Learning to drive: Charlotte's story, part 1

L-plate on back of car.

Published 9 April 2021
Last updated 20 October 2023

Charlotte shares her experience of learning to drive. Follow her story as she chooses an instructor and has her first lesson. Discover how it feels to drive for the first time!

Hi, my name’s Charlotte and I’m 22 years old. I'm at the start of my driving journey, with my 6th lesson coming up this weekend. After I graduated from university last year, I felt it was time for me to learn to drive, and so I had my first lesson in February. I’m enjoying the experience so far and cannot wait for the freedoms and new experiences that driving will bring me.

False start

For my 17th birthday, my parents kindly bought me my provisional driving licence, and all eyes were on me to be on the road within the year. I started learning with a large driving school soon after my birthday, but I did not get on with driving at all. My instructor was very harsh and impatient (not what you’re looking for when you’re learning a new skill as nerve wracking as driving!), and I just did not feel ready to be behind the wheel. None of my friends were even considering driving yet but I felt a lot of pressure to rush through it all, which put me off the experience of learning as a whole. I quit after 3 lessons and did not try again for nearly 5 years!

Time to resume

I started university in 2015, and, like many students, I found that I did not need a car to get by – public transport and walking got me from A to B just fine. I also could not afford to learn to drive, let alone to buy and run a car! After graduation, I stayed in my university city with housemates and found a job where I could walk to work. But I started to feel that I was finally ready to start driving and wanted to gain the independence to go where I wanted, when I wanted, without relying on lifts, public transport and walking. I’m really looking forward to exploring new places that would otherwise take me hours to walk or bus to, and not having to struggle home from the shops with bulky items – instead I can just sling them in the boot!

At this point, not only am I more quietly confident in myself to try driving lessons again, I also know where to look for information about learning to drive and (crucially) have a few funds saved up to pay for the costs. I briefly considered learning to drive in an automatic, as I found the clutch very difficult and confusing during my first driving attempts. But, when I researched this, I found out that learning to drive in a manual transmission allows you to drive both manual and automatic cars once you’ve passed your test – whereas passing on an automatic licence only lets you drive automatics. I did not want to limit myself to automatics, especially as most cars on our roads are manual.

As I already had my provisional licence, my next step was to search for someone to teach me to drive. I found my instructor, Angie, through the GOV.UK search tool. You simply put in your postcode and browse through a list of local qualified instructors. I always like to do lots of preparation and research, instead of jumping straight into things. So, I quickly searched Angie’s name on Google and found her driving school’s Facebook page. Her page gave me a good feeling and so I messaged to ask about some lessons. During our conversation, it turned out that we even lived on the same street, which made me feel sure I’d found the right person to teach me this time!

Back on the road

It’s natural to be nervous and unsure what to expect before your first driving lesson. I felt a sudden rush of anxiety when the doorbell rang – what if I was not actually prepared to start learning again, and what if I did not like my instructor in person? It turns out that I need not have worried. The first lesson is much more focused on your instructor getting to know you and your learning style and running through the basic routines. Angie drove me to a quiet residential area and we talked in the car for a while about my previous driving experience and what things I was worried about as I learned to drive. I told her that I was not too keen on roundabouts, reversing and dual carriageways. But we definitely were not about to jump straight into those on my first lesson! Instead, we swapped places and went through the cockpit drill – Doors, Seat, Steering, Seatbelt, Mirrors (DSSSM). Then we talked through the pedals, finding the biting point of the clutch and how to pull off into the road (the famous MSM routine: Mirrors – Signal – Manoeuvre). I had a quick practice of pulling out into the road and pulling over again, and went around a few bends too – and then Angie drove me back home. Initially, I had just booked for one 1.5-hour taster lesson, but after returning home from my first lesson, I felt a real buzz about the experience and decided to book for 10 more hours.

Over the next few lessons, I learned how to turn left and right, emerge from junctions and negotiate crossroads, and even got up into second gear! I found the road positioning and clutch control when turning right quite difficult, so I had to drive around in a big loop for a while until I got the hang of it. At the beginning of every lesson, we do a quick recap of last week’s skills until I can independently put them into action. I’ve been keeping a notebook of my progress and any tips that Angie gives me, which I’ve found has really helped refresh my memory in the weeks’ gap between our lessons. Angie also recommended a number of products to help me with my learning, including the DVSA’s Driving – the essential skills, The Official Highway Code and the Theory Test Kit app. I’ve been reading through them in preparation for each lesson (and in anticipation of the theory test too). Driving was a little nerve wracking at first, as there were so many things to remember all at the same time. But I am finding it easier, as small things, like checking mirrors regularly and feeling when the car needs to change gears, become more automatic. Though, of course, I’m still making mistakes, I feel confident about my progress so far and am looking forward to continuing down this road …

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