Learning to drive in Seattle
June 25, 2016 4:42 PM   Subscribe

As much as it pains me to admit it, I'm a grown-ass woman who can't drive. 33 years old, living in Seattle. Looking for help/advice, places to practice driving.

I somehow never bothered to learn to drive. My husband drives and we have a car, and we live right on a bus line that goes directly to my work, so it's rarely an issue. But it's also stupid that I don't know how to drive, and I need to learn. Difficulty: I'm honestly kind of terrified of it.

1) I probably can't afford to take an entire long professional driving course, so I'm planning to do a combination of learning with a friend and taking some classes. Any recommendations for places to take classes that are reasonably priced? Preferably that have some kind of option to take individual classes as my schedule allows, rather than signing up for a multi-week deal. North Seattle/Shoreline area preferred.

2) Where are some good places to try out driving in my area? Either North Seattle/Shoreline or near Magnolia, where the friend who will be teaching me lives. Big empty parking lots, that sort of thing. Also recommendations for nice quiet back street areas once I graduate up from empty parking lots.

3) Any and all random advice you want to throw my way about being a first-time driver at the age of 33.

posted by skycrashesdown to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
First find a huge parking lot on a weekend. Do everything slow. Bring chairs to build a parallel parking spot.

Next, crack of dawn sunday mornings. Go everywhere, work your way up to Queen Ann but putter over that durnd hill.

Third feel free to slow down and stop. Anywhere. (well not the express lane :-)

Fourth, it's rational to have some anxiety, I don't remember not driving (farm) but have OMG moments occasionally. Come out to Boston to practice, I remember one an early visit I picked up an old friend by South Center and there was a jam up and having got comfortable with east coast weaving just found a gap and was in front of the traffic, friend was aghast "how did you do that??" I recall was the exclamation. So you've got it easy, the crazies in the PNW are pussycats. (just for context:-)

And for the anti-driving folks, I regularly and honestly exclaim "I wish I did not have a car" but -- life in the usa --take the subway to Mt Rainier buckos.
posted by sammyo at 5:27 PM on June 25, 2016

Just a mental thing: set aside the shame, stop apologizing. It's not helping anyone. There are many people who make it into adulthood without needing to drive, and honestly there should be more! We should be living in a society where you don't have to drive and still have access to all the same opportunities, and the shame there is on society, not you.

If you have to learn now, so be it, but treat it with the same framing as learning to take care of a child or give insulin shots or learning carpentry: you didn't need to know this before, maybe didn't anticipate needing to, but now you do so you're just gonna take care of business and do it.

Something to keep in mind as you learn is that driving is a collaboration. I mean, yes, you do sort of have to drive with an alertness that assumes everyone else on the road is on acid with a car full of bees, but that's just awareness, you can't do their driving for them. Learn the rules, practice driving the rules, practice what to do if someone doesn't follow them, but learn to drive yourself, not anybody else. As chaotic a system as it is, it mostly works.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:55 PM on June 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

If there's a college campus near where you live that has its own roads, it's likely to be a lot less trafficked during the summer and weekends. I learned to drive at a local community college and it was a good way to get a feel for driving without having to worry about tons of other cars. Along the same lines, business parks with mostly white-collar offices tend to be nearly deserted on weekends.
posted by Aleyn at 6:00 PM on June 25, 2016

My dad taught me how to drive in one of our local cemeteries. I'm not sure this would always work, and in some places may not feel very respectful, but it was way out in the country and there wasn't anyone else often there. It was set up as a grid with straight roads and intersections, so it worked great for practicing a lot of things, like stopping, turning, pressure on the petal, braking, etc.
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:10 PM on June 25, 2016

Random advice - I didn't learn to drive until later, because I was also terrified. But you can do this. Driving is sometimes scary, but the fear will also help you be a more careful driver as long as you don't let it consume you.

After each lesson, take some time to think about what you learned that you didn't know before. It's amazing! You'll learn so much, and soon it'll be second nature. You've got this.
posted by umwhat at 6:16 PM on June 25, 2016

For quiet back streets it's hard to imagine a better area than Magnolia (probably west of 28th)...it's so quiet over there, and folks are pretty sedate in their driving. Good luck!
posted by another zebra at 6:57 PM on June 25, 2016

I practiced on parking lots and drove a lot at night to get over my fear of traffic. Never be afraid to pull over or miss an exit! You can always, always circle back.

When my skills improved, I started taking road trips on the interstate. High speed merging and long travel demands focus, but it's of a different kind than quick thinking stop and go city traffic. That's when I finally let my white knuckles go and learned to love the road.
posted by fritillary at 7:07 PM on June 25, 2016

3) Any and all random advice you want to throw my way about being a first-time driver at the age of 33.

I think I was nearly twenty one when I got my license.

Start with an automatic, not a stick shift.

If you know anyone at all who is kind of a car nut or otherwise talented at driving and is capable of remaining calm, ask them to go with you once or twice. They will be a wealth of knowledge and help you stay calm.

Do not go driving with anyone who is going to be a ball of nerves and heighten your anxiety. Just skip it. If they start gasping and making sharp intakes of breath and so on, end the lesson right there and find someone else. There is not much worse for this than trying to learn to drive while wondering if you will need to head for the ER with your teacher any minute now because they are in the midst of a heart attack.
posted by Michele in California at 7:11 PM on June 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

My first driving practice was in the North Seattle Community College parking lot, outside of school hours.
posted by mbrubeck at 7:23 PM on June 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine got his license two years ago at the age of 51. He grew up in NYC, went to college in Chicago and never needed to drive. He got sick of having to bum a ride or take the train or take the Jitney to get to the Hamptons so he learned to drive. In NYC! I think there are many pluses of learning at 51 rather than 15.

He said he finally started feeling comfortable when he stopped caring what the others in the car (other than an instructor) were saying or thinking. He found someone he trusted to teach him and ignored all the other advice. Everyone, including us here as advice. Most of it is really good, but out of context until you get some experience. He also said that he wanted to get comfortable with the car itself. He learned how to do everything from turn on the wipers to put gas in it to be able to check the oil. He felt that he needed to get to the point where he was in charge of the machine, not the other way around.
posted by AugustWest at 7:26 PM on June 25, 2016

I didn't get my license until I was 26 and that was only because I needed it to for a job.Being an adult without a license is not a big deal. Also, because you are an adult you are less likely to have the kinds of stupid first-year-driver accidents teenagers have.

Anyway, as for where to practice, big church parking lots on any day but Sunday are a good bet.

Seattle-specific ideas:

- Discovery Park on a weekday. Lots of winding roads.

- there's an office park on Nickerson just a few blocks west of the Fremont bridge. It has several parking lots linked by roads and is pretty dead on the weekends (I used to work in one of the buildings).

- when you're ready to drive on roads with minor traffic, suburban developments are great (just watch out for kids). There must be some in Shoreline?
posted by lunasol at 7:31 PM on June 25, 2016

Yes, community college parking lots on weekends are great for mastering the basics. Take your first few forays into traffic with an actual driving instructor though; it's not a good idea to go with someone who will be learning the dos and don'ts of instruction while you're operating deadly machinery.

Also, there's zero shame in it. I'm your age and I'm super proud that I find the time to always be learning and picking up new skills, you should be to! I'm a total stranger who is proud of you, for the record.

Please, please, please don't learn to drive in Discovery or any other park as suggested above. Parks are where people go with their dogs and young kids and bikes (yes, on weekdays too). Winding roads are not difficult--driving in traffic is--and you haven't yet developed the quick reactions that are essential for not endangering the safety of others. Industrial zones (Georgetown/SoDo, not on a game day) are fairly deserted at the right hours, few people walk or bike there and the ones that do are watching out for traffic, as opposed to folks in a park.
posted by halogen at 7:54 PM on June 25, 2016

I took lessons from Sears in LA; they also offer them in Seattle.
posted by brujita at 8:37 PM on June 25, 2016

You'll find that the giant empty parking lots at Magnuson Park during the week are perfect. Often it will be just you and others learning to drive. Also, UW stadium parking lots during non-event times.
posted by jimmereeno at 8:40 PM on June 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Shorecrest High School parking lot.
posted by stowaway at 8:58 PM on June 25, 2016

This was me when I first moved to Seattle. I hired a guy to teach me. Worked for me. Let him or her pick locations.
posted by bearwife at 9:08 PM on June 25, 2016

Nthing that there's no shame in not getting your driver's license before now. Driving is a skill, and you haven't needed to know it before now. It's not a rite of passage into adulthood like some people seem to think it is. You aren't a defective or lesser adult because you don't drive.

Even if it WERE a failing on your part that you haven't gotten your driver's license yet (WHICH IT ISN'T), there's nothing you can do about that now, so feeling bad about it is entirely unproductive.

Feeling scared of driving is completely rational, too. I sometimes think most people have the opposite of a phobia about driving- it actually is dangerous, but they feel like it isn't (for example, all the people who are more scared of flying than they are of driving). Of course, it can't be shameful to be afraid of something that is dangerous.

Don't be afraid to try different ways of doing things if you find one way too difficult. For example, there are lots of ways to learn to parallel park.

Learn to drive in an automatic, unless there's a really compelling reason to learn stick. Most cars sold in the US are automatic. Rental cars are automatics. You can learn stick later if you feel the need to.

Get a car with a backup camera, if possible. I got a car with a backup camera last year, and it makes things like parallel parking SO much easier.

In general, don't be ashamed, and don't make this harder for you than it needs to be. If you won't need to drive a stick shift, don't worry about learning it.
posted by Anne Neville at 9:49 PM on June 25, 2016

Think of yourself as beginning to drive, as in that you've chosen to include it in your life, rather than learning to drive, as in you need to master driving before you can get your license. The criteria for getting a license are really, deliberately low. As long as you are not blind, in my own experience of Seattle's licensing office, you will have very little problem obtaining that credential as an adult.

I think this is why your self deprecation feels so off to the people responding above. Nobody is judging you here and nobody is likely to judge you in real life. Even professional lessons seem like overkill (unless there's nobody even headed to do driving practice with you). You're going to pass! The real thing you need to do - practice, practice, practice to make driving a safe new transit option for you - is a long haul kind of thing. You'll become a better driver the rest of your life, but you'll also be very green for a good year or two.

Welcoming to driving in Seattle! Get ready to sit on the 405 bridge typing ask.me answers. ...I've said too much.
posted by sweltering at 11:06 PM on June 25, 2016

What Michele C said about somebody who gets flustered. Don't drive with that person another second. Pull over and let them drive. Also, though, for the long haul, it's important to take stock of what passenger behavior you can and can't tolerate. You might need to be conservative and set some hard boundaries for awhile. Don't be afraid to err on the side of caution; you need what you need. When I was first driving, I needed to be free of distractions from chatty passengers and music. I would tell passengers this before we got in the car, so that it didn't seem personal. I only had to pull the car over once. That person wasn't invited back.

oh and navigation systems are great. When you start out, you'll want to have everything programmed before you leave your parking spot. Get to know the controls for features you use by muscle memory. This applies equally for cruise control, mirror adjustment, stereo things, windshield wipers, etc. Having those things memorized will free your mind up to drive.
posted by sweltering at 11:51 PM on June 25, 2016

I got my license at 29 in Seattle, and haven't driven in the two years since I took the test because I still find it scary. One thing worth knowing is that you no longer go to the Department of Licensing for the test, you do it through a driving school. It might be worth taking lessons through the same place you intend to take your test as there will presumably be a consistent level of evaluation between your lessons and the test. The driving schools that can administer a test are listed here.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:06 AM on June 26, 2016

Yeah, so I've been driving for over 20 years and I still refuse to drive in Seattle. It is a scary place to drive. I'd never have learned if I had lived there before I got my license. I'd been driving for three years when I moved there and only drove twice in the 9 months I lived in Seattle.

I strongly agree with your own feeling and the people who suggest getting some lessons with a professional. A pro will know good places to practice, and will be able to teach you some of the fine points that are second nature to people who have been driving for a long time but are not actual driving instructors. It sounds like it would really help to have some car time with a person/people with whom you have no emotional connection. Start with a pro, when you are reasonably comfortable then ask a friend to be your driving practice buddy. The person with whom you have the closest day to day emotional relationship is not usually the best person to have in the car with you until you have some confidence in your skills.
posted by monopas at 1:18 PM on June 26, 2016

At some point when you're further along in your driving lessons, have someone teach you to drive stick on the hills of downtown Seattle while it's raining. If you can master that, you can handle almost anything.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:54 PM on June 26, 2016

I don't have Seattle-specific driving advice, but I wanted to post because I just got my license at the ripe of age of 33, and you can too!

Like you, I found the thought of it pretty scary, and I never bothered because I spent my adulthood in Seattle and could get around easily via public transport. I decided to do it this year because I moved away to a smaller city, and anticipate moving to an even smaller area in the future with possibly no public transportation system.

I did it entirely through a driving school, and I was convinced that I'd have to take 40+ hours and pay thousands. But my instructor said most of his students were ready after 6-8 lessons, and I took my test after 5 lessons and passed easily. I wasn't comfortable using a friend's car, but I think that will depend on your friend and your comfort level about using their car.

For me, a good instructor made all the difference. He didn't let me circle around parking lots, he just had me start driving in quiet areas and reassured me calmly that he had a brake on his side, and that he could reach over and take the wheel if he needed (he never needed to thankfully!). It was amazing how not scared I was.

I wish you success!
posted by sweetpotato at 8:55 PM on June 26, 2016

Magnuson Park any morning before 9. Has it all with bumpers on the side of the road so you can't fall off.
posted by ptm at 8:59 PM on June 26, 2016

Just chiming in that this is not as uncommon as it may feel to you. I didn't get my license until I was 22 (grew up overseas and DC and took metro everywhere). Didn't buy my first car until I was 33 and had to for where I moved to.

Nthing taking private lessons which will be far less panic-y than having a family member teach you (I'm looking at you, mom, white-knuckling and gasping in the passenger-side seat!)
posted by eglenner at 11:44 PM on June 26, 2016

Just to add to the volume above, but from a UK perspective:

As has been said above, don't feel bad at all, a lot of people don't learn to drive for all sorts of sensible reasons - one thing to mention because this is new though, be sure to take account of the budget your vehicle will need for maintenance.

Be wary of learning someone else's bad habits, if funds allow then learn from a professional instructor first so you've got the basics, then move on to a relative or friend.

This might feel daunting because it's a new set of skills, especially physical skills, and you might not have learnt any physical skills for a while. Driving isn't intuitive or obvious, don't be hard on yourself if it takes a while.

Pay attention in general, because hopefully it'll be interesting. You're now old enough to learn about learning, the process is really interesting... how you'll progress to "I'll turn left" from "right, I need to brake to the correct speed, and indicate, and turn the wheel, and not hit the kerb, or those people jaywalking, and watch that guy on the other side of the road, and, and, and..."; the weird way your in-car radio volume will go up and down at junctions, nothing to do with the radio, but how your brain filters out unnecessary input when you need to concentrate; and so on.

Best of luck.
posted by DancingYear at 5:43 AM on June 27, 2016

nthing Magnuson. My "friend" managed to have to get "herself" towed off a log the first time she drove there, but the park staff person just chuckled ("you folks ok? oh, my son nearly did the same thing") and moved on. There's just enough traffic that you'll get to practice right-of-way rules but it's low speed enough that it's not dangerous and people can maneuver around you if need be.
posted by R a c h e l at 1:17 PM on June 27, 2016

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