory---you'll learn to check your mirrors, for example, the more times you do it. You don't need to understand the theory of stopping at a flashing red light--you just need to see it and react appropriately.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:14 AM on March 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

I think you just need more hours, to be more familiar with the road and the signs so that it doesn't take so much effort to parse every single thing. I played a "game" where I was always supposed to know exactly where the cars closest to me (in front, to the sides, and behind me) were. I also had to know exactly how far I am to an obstacle (e.g. how much space I have in a parking spot, are my wheels exactly in the center of the lane, etc) while going at speed.

I'm in the US, where driving is pretty much mandatory. I had to have 50 hours of on road driving, 10 of those at night, before I could even take the driver's test. My poor mother sat in the passenger seat all those times. I was driving an automatic and barely passed. (Passing was 80 out of 100, I got 81 out of 100.) If you're only going one hour a week, and driving a manual, you'll need way more hours. Start keeping a log book of the hours you're actually driving. Once you've hit 50 (or 70 or 100), try the test again.

Also, I still (10+ years later) cannot drive and talk at the same time easily. Most people I know know this, and just don't bother me when I stop mid sentence because I'm trying to figure out what that shadow/sign/light is telling me to do.
posted by ethidda at 11:10 AM on March 24, 2015

I am friendly and can 'look' like a good driver.

What the hell does this even mean in relation to a driver's test? Serious question. Driving tests and appearance/mannerisms have little in common outside of the norms of the society your living in.

I thought my latest instructor had the patience of a saint, but I'm even stressing him out. He'll stop the car and seems totally irritated when I do something weird

I suspect, due to your reference to his patience being 'saint-like', that the latter part of this is really more like:

He'll remove us from a dangerous situation and try to regain his composure when I do something that is a serious mistake that could harm myself, him, or other drivers.

when we stop at traffic lights, I ask a lot of questions

Seconding brockles above, these are probably questions that are either best asked before you crank the engine or not at all. You said that the theory part wasn't (ok, well it kinda is/was but whatever) the problem so any meta-civil-engineering-theory cum artistic disagreement with the layout of a redlight's support structures questions are really unhelpful and are probably testing the instructor[s] sainthood all the more.

Current instructor only has a crap slot for me at the end of the week when I'm drained from work

I mean, tough? What are you going to say when you're busy from a long week from work and have to drive across town one last time and/or get home in your vehicle? Crashing isn't an option nor is "I was drained from work" a valid excuse if something goes sour with you behind the wheel.

I miss signs loads cos I feel like there's always so much else to think about. He syas I generally have good control of the car but sometimes don't read the road well. I am now trying to read the highway code more.

This... I mean... this is so, so not good and even downright backwards thinking. Reading the highway code has near zero to do with your missing of signs. Awareness of your surroundings and processing speed in your brain seems to be the holdup here, not knowing some meta-driving concept about how the rules of the road apply when exiting a school zone which, don't get me wrong, is important but still nowhere near as important as knowing the speed limit just dropped to half of what it was or that there's a neighborhood ahead where blind or deaf children reside.

Both of which you'll only know by seeing the signs a reasonable percent of the time, ideally 100% but humans will be humans so, yea, we all make mistakes but it sounds like your margin of error is frightfully high.

Be aware that, as others have mentioned, switching to an automatic will make things 'easier' but they will be quite different as well for a while. You'll still reach for the clutch/gear lever for a bit after making the swap, be sure to get used to that before you go in for another test.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:12 PM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I miss signs loads cos I feel like there's always so much else to think about.

You need to be not missing signs, period. If you cannot sort this out, you are better off not driving.

I had a lot of trouble passing the test due to nerves, and finally did it (in the US) by hiring a very expensive driving school that let me take the test in their automatic, power steering car. The test administrator told me at the outset I would be OK because that driving school would not bring you to the test if they did not consider you competent. More likely, that was just another example of how enough money will fix almost anything and I am still not a brilliant driver. Get enough practice, get a good car and bring someone to hand hold you and you should probably be able to overcome any actual test taking issues. But for gods sake do not be driving around missing signs.
posted by BibiRose at 12:28 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I took a long time learning to drive too. I'm a monotasker - I find it hard to pay good attention to more than one thing at a time. If this sounds familiar, you need to simplify, simplify, simplify.

Simplify the environment inside the car. For example, I can't split my attention when I'm driving - so I warn anybody in my car that I'll just fall silent in a conversation, if I need to think about what's on the road. I'll turn off the radio if I'm coming to a tricky set of intersections. One thing that may be causing you problems is if you're feeling the need to keep up a conversation or keep up some social interaction with your teacher or examiner. Try ditching every distraction - no radio, no conversation, no sense of social obligation.

Then also, simplify the environment you're driving in - by choosing your practice routes carefully, maybe driving at night (when there's less visual "noise") or at low-traffic times, and especially by practicing the same routes over and over. By repeating the same route, your experience of the drive will change as you get familiar with it - some things will become automatic for you, and you'll have more "spare" attention to observe different aspects of the visual environment (for example, subtle cues the road gives you that aren't roadsigns) . Then you'll be able to generalize those observations to driving other routes. Maybe pick two different routes that you drive repeatedly, one that includes some highway, and one that's more in-town, stop-and-go, so you can improve both sets of skills.

When you're starting out driving, there are dozens of things you must pay conscious attention to - inside the car, immediately outside the car, coming up on the road, etc. This is overwhelming, but improves with experience, because your brain will automate many of these functions just as it does when you learn a new physical skill. Today, I don't need to think about checking my mirrors, because I do it automatically. I don't need to think about where my car is in my lane, because I know. I'm also better at narrowing my attention to the salient aspects of the environment, keeping a mental model of what's up ahead of me, predicting other drivers' behavior, predicting whether a given road configuration is a dangerous one that requires extra caution, and so on. Have you experienced improvement like this as you've been practicing so far?
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:17 PM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I know you said you're going to stop reading responses, but I think that's actually part of the problem. You're not listening and, frankly, that's why you're failing.

I honestly don't think people are trying to make you feel bad, they're trying to point out that you're not listening to your instructor and you're not taking this seriously enough. When your instructor says you don't have a feel for the road, the answer is not for you to read the rule book. That's very telling, that your response to his statement is not to try to schedule more lessons or to find a friend or family member to practice with, but to revert to an academic, pondering state. Rules and theory are great, but they won't save you when you're driving in real life. The actual answer is to familiarize yourself with real roads and real-world driving conditions.

You literally need to be doing each part of the process hundreds of times to familiarize yourself with it until it's second nature. That's the only thing that's going to overcome your nervousness and tendency to navel gaze while you're driving. And that's the problem, really - it's not that you're creative and thinky, or that your right brain is keeping you from doing a technical thing, it's that you're allowing your mind to wander while you're driving. That would be less concerning if driving was second nature to you already, but you haven't reached that place yet.

If you were just getting into this process of learning to drive, I wouldn't fault you for being dazzled and overwhelmed by all the stimuli of these new things. But let's be honest here - you're far enough along and you've done this enough times that it's becoming a pattern for you. You're probably embarrassed that you're not just done with this already and it's reinforcing the coping mechanisms and bad habits you've accumulated to deal with the embarrassment. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure: each time you fail, you become more ambivalent and less willing to listen and pay attention, to understand why you're failing and to correct those problems.

So what can you do to fix these problems?

Practice. Practice practice practice. One lesson a week is not enough. You, in particular, also need to practice outside of lessons. Go somewhere safe like a huge, empty parking lot where you can familiarize yourself with the operation of a car and do stupid things and make all the mistakes you want without having to worry that you'll hit anything or hurt yourself or others.

Try just sitting in the car without starting it. Look at all of the gears, pedals, shifters, gauges, etc. Understand their function, ponder anything you need to ponder while the car isn't moving, write down any questions you may have while the car isn't on or moving and Google them later when you're at home. Getting that out of the way several times may help alleviate your need to think about it all of the philosophical and existential things that aren't relevant when you're in the middle of driving.

If you talk a lot while you're practicing, even if it's just out of nervousness, stop. If you need to ask an actual "What should I do here?" type of question, pull over first so you can concentrate on what your instructor is saying.

Practice mindfulness behind the wheel. Before you get in the car, tell yourself that it's time to drive and you're going to concentrate on driving. If you repeat this mantra enough times, it will tell your brain that you need to concentrate on this particular task and help set boundaries so that your mind doesn't wander. If you find yourself getting distracted, repeat the phrase to yourself and push away intrusive thoughts.

Think about what you're going to do before you get in the car. Do some mental visualization exercises of you driving, turning, using your shifter, etc. Mentally drive through areas you're familiar with and think about how you would drive in those settings, where you would stop, what you would do if someone took your right-of-way, etc.

Take a defensive driving course. I think you would benefit from a defensive driving course in addition to your driving lessons. Not as part of your lessons, but separately. Defensive driving courses focus on things like scanning ahead, anticipating other drivers' actions, being prepared to drive from the moment you get in the car, not talking to passengers, not getting distracted by other things in the car (kids, radios, devices, etc.). Defensive driving is just as much about dealing with our own bad tendencies and overcoming them as it is about driving itself.
posted by i feel possessed at 2:24 PM on March 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

[A couple comments removed. OP can step away from the thread as needed. In giving answers, let's keep it constructive please.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:53 PM on March 24, 2015

2nding riding a bicycle. Because you're way more vunerable, you need to focus much more on being consistant and obvious and watching what's going on around you. Plus it's fun and (if you have access to a bike) free. You can probably do a cycling safely course somewhere nearby, if you're nervous.
posted by kjs4 at 5:17 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

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