Life is a highway, and I still can't drive
May 30, 2016 4:32 PM   Subscribe

I turn 30 in a few months. I still do not have my driver's license, but not for lack of trying. I feel like there's a brick wall keeping me from passing my test and feeling comfortable driving. What else can I try?

My high school didn't offer driver's ed, so my parents taught me to drive. I failed my driver's test three times as a teenager. The first two times was on parallel parking - it was the first thing on the test, and if you didn't pass that, it was an automatic fail. The third time was generally sloppy things like not stopping long enough at stop signs.

I didn't worry about it for a long time because I was living in Chicago, where a car is not only unnecessary, but often a burden. But I eventually decided to move back to my hometown (Pittsburgh), where a car is basically required.

So last spring I took several driving lessons. I went into the first test super confident.. and I failed. In fact, I failed again a total of three more times: the first time I ran a red light right at the beginning, the second time I stopped in a crosswalk, and the third I made it through the whole test but again my driving was sloppy (I took one left turn way too wide, for example).

I moved back to Pittsburgh last fall, and have been practicing fairly regularly with my sister. But I'm continually plagued by problems. I drive too slow, because I'm nervous. I'm scared of merging onto main roads. I tend to hug the right side of the road. Even my parking (just regular, not parallel) isn't great.

My sister has recommended that I take lessons again to try and get over the last "hump" and get more professional help, but I've already done that and failed so many times. I've sunk so much time and money into trying to get my license, and I'm exhausted. I really wish I could just give up and say driving isn't for me. But I need to drive. I went from living in a city where I had tons of friends and could get anywhere fairly easily to a city where I only know family and going anywhere involves begging for rides or spending hours on public transit.

Does anyone have any ideas on tips or tricks that I can try to make driving easier? Especially for those of you who didn't get your license until later in life - how did you become comfortable?
posted by anotheraccount to Travel & Transportation (37 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I've helped teach 2 sons how to drive. One is super-confident (over-confident?) and the other is a bit like you sound like. Super-confident son scored 100 on his road test first time; other son failed the first time and still, even though licensed, sometimes seems to struggle in traffic.

None of this is sure-fire, but some suggestions:

- take a short break - a week or so.
- assuming you have a learner's permit, go someplace with your sister where you can go back to basics. Big parking lot when it's not busy. Suburban streets. Spend more time in this than you think you need. You need basic brake/throttle/steering to become as automatic as possible, so you can concentrate on traffic, etc.
- one of the things my son who struggles, struggles with is - one thing at a time. Once a merge, turn, intersection, etc. is behind you, it's over. If it was sloppy, try to do better next time. Everyone makes certain mistakes when they drive. If you dwell on a mistake you made 5 seconds ago, you are more likely for the situation to snowball.
- treat it as a new ball game. You aren't unable to learn how to drive - you didn't get a lot of help when you were the age most people learn to drive, and you had some setbacks at age 30.
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:03 PM on May 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

"go someplace with your sister where you can go back to basics. Big parking lot when it's not busy. Suburban streets"

Industrial park on the weekend! It's like a practice town totally empty of other people and cars! Stop signs, left turns, and parking practice 'til your heart's content.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:10 PM on May 30, 2016 [7 favorites]

Like you, I didn't learn how to drive until around the age of 30 because I didn't need to where I lived. I had also been in a car accident when I was 10 where the impact was made at the front passenger side where I was seated. If I hadn't put my safety belt on at the red light at that very intersection as I did, I would have been seriously injured or killed.

Like you, I took some driving classes, and failed my first 3 driving tests because I was so nervous. This was in Los Angeles, and my instructor was more interested in talking about the presidential election than teaching me the finer points of driving. During his instruction, I drove but it was completely without structure. He gave me no toolkit to deal with situations I might encounter while piloting my car. My test failures ranged from nearly turning into an oncoming car (my first turn, instant failure and brought right back to the parking lot) to taking the entire test and getting dinged on too many points to pass.

I didn't get my license until after I moved. At that time, I found a new driving instructor. He was a former race car driver, and the first half hour of my first hour long lesson was spent stationary in the vehicle, being taught how to set my mirrors and general driving theory. Once we got on the road, he took me through many different situations from winding country roads to two lane highways to quiet suburban enclaves. He built my confidence, and taught me how to think through situations that made me nervous, like driving on a twisting mountain one lane road with a giant truck riding my bumper.

When it came time for me to take my driving test here in the deep South, I passed the first time. The difference was confidence. Once I'd passed, I had to drive myself to work at 6AM and the first couple of weeks or so were agonizing for me. But slowly, as I learned how to react instinctively and relaxed, I began to enjoy driving.

Now, I love driving. After so many years of relying on public transportation and friends, it was exhilarating to have the freedom to even just go to the grocery store when I wanted. I know you're exhausted and might feel as if you'll never pass. Don't give up. This feeling of freedom and accomplishment is well worth it. Besides, have you seen the idiots of this world who are somehow given license to drive? Surely you are just as capable as them.

Good luck!
posted by sockeye puppet at 5:27 PM on May 30, 2016 [9 favorites]

If you've practiced a LOT and still can't do it, then consider alternatives: You may have some sort of visual / cognitive / perceptual disorder that's impeding your performance. If it's simple (bad eyesight fixable by glasses) then you are in luck. You might have a psychological issue (anxiety/phobia) - also a good thing, because phobias are the most treatable forms of mental disorder known.

It's possible you don't have an easily fixable problem, in which case maybe you need to consider that driving is not something for you. The USA has notoriously easy and lax driving tests, and if you can't pass these (very low) barriers, it's possible you might be a seriously dangerous driver and everyone else would be better off if you were not driving. I know that's harsh, but it's a possibility you need to consider.

Related question: how are you at video games and sports? Many visuospatial/kinesthetic skills overlap with driving, and this could be somewhat diagnostic as to where the issue(s) are.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 5:30 PM on May 30, 2016 [15 favorites]

Stop trying to pass the test and start trying to become an awesome driver. Go to a driving school that focusses on defensive driving. In Canada that would be Young Drivers, hopefully there's something equivalent there. For things like parking, they give you very formulaic fool-proof instructions (line the car up at X spot relative to the other car, turn the wheel one half turn clockwise, until you see X in your right mirror, then turn 1 full turn ...etc.) For things like stopping, they will teach you to a standard much higher than what the test expects. And knowing that you are learning super safe defensive driving methods (they should also teach you emergency maneuvers) which should give you the confidence you're lacking.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:30 PM on May 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

Do not do your learning with relatives who not professional driving instructors (at a school focused on safety, not taking your money and getting you to pass the test). Long time drivers are full of bad habits that they think are not big deal but will get your to fail the test: The roll through stop signs or stop ahead of the white line that tells you where to stop (esp when turning right). They turn right on red without coming to a complete stop. They turn right on yellow lights. They run yellow lights. They don't check their blind spot before turning right. They don't set the parking break. They park on hills without turning their wheels appropriately (possibly a big issue in hilly pittsburgh), they park too close to intersections or crosswalks etc. The fact is that most people don't remember every detail of every rule. But driving instructors at a good school will.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:36 PM on May 30, 2016 [10 favorites]

Not sure if this is your problem, but driving's a lot less stressful when you have a good sense of direction and know your way around your city. Most of the later-in-life novice drivers I know have weak spatial skills for one reason or another, and it led to them having trouble driving in routine traffic because they don't intuitively "get" when they need to turn or how to anticipate lane changes. Having a general sense of where you're going and how to get there helps with driving in heavy traffic; if you miss a planned turn, for instance, you won't panic if you know you can turn at the next intersection. If you have a good sense of where one-way streets are along your route and which direction they run in (being in PGH, this is important), this helps too.

Reading this, you might think to yourself "but I know my way around Pittsburgh, it's my hometown!" Orienteering as a pedestrian or transit user is a bit different than doing so as a driver - I know people who can navigate relative to the transit grid but run into navigational issues when they drive.

As for parallel parking, get yourself some blind spot mirrors, if you don't already have them. Again, if your problem is visual-spatial intelligence, extra mirrors help you position your car more easily.
posted by blerghamot at 5:36 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sorry to threadsit. I won't post anymore...but yes on knowing where you're going. Knowing and planning your route and thinking well ahead of time about necessary lane changes etc. was one of the main principles of the Young Drivers curriculum back when I did it.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:38 PM on May 30, 2016

I am 27 and just passed my driving test after moving back to my quieter hometown where a car is very necessary. I lived in Toronto for a few years and failed my driving test there.

It sounds like your problem is that you get overwhelmed by your mistakes (perceived or actual) and then your driving gets sloppy. I can relate. My solution? Absolutely no tolerance for self-negativity when driving. As soon as I feel myself get that anxious "I messed up" jittery feeling, I distract myself or use CBT techniques like I would for any kind of obsessive thinking. Bye negative thought, too busy for you.

My driving instructor was a huge help in this actually. He would have me practice a thing and when I got overwhelmed/frustrated, we would switch to another thing. He was also very patient when I struggled with what I felt were basic maneuvers - we spent 1.5 hours figuring out that my problem with forward parking is that I picture the entire parking lot as full of SUVs that I'm not allowed to hit (and then got upset when I hit one of the imaginary SUVs in my parking attempt) which is not how the test goes, it's not how people actually park, and I don't need to be at that level of skill so why stress myself out. Driving in the big city had completely warped my sense of what driving was like and what skill of driving I was expected to have, in addition to destroying my driving-related self-esteem.

It doesn't sound like you need more practice because you're not consistently failing on a certain skill. It sounds like you need some confidence-building. I would say that you'd benefit from having an actual instructor again and instead of focusing on the mechanics of driving, tell them that your problem is that you get nervous and mess up. (I say this mostly because my family are the worst co-drivers in the world and doing lessons was such a breath of fresh air after trying to practice with them. If your sister can help you build your confidence, go with that.)

Also for what it's worth, I struggle a lot with this because I am autistic. I had to give up the entire day before the test as mandatory rest day in order to have enough cognitive strength for such an intense sensory task and I did nothing all day after the test because I was exhausted. Regular driving is not as bad but yeah holding off the anxiety snowball during the test took a lot of effort even though I passed just fine this time. You might also have a disability that explains why this is so hard and that might give you clues as to how to manage your environment to increase your chances of success.
posted by buteo at 5:42 PM on May 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm going to suggest two things.

First, when riding along with somebody else driving don't just sit there passively and read a book or whatever. Pay attention and exercise your decision making skills without the additional mental workload of controlling the vehicle. Like, consciously think about things like the car's position in the lane, whether the following distance is correct, if the light turns yellow now I would stop/go, and so on. I think a lot of people who find driving easy right from the start did this naturally as young teenagers riding with parents, I know I did. Thus, learning to drive for me was just practicing vehicle control, not learning how to interact with streets and signs and traffic. Trying to learn both things at once is probably really hard.

Second, take more lessons. Confidence comes with familiarity so just brute force it. Keep taking lessons until you're a confident driver and all the vehicle control stuff is second nature because you've done it so much.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 5:50 PM on May 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Promise not to threadsit, but for those mentioning anxiety, yep, it's a diagnosed problem for me. I'm already on medication for anxiety and depression. I don't feel any sort of massive panic when driving, just a constant low-grade buzzing fear.
posted by anotheraccount at 5:51 PM on May 30, 2016

I think taking driving lessons with a professional driver (like an ex race car driver) at an off road facility initially would be good for you if you have one locally. If not- don't laugh- consider taking a moped or small motorcycle course. It's entirely off road, you'll be with a group of beginners usually, there is a classroom component, it's much more safety focused and the instruction is about a million times better than the average driving academy. You'll gain valuable road reading skills and learn defensive driving techniques. And you never have to take the bike on the road if you don't want to.

Then take a course and learn to drive a stick. I feel more connected to the car and more focused in a manual transmission. Most people who learn to drive stick are much better drivers probably because it just takes longer and you practice a lot more.

THEN take your test again. You'll be much better.
posted by fshgrl at 6:10 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

If motorcycles seem too intimidating you can also find adult instruction in go karts or just go drive around at a recreational track. It's ALL good practice and that's low consequences if you mess up.
posted by fshgrl at 6:12 PM on May 30, 2016

It does sound like anxiety is a big part of this, but possibly also eyesight. I think your recent tests sound like you aren't seeing the place to stop, or not "seeing" when you should start to stop, or some combination of the two. It is probably a combination of anxiety, inexperience and sight (get your eyes checked but you also probably don't have the mirrors lined up right.)

More practice , with an instructor who knows your anxiety issues. Try out someplace like Schenley or the county parks, where there are slow moving streets but a little traffic. Pittsburgh is really not known for aggressive driving, but being able to anticipate blind corners and hills will help. (I can't tell from your question whether you took the PA test multiple times or if you are too nervous to take it again.)

Finally - it's not easy to live in Pittsburgh without driving, but it's not truly required if you don't need to get to the exurbs. You could move Downtown, or the east end, or Southside and maximize the usefulness of mass transit.
posted by sputzie at 6:13 PM on May 30, 2016

Go kart racing is a really good idea! If you have access to a golf cart, driving around a golf course might give you some confidence too. I think the fact you were confident before your last test is a really good sign. You're almost there. You need a little more instruction and practice from a good instructor who can also help you with tools to manage your anxiety. I mean, you don't have to be a person who drives. You could survive and thrive as a non-driver and that's okay, but you sound like a person who wants to drive, so keep trying. Getting your license will feel like a real "jump in the air, fist pump" moment and even if you decide not to drive a lot, you gotta go for those "I did it!" moments. When I have an obstacle like this -something where I feel like it's the big thing holding me back and I don't know how to overcome it - I try to remember that I'm actually fortunate to have obstacles that have a solution. Even if it's difficult, it's an obstacle I can potentially overcome, and that makes the obstacle exponentially better than most of the shit I could be facing.
posted by areaperson at 6:25 PM on May 30, 2016

Do you have a choice of where to take the exam? At my high school, certain DMV locations were famous for having simple and understandable adjoining street layouts. (I chose the best-recommended location that wasn't completely out in the country, failed my first attempt due to a badly timed left turn, and passed on my second.) You should be able to pick a DMV office that seems comparatively easy to deal with, and practice driving in that area. That way you'll have a sense of what the speed limits are, where the reserved turn lanes are, and so forth.
posted by yarntheory at 6:47 PM on May 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I got my license in my late twenties after moving to a place where I needed a car. I did and do hate driving, and I also suggest that you switch back to taking lessons with professionals, rather than your family, for all of the reasons above. In particular, see if you can find a driving school with experience teaching adult drivers; my instructor had a long history of coaxing adults new to the city through the test and of teaching adults new skills (like better parallel parking) in addition to teenagers. When I practiced with family members, their critiques were useful but never as focused (or impersonal) as what I heard from my driving instructor and I was always more stressed out afterwards. Also, I had less of a choice about being forced to drive on freeways and other complicated maneuvers where my family didn't feel comfortable talking me through the steps. I probably didn't need all of the lessons, but it seemed like a worthwhile investment towards being comfortable driving on my own. The instructor was intimately familiar with every DMV location, test officer, and route, so we were able to go through all the steps until I felt comfortable.

For what it's worth, the school only had new, small hatchbacks, and I ended up buying a newer small hatchback because the extra stress of learning to deal with an extra two or three feet of car on top of driving by myself + new car was not necessary. (That and it's a great little car with great visibility!) If part of the issue is learning to drive in a larger sedan or SUV...I would see if driving a smaller car helps at all until you're more comfortable with the road in general.

It's been a year and a half, and while I still abhor driving, especially to new places, it really did get better. (I also moved to increase my options for carpooling, walking, and public transit, which I recognize is a luxury but only having to face driving 2-3 times a week has made my life immensely better.) Good luck.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:50 PM on May 30, 2016

Absolutely jumping on the pile that says go to a professional for instruction. Personally I'd focus on somebody who does skill and confidence rebuilding post accident, advanced driving techniques and/or adult instruction. I say this because those type of schools or instructors will be better equipped to deal with you than some mill that churns high school students by the dozens.

I don't know Pittsburgh (except as a tourist or somebody who drives through) and this is list far from complete but here are the first few schools I'd start researching (keep in mind this is after a ten second Internet search): number 1 (because they do commercial instruction and corporate instruction for adults), number 2 (because it says in some cases they administer the exam, and if all you want to do is pass, this may be a viable option).

I also think (and this is key) that you need a lot more time behind the wheel. Driving is all about gaining experience and confidence in your abilities. It's knowing what to do instinctively. If you've reached the age that you have without having your licence, I suspect it will take you longer to feel comfortable behind the wheel than somebody who is getting it at a younger age.
posted by sardonyx at 7:10 PM on May 30, 2016

Easy enough for me to say "me too," but I meant to add a line about getting some more professional instruction in my first response and failed to do so. I worked with my kids, but also put them through a driving course, and it was very helpful. If the first one didn't seem to help enough, try again. They vary in quality, as others have stated.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:19 PM on May 30, 2016

So, when I was about to take the driving test, one thing that my instructor pointed out was that the test is not about driving like you would normally drive and having the tester say yes or no. Instead, you want to do everything in a slightly exaggerated way to make sure the tester can tell that you're doing it.

The specific thing the instructor kept pushing me to do more was to actually move my head to the right and left a little at every cross street, so the tester would know I was aware that I should be thinking about the fact that cars might emerge from there.

So maybe thinking about doing things in a deliberate and exaggerated way would help with the test part of it?
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 7:24 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

The times you failed your driving test, other than running the red light, suggest to me you don't seem to have a good sense of the car you drove for those tests. By that I mean when you should start hitting the brakes to bring that particular car to a full stop at the desired spot, or when to start turning the steering wheel for a turn, and how fast you should be going when starting the turn. The difficulty with parallel parking also suggests you don't have a good awareness of how much car there is around you.

When practicing driving, have you always been using the same car? Do you use the same car you practiced on for the driving test? Staying consistent with one car might be helpful, so you can 'learn' the car. I'd recommend a hatchback, if possible, because the back of the car ends where you can see it, and so it will be easier for you to internalize the car's dimensions.
posted by needled at 7:29 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you have a decent PC, then buy a nice wheel/pedal and a driving simulator program. If money isn't a major constraint, get a virtual reality set up like the Rift and a program that supports it like Euro Truck Simulator. This way you can practice without consequence and build confidence.
posted by Sophont at 7:52 PM on May 30, 2016

When I was learning to drive, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, my folks took me to parking lots and I practiced for hours. Can you do that?
posted by Toddles at 11:20 PM on May 30, 2016

+1 to sockeye puppet's rec of a racing instructor. I tried to learn from a handful of relatives and a handful of driving instructors and they made me so stressed out I wasn't willing to even try to take the driving test. Racing instructors have nerves of steel and laser focus on bad and counterproductive driving habits, and they also are great about spotting what you're good at and helping build you up. I was doing all these weird things that my relatives and friends called "scary driving" but my racing instructor told me how I would actually exploit my ability to do this if I were racing...but since I wasn't racing here was a safer way to execute that maneuver :)

I've been driving ten years now and while I wouldn't call myself a world-class driver I would say I'm about average now. I would NEVER have thought I'd get this good at driving a car. Um...that said...I still don't know how to parallel park. It wasn't required for my driving test, and I've never done it.
posted by town of cats at 11:31 PM on May 30, 2016

I've been driving successfully since the age of 18 (when you get your license in Australia) but when I moved to the US, I had to do a driving test to get my license here. It was super stressful. Legally I could still drive in the US for 12 months, but I hadn't been because #wrongsideoftheroad. I ponied up for 3 lessons, and when I booked those lessons, I explained my situation and asked for an instructor that would be good for me. She was awesome. She treated me like an adult and focused on the things I was struggling with. Parallel parking was one (I was used to doing it from the other side). Merging onto freeways was another (we did a lot of that). I passed my test first time.

You can do this. Do it.
posted by finding.perdita at 1:07 AM on May 31, 2016

I got my license about a year ago at age 41. It wasn't easy for me and it required going through two instructors and a total of three tests. I bit the bullet and paid for a lot of lessons - more than ten - driving with my husband was stressful for both of us.

Something that really helped me was driving around on a ride on lawn mower at work and previous to that driving around on a gator (more powerful golf cart) at work. Getting used to maneuvering something with a steering wheel in a low risk situation let me be more comfortable with things like backing up, parallel parking and making nice neat turns. Since the mower and the gator are pretty rudimentary vehicles - there are no mirrors, no signals, and there were no other vehicles around most of the time, I could do enough driving without all the things going on around me that when I got back in a car, it wasn't driving plus all the other things in the car, plus all the other cars that I needed to focus on. The driving part was easier which let me add things on to it one by one instead of being overwhelmed.

One of the other difficulties about learning to drive as an adult is that most of the people around you learned years and years ago and have absolutely no understanding of it being difficult to do. Ignore them. It isn't easy and you're working hard at learning how to do it. Good luck and I hope you'll find a way to learn to drive comfortably and get your license.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:50 AM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

All I can do is to echo what others have previously mentioned.

Great drivers can look far ahead and anticipate outcomes. Terrible drivers are focused only on the road right in front of them.

Your anxiety is very likely keeping you from anticipating and seeing the road around you. Not only does this sap your confidence, it makes you a dangerous driver to others.

If you find yourself struggling, consider taking a go-cart or racing course that will help you learn to be more anticipatory (and frankly, a bit more aggressive). Driving with a race mentality helps you to anticipate others' locations in order to merge or pass. You learn to start sending others' locations more effectively.

While it's bad to be a completely aggressive asshat on the road, it's good as a driver to be able to anticipate your needs and act decisively and openly so all others can understand your desires.

Just as a great basketball player is one who can "see the floor" (aka see where other players are at all times), a great driver can see the road (aka see where surrounding drivers are at all times). Taking racing courses or getting racing experience may increase your confidence and skill and lead to great results.

And above all, get out there and get practice!!!! Driving is scary for EVERYONE until you get experience.
posted by Old Man McKay at 4:46 AM on May 31, 2016

Can you ride a bike? If you're reasonably confident on a bicycle, then riding on streets can give you a completely different, more thorough, perspective on traffic. There are courses in Pittsburgh, which could be a good way to start.
posted by kjs4 at 5:22 AM on May 31, 2016

A racing course won't be a good idea, as most, if not all, require you to have a license in order to participate.

How much do you really need to drive?

Would it be better to adjust your life to minimize driving and take taxis / Uber / Lyft when you need to go somewhere you can't walk to or take the bus? Can you move closer to your job so you wouldn't have to drive?

From what I can tell from your description, it sounds like you're not paying attention when you drive, or paying attention to the wrong things.

A driving simulator might be an ok way to get to learn things, but there's a difference between that and a racing game.

How do you do on the written part of the driving test? Do you know and understand the rules that yore supposed to be following during the driving portion?

And it sounds like from the mistakes you're making that you need tons more practice. How many hours of driving practice have you done? Are you actively asking the person you're riding with for feedback? Are you keeping aware of your performance? Some of the things you mention, like not being in the middle of the lane, should be pretty obvious to you when you're driving. Be alert and aware and always asking yourself if what you're doing is the right thing when you are practicing.
posted by reddot at 5:42 AM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

My sister has recommended that I take lessons again to try and get over the last "hump" and get more professional help, but I've already done that and failed so many times.

You know, sometimes it takes a certain kind of driving instructor, or even a certain time in your life, for driving lessons to stick. I took driver's ed in high school when I was 16 or 17 and I don't remember learning a damn thing, although I did pass my driver's test. Then my freshman year of college I was at fault in a car accident (just my own car was involved, thank goodness). To avoid legal penalties, I opted to take remedial driver's ed, and I don't know if it was just being a little older, or whether the instructor was much better, but most of the good driving habits I have I learned in that class.

Worth a shot to take lessons again, in my opinion.
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:06 AM on May 31, 2016

I think sometimes it's harder to go back and learn the "proper" way to drive if you've built up bad habits. Before finding a driver's education class again, maybe sit down and REALLY commit the rules of the road to memory. Proper amount of time to stop at stop lights, how much space to give the car in front of you, when to start putting on your brakes, etc. Internalize this information. If all of this is foremost in your brain, it'll be easier to avoid sloppy mistakes like breezing through a stop sign too quickly or not stopping early enough, and BONUS having something to focus on/think about that isn't "DRIVING IS SCARY" can probably only help you out.

Other than that, it really is just a matter of getting practice and building up that comfort level. I was (and occasionally still am) a nervous driver, but starting small on roads you're familiar with and making sure to get practice on the things they'll test you on (parking, merging, etc.) is about the only way to get comfortable with it. A professional driving instructor may be able to help you with that, but I'd definitely work on those little bad habits in the meantime.

Good luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:56 AM on May 31, 2016

Best answer: Being from a small city in the South, I never learned how to parallel park, so when I moved to Pittsburgh I took a driving lesson from the Cindy Cohen School of Driving to help me learn how to parallel park. I had a good experience with them; maybe if you decide you'd like to take another lesson you can look into them? In my brief experience with the school, I thought their positive reviews were well warranted.
posted by dean_deen at 11:05 AM on May 31, 2016

I'm not sure if this is applicable to your state, but private instruction in mine is able to essentially exempt you from taking the test at the DMV, as long as you are an acceptable student. I never took a real "test", I just drove around with the instructor until he thought I was ready and gave me paperwork to take in. You still have to pass the written test.
posted by jynn at 2:42 PM on May 31, 2016

As a pedestrian and a cyclist, I beg you: don't focus on passing a license test. Focus on becoming such a good, safe driver that passing the test is just a formality. Thank you.
posted by cyndigo at 8:08 PM on May 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Having grown up in NY, I also learned how to drive *relatively* late in life...I got my license at 22.

As much as I hate to admit it, driving with my father was how I got my best lessons. He's a pretty confident driver and tried to relay that confidence to me too. He took me to large empty lots, and got me comfortable with the car's abilities: doing figure 8's, learning how strong the brakes and acceleration were, etc. He also took me on a repetitive long loop every Saturday for a few weeks. Driving with my father taught me how to drive smoothly and more confidently.

I also supplemented this with formal driving lessons from a bossy man.

In summary:
- Practice as much as you can with a confident driver who is not going to make you nervous. Figure out your weak spots (making left turns? parallel parking?) and focus on them.
- If possible, try to practice in the area of the actual driving exam.
- Lastly, one tip my father gave me was to make sure I exaggerated my "observations" during the exam, for example looking over my shoulder before pulling out, adjusting the mirror as soon as I sat in the car, etc.. because the driving examiner wants to make sure you are aware of your surroundings.
posted by watrlily at 8:26 PM on May 31, 2016

I took until I was 32 to get my license. My recommendations:

(a) I would not recommend another driving school unless you specifically find one that caters to super scared drivers. That's a lot of money for not all that much practice time and I got burned by being sent to a school that did not deal with scared drivers well. Hell, that's what gave me driving phobia in the first place. There is the occasional specialty school for this, but I have no idea where your area is.

(b) KEEP PRACTICING WITH YOUR SISTER. Assuming your sister is good about this and doesn't yell or something. Unless you win the lottery, you probably can't afford to keep paying professionals to help you, and at this point you probably know the mechanics of HOW to drive already, it's a question of practice and getting used to the experience so that you slowly get over the fear. If you can find someone who also used to be scared of driving to help, that'd be the best option because they'd get how you feel. (As opposed to my parents who apparently drove perfectly from the getgo.)

(c) Do not take the driving test exam until you are at a point where you're not freaking out. I had it pointed out to me after I failed that they kinda look for reasons to flunk obviously nervous drivers.

It sounds to me like you're just gonna have to keep practicing and practicing, even if you have several permits run out. It took me 2.5 years to get my license and a year after that to not keep freaking out behind the wheel if anything went wrong.

Good luck. I know your pain on this one.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:48 PM on May 31, 2016

I got my license in my 40's- on the second attempt, after a lot of professional driving instruction and many hours of practice with kind friends and relatives. I would find a really good trained driving teacher. Try a few different ones if necessary, be willing to sack them if they aren't helping you. Get as many lessons as you can afford, as well as any free driving practice offers from friends and family.
posted by Coaticass at 3:07 AM on June 1, 2016

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