Learning to drive: Olivia's story

My name’s Olivia and I’m 19 years old. Learning to drive has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done. Having the freedom to go anywhere and do anything is great and I enjoy driving.

Let’s go back to March 2015…

Applying for my provisional licence was the easy bit. I even already had some photos from a recent passport renewal – bonus! And I chose my instructor, Becky, based on a friend’s positive recommendation. This was because Becky had been really patient and understanding of my friend’s specific requirements and I felt she would be the best person to support me in my learning.

The hardest part was booking my first lesson and getting into the car to go. Sensing my nerves, Becky put me at ease straight away, asking me about college and what I was into. We drove to a little car park near my house and, for my first lesson, we practised finding the biting point of the clutch. I remember feeling thrilled that I could come home and tell my Dad I hadn’t stalled once!

The first few lessons flew by and I was soon driving around quiet estates. Becky monitored the level of my progress every week, from 1-5 in different areas of driving. These included the ability to set off smoothly and check my mirrors appropriately.

Once I’d mastered the basics, Becky suggested for my next lesson that I could set off myself from my house. This was a big step up from her driving me to quieter roads and I leaped at the challenge. I can’t say that was my best lesson; I definitely stalled a few times at the traffic lights (sorry Dad!). But I loved it and being able to set off and go gave me a massive confidence boost.

Multiple choice – It’s not as easy as you’d think

After four months of driving, I decided to book my theory test (which includes the hazard perception test). It was straightforward to book using the online system.

To revise, I downloaded the official app from DVSA as it had amazing reviews on Amazon. And it turned out to be just what I needed, as all the information was really clear and simple to read. I read each information section, taking the quiz at the end, before building up to the full mock tests. I did these until I was confident I could pass every time.

To practise for the hazard perception test, I used the official DVSA DVD-ROM, which includes over 100 clips. As in the actual test, you choose where you think the hazard is and get a score for how accurate you are.

Using these revision tools helped prepare me for the real test and I achieved a first-time pass!

Back to driving

The things I struggled with most when learning to drive were roundabouts and using my mirrors. I found roundabouts stressful due to the number of things you need to consider. You need to be able to plan ahead and choose the opportune moment to go, as well as making sure you’re in the correct lane. After lots of practice (I’m sure I’ve driven around every island in Nottingham!), roundabouts are now something I’ve no trouble with.

The problem I had with using my mirrors was remembering to look at them in the right order. Mirror, signal, manoeuvre. I’d check them after I signalled, which isn’t a good habit to get into! Thankfully, with a lot of reminders from my instructor, I cracked it and now I always check my mirrors first.

The four manoeuvres

Once I was happy with everyday driving, it was time to focus on my manoeuvres. I found ‘turn in the road’ quite easy and I was soon confident in doing this, along with ‘bay parking’. But ‘parallel parking’ and ‘reverse round a corner’ took me a bit longer.

With both manoeuvres I struggled with straightening the car up when reversing, and remembering all the steps. With lots of practice and guidance from Becky, I was able to execute these perfectly for my test.

The best advice I could give to anyone struggling with the manoeuvres really is to practice. It does get easier the more you do it, and mastering these manoeuvres will help you no end when driving independently.

Booking my practical test

After six months of lessons, it was finally time to book my practical test! Like the theory test, I did this all online. I chose the first available date and a time and test centre that suited me.

In-between booking my test and my test day, Becky and I went over the ‘show me, tell me’ questions. We practised three every lesson and I found learning them in stages helped me understand them better. Alongside this, I took several mock tests with my instructor. These helped me get used to the test experience and helped me know which areas I needed to work on.

My first driving test

(You’ll notice that this was my ‘first test’. Unfortunately it wasn’t my last!)

Anyway, time flew by and, before I knew it, I was sitting in the waiting room of the Beeston test centre. I’d had a few lessons that week, as well as an hour before my test to go over any last-minute problems.

The test itself was a blur. I was very nervous and this showed in my driving. I finished with several minor faults (or ‘driving faults’, to give them their proper name) and two serious faults for incorrect use of speed and planning ahead. This meant that I’d failed. It was discouraging I hadn’t passed first time, but I took on board what the examiner told me and learnt from it.

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again

I spent three months practising for my next test – trying to improve on all the things I received minors for in my first test. Unfortunately, my test was cancelled at the last minute due to bad weather. This was a bit of a blow and it meant I had to wait another month to take my test.

My second test went well… to start with. Then I got stuck in traffic round a huge roundabout that had lanes closed due to roadworks. I panicked and ended up making mistakes and, again, I didn’t pass.

Third time lucky

By my third test I’d been driving for around a year and I was feeling a lot more confident. I knew exactly what to expect and where issues might arise, so I felt prepared for anything. Being more relaxed, having had more practice, and having faith in my own ability was the way forward. I passed my third test with only two driving faults! I was so happy and proud of myself and I’m glad I persevered.

Now I’m a driver

Having passed my test and received my full driving licence, I now own my first car. I thoroughly enjoy driving around and being able to go anywhere I want. It was scary driving on my own to start with but, the more I drive, the more my confidence has grown.

I chose not to take a Pass Plus course, as I wanted to experience driving my own car instead of someone else’s. Instead of this, I practised driving with my Dad.

Together we practised busy roads, motorways and driving at night. This was a little bit daunting but it gave me a lot of useful experience and I’ve now driven all the way to the Norfolk coast and back!

Learning to drive is a long, complex process, but one that’s certainly worth it. My advice to anyone learning is to be confident in your ability, practise and take plenty of mock tests.

Like me, you’ll get there in the end!