What's the best tips for an adult learning to drive?
September 16, 2020 1:13 AM   Subscribe

Please be gentle as this is for my daughter who has a deadline on getting her drivers license. She is in her late 20s and we are in Australia. She is using an instructor some of the time, and spending time with her older brother and feels somewhat anxious. What's your best tips (I.e., line up middle of car with outside white line - I don't know, I don't drive, or for non-biological vision, use the placement of electricity poles to turn your indicator on). Thanks xo
posted by b33j to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh and related, best tips for her brother to help develop her skills.
posted by b33j at 1:13 AM on September 16, 2020

Are there any specific aspects of driving that she's anxious about? Or is it more about having a family member in the car?

I don't have specific advice for the latter, other than to say, I think its not uncommon. I remember when I was learning to drive, having my dad in the car with me was always a little bit more anxiety inducing than when I was with the instructor. I wanted to a) not cause an accident in the family car, and b) prove to my dad that I was a good, safe driver. Perhaps a calm demeanour and approach to feedback could help?

In terms of driving tips:
- parallel parking: this method is what I was taught, and if followed to the letter, it will work every time. Its nerve-racking at first, but you gain confidence after a few goes. If you have traffic cones, you could lay those out in a quiet street and practice with those, rather than with real cars.
- looking long: your hands, and therefore the steering wheel, follow your eyes. Focusing too much on trying to keep the car in the lines can have the opposite effect, and it means that you're losing track of what's happening more broadly around you.
- knowing when to stop / go through if a light turns yellow: I often use where the lane markings turn from dotted to solid at the traffic lights as a guide for whether its safer to continue through the light, or to brake.
- anticipate: making sure you're looking around (in all directions, not just forward) and spotting potential hazards and anticipating how you might react. For example, is that person going to pull out of the driveway? That car in front looks like it wants to turn soon because it keeps slowing down. Is that pedestrian buried in their phone about to cross the street? etc.
posted by goodnight at 1:34 AM on September 16, 2020

Also! Lots of practice. Driving at quieter times of the day at first, possibly on roads she's more familiar with.

I remember initially being exhausted after a drive, because there's so much to be thinking about and checking and doing and re-checking, bit of cognitive overload. It does get easier, as the brain learns, and things become more second nature.
posted by goodnight at 1:38 AM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I learnt to drive in the US (an easier place than most) as an adult, from a friend. Informal tips that I tried to internalize.
1. Get a feel for the placement of the car and the space it takes when you turn, reversed into a parking space etc..(practised with a bunch of plastic drink bottles placed just outside the path of the car wheels).
2. Learn where the front of the car actually is when sitting in the driver's seat (being a shorter-than-average person, I couldn't see clearly where the front portions of the car ended) to know when to stop/ let other cars and foot traffic to move around you.
3. Safe driving is the most important thing of all. Never be rushed by someone behind you, however unsafely close they are driving behind you.
4. In two lane roads, yes focus on the outside white line when faced with oncoming traffic.
5. Hand position, seat setting, mirror adjustment etc.. always engage in a ritual of sorts before driving, that makes it more calming and improves confidence, that you know what you are doing.
5. Scan well ahead of where you are going, so that there is a lot more buffer in case of unexpected events.

Depending on the region, people prioritize differently traffic that is smaller than them, say motorcyles, bicycles pedestrians. I notice here in Vienna, auto drivers are more careful (compared to say CA, or FL) and more yielding . This finally depends on the local/national rules.
posted by ssri at 1:38 AM on September 16, 2020

Like goodnight suggests drive to interesting places like the airport or downtown very early like 6am on sunday.
posted by sammyo at 2:04 AM on September 16, 2020

Ditto on the look far away. Always be looking close, and in mirrors, and generally around, but drive towards the far away. My uncle once told me this little gem: drive like everybody else on the road is trying to kill you.
posted by zengargoyle at 2:35 AM on September 16, 2020

So, this is more about passing the driver's exam. I also learned how to drive at a later age (32) and I was an anxious driver throughout. I knew that I might be so nervous for the exam that I'd get tunnel vision and forget everything I'd spent the better part of 8 months learning, so I spoke to my GP about a beta blocker. He was happy to prescribe it, told me to take it once or twice before the exam to see how I responded to it. I'm convinced it helped me pass on the first try, it was just enough to suppress the blinding anxiety so that I could focus on the road. No idea if this is possible in Australia (I'm in the Netherlands) but wanted to share.
posted by piranna at 2:41 AM on September 16, 2020

What my instructor called 'narrative driving' is brilliant. The person driving says out loud to the passenger everything that they're seeing, thinking about, planning and doing. It just brings out all of those unconscious reactions and behaviours that you do when you drive. Really helped me to learn to put myself into a more observant frame of mind when driving. The passenger can occasionally prompt about things, e.g. "we just passed a sign for a school - what are you looking for?", or "what's the speed limit right now?"
posted by pipeski at 3:42 AM on September 16, 2020 [10 favorites]

Everyone learns Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre from their driving instructor if they learn in the UK - for when you're changing lanes or turning or stopping/starting or whatever. Look around & check your mirrors first - then signal what you're about to do - then do it. Should be a gap of a couple of seconds between each stage.

As a cyclist I'd also say - please make one last check by turning your head & looking over your shoulder before you pull out or turn. Or before opening your door when you're stopped.
posted by rd45 at 5:08 AM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Another one is eye contact - if you make eye contact with another driver, you know that they're aware of you. If you can't make eye contact with someone waiting to come out of a side road, for instance, you need to be ready to react in case they pull out unexpectedly.
posted by pipeski at 5:10 AM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I learned to drive as a teenager, but then had to learn to drive a manual as an adult after a decade+ of driving infrequently. For the anxiety part, I will say that I only got comfortable once I kicked my husband out of the car and devised a regular errand I had to run (a class at a nearby store) by myself. Doing the same route regularly and without supervision allowed me to build enough confidence. Of course, this only works if your daughter is at the point where she can operate the car by herself, but perhaps trying to recreate the conditions as near as possible (brother in back seat and not offering any advice) might help her get used to normal driving.
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 5:39 AM on September 16, 2020

The problem with going from instructor to brother to the internet and back again is that she will invariably get a range of not just different but also conflicting advice. I am not an anxious person but it is not clear how that would help her be less anxious.

So I would recommend to rely mostly on the instructor as they know what the local test centres want to see and will teach that. Everybody else may have solid advice and valuable real life experiences to share but if that is not what the test centre wants to see it won’t help her pass and may even give them a reason to fail her. She can learn all of that after passing her test.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:50 AM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Adult license-getter here, and I second narrative driving real hard, both speaking it when she is a driver and hearing it when she is a passenger. Driving at quiet times of day is good to get a feel but driving at busy times of day is also important, especially while she still has someone supervising her driving to say when it’s appropriate to merge, etc.

Another thing I’d say more generally is that there seems to be a lot of social programming about how great it is to drive, the feeling of freedom, etc, but it’s okay if it’s a chore. Drivers that aren’t having fun are safe drivers.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:52 AM on September 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

I drive a lot on very narrow British country lanes, often with space for slightly less than two cars (or just one, even). What helps me a lot is working out how to be sure where the sides of the car are by sighting - when something on the right hand side (curb, or road marking) hits the bottom right corner of my windscreen, I am a comfortable foot away from that thing.

Of course, this is altered by seat position, different car etc., but it feels like a good thing to know in any car!
posted by fizban at 6:41 AM on September 16, 2020

I guess I'll add know that it will get easier, so much easier, with practice and one day it will seem automatic and she won't remember not knowing how.... but, only if she does it a lot! Also, make sure that anyone teaching her is really positive and calm (equally important) and WHOLE HEARTEDLY believes in her ability to master this, in a no problem, visceral, it's gonna happen just needs time sort of way.
posted by elgee at 6:48 AM on September 16, 2020

I was/am in the same boat (do have my licence now but still not really comfortable driving). I don't have much advice except that the anxiety does get better with practice IF you can avoid having an anxious or hyper-critical person in the passenger seat. That makes everything terrible.
posted by randomnity at 8:44 AM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

If she can find out the area/streets/route that the test guys use for the road test, then she can familiarize herself with possible situations, like the hours when on-street parking is allowed on the highway when making a right turn on a blind corner, Hawaii.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:12 AM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I got my license at 35. I was terrified of driving.

Drive a familiar route over and over and over until you are confidant. I remember my hands shaking the first time I drove to the local public library (less than a 5 minute drive through a residential neighbourhood). When you feel good about that, pick another route that's a bit further like the grocery store, or maybe something that has an intersection that scares you - just up the challenge a little. Or pick somewhere you really want to go, like the book store or whatever. Then you have an incentive to drive there and a reward once you get there. Drive that one over and over. And on and on. 5 years later I had the bravery to make a 5 hour trip on the highway at night. It feels great, but I know how hard it was to get to this point!
posted by kitcat at 10:38 AM on September 16, 2020

Oh, I want to add. One thing that helped me was royally f*cking up my first road test. I cried. But I made three idiotic mistakes, and it's burned in my brain never, ever to do those things again. They still make me cringe, but they were 1) Not understanding why the car who arrived at the 4-way stop did not proceed. After waiting 15 seconds, I confusedly went ahead - failing to notice the pedestrian in a wheelchair who was slowly crossing! 2) Trusting that a car coming toward me with a signal light on was actually intending to turn. I went ahead, they changed their mind or had their signal on in error, and I got the horn. Always wait until the car is actually making the turn before you proceed - don't trust their signal. 3) Being the last one in the intersection to make a turn before the light turns red. I froze. In that situation, you have no choice but to finish your turn.

If those sound like scary mistakes, they are. But you can make them, you can fail, you will still be ok and you can go on to pass. And be a better driver for it.
posted by kitcat at 10:50 AM on September 16, 2020

I don't think anyone mentioned this, the absolute most important thing is time behind the wheel. As in trying to aim for daily drives.
posted by mikek at 1:53 PM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I, too, didn't learn to drive until I was about 30 and only out of complete necessity. I'm in NZ and I don't know if Kiwi/Oz tests are similar (all I've heard are the horror stories about trying to drive around central Melbourne) but these are a few things that come to mind.

Do you have to do that thing where you tell the testing person what the hazards are and how you are responding to them? We have to do that here for our full license test and it's surprisingly harder than you'd think. If you are on a restricted license or haven't driven a lot you tend not to speak while driving because you are either alone or you are trying to concentrate. So I'd echo what people have said above and start narrating things you notice, i.e. I see a car turning into my lane a block up, I'm going to slow down to keep a safe distance etc.. My driving instructor was pretty good at this, he'd always engage me in conversations while we were driving because he knew it was a good skill to have.

I also agree with the person upthread who said that the instructor is likely to have inside info about how the local testing stations run. Here it's very common for the instructors to know the exact route, and to even know the actual people giving the tests. A lot of the time instructors can take you for a dry run of the route and I am so glad I did this because my instructor pointed out little things they might try to trip me up on i.e. asking me to change lanes on double yellow lines. It really helps with the nervousness.

I think it's really important to get practice driving in crappy weather. My restricted license test was on an awful overcast and rainy day with really low visibility. It sucked but at least it wasn't my first time driving in weather like that. People tend to drive worse when the weather is bad so learning to deal with that is helpful.

Time of day you book your test is important. Aim for 10am-ish. The roads are pretty quiet then because school drop off has already happened and most people have already commuted for work, but lunchtime traffic isn't in full swing yet. Also, you don't sit at home stewing all day getting more nervous.

When you check your mirrors or are checking each direction when going over train tracks etc. you have to make it obvious you are doing it. As in, literally turn your head. I cannot tell you how many stories I've heard about people who failed their test because even though they were looking, the movement wasn't exaggerated enough for the tester to see it. Which is fair enough, peripheral vision ain't that great.

On the day of my restricted test, I was so unbelievably nervous. I accidentally didn't indicate going around a corner because I was futzing with the window wipers and they turned off (see aforementioned crappy weather). At the end of the test we talked about it and he said that testers understand how nervous you are and they will to an extent make allowances for that, but that ultimately good habits will hold up under stress.
posted by BeeJiddy at 3:57 PM on September 16, 2020

It's difficult to learn where your vehicle's edges are. If you can find someplace with traffic cones or similar safe objects, you can reverse into them until you feel contact, to learn how much room you really have. Even backing into light brush.

Practice, lots of it, with the instructor attentive but mostly silent, while the driver says what they are learning. You learn driving by doing it, and many not-professional instructors do running commentary. It's harder to learn from the experience while you have to listen. The instructor should, of course, speak up if something is unsafe or incorrect.

I taught my son to drive, then he took a course. We spent a fair bit of time in large empty parking lots, just doing basics. Things like signaling are learned by doing it Every Single Time, not just when somebody's looking, and learning the right way will help you as long as you are a driver.
posted by theora55 at 4:26 PM on September 16, 2020

I was also an anxious driver, and can only highlight the advice to get in lots of time behind the wheel. That was the really big thing that helped me.

The other thing I would second is local knowledge about the testing centre - however much they vary things, they will need to test each driver on a certain range of things within a certain timeframe, which will necessarily restrict the routes and places they will go. Becoming very familiar with these places is helpful.
posted by Vortisaur at 10:28 PM on September 16, 2020

I believe (based on what I remember from your previous comments/posts) that I used to be from the city where you are. It is pretty much the easy-mode city to get your license: new, wide, even roads; no unusual road weirdness like hook turns (or even really any one way streets); logical signs; not much traffic (30 minutes max rush hour traffic lol); mostly quiet suburbia.

I don't drive but I'm about the same age as your daughter and I practised driving probably on similar roads, maybe six or so years ago.

. Avoid the S**thp**t main roads and S*rf*rs area for now. More likely to encounter a-holes driving around there who think it's funny to scare L-platers. If she does encounter any of these, just ignore them and keep following the road rules.
. Avoid big scary roundabouts until she's comfortable with smaller ones. The one on Up**n St in Sor****o (Bun***l) is a shocker, avoid it till she's more experienced.
. If she's too late to follow an instruction (e.g. turn left at the next intersection), she's free to say, "oh, I didn't process that in time to (e.g. get into the left hand lane), but I'll turn left at the intersection after" and just do that
. With the school hols coming up, there'll be a lot more L platers practising. If she feels any anxiety/embarrassment over being an older Learner, remind her that it's normal and they're probably just as nervous as she is, and also they probably can't figure out her age just by seeing her through the window.
. Relatedly, remind her that most people get their license around age 16, which is an age when most people feel their limbs and brains are mostly out of their control. She's going to be far more clear-headed and comfortable with her body than these kids who have all gotten their license. It's going to be fine.
. Doctors here will happily prescribe beta blockers - I got some for performance anxiety.

Tips for her brother to help develop her skills
. if he also got his license here, he should know what to say. He should be essentially mimicking the instructor - telling her to take the next left/right/etc, asking her to stop somewhere on a quiet street and do a three-point-turn/parallel park/etc
. Ask the driving instructor what roads they're likely to take her down (usually it's around your area), and get her brother to take her to practise on those roads so it feels familiar
. help her practise whatever she's not good at, and not be bored/frustrated/mean about it. If she's bad at parallel parking and wants to do it over and over, just go with it. But also, he should feel comfortable to say 'let's take a break/come back to it' if it's too much for him
. if she has any bad habits that her driving instructor is usually correcting her on (e.g. hooking the steering wheel), she should tell her brother to look out for it and call her out
. not necessarily related to the exam, but if she hasn't done so before, he should also take her to places like the servo when fuel's low so she knows how to fill up and pay and stuff
. I practised driving before the tramlines were put in, so I'm not sure if they'll factor into her driving test at all, but in any case if there are any tramlines in your wider vicinity she should get her brother/instructor to point out where to go when she gets to a tram intersection.

Best of luck! She'll be great.
posted by womb of things to be and tomb of things that were at 12:51 AM on September 17, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. For those with location-specific advice, it gets a little more complicated. She is moving in less than a month to Grafton. She has a plan B - if she doesn't get her license before she goes, she will continue lessons with a new instructor in a less urban environment as coming back here requires 2 weeks quarantine in a hotel chosen by the government costing a minimum $2800, so we won't be able to visit her.

But again, thank you for all your advice and I hope this helps any other adult learner-drivers. I haven't marked any best answers because I can't tell, but I do appreciate all the time you have put into answering my question.
posted by b33j at 1:06 AM on September 17, 2020

One more thing for the brother - let him take her through some complicated situations (tight underground car parks, merging at high speeds, complicated crossings) and while he's behind the wheel, narrate and explain his decisions, especially regarding other cars on the road. As an experienced driver, he can teach the little tells that let you know who's an asshole, who's going to try something crazy, etc.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 4:18 AM on September 17, 2020

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