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Confessions of a lady driver

Friday, 26 April 2013

By Sara Evans

I had a vague intention/desire – much like you get every year on 1st January when you think of giving up smoking or losing weight – that I would like to take my advanced driving test. I have had this idea for about 20-25 years but have never done anything about it until late 2012 and then I took the plunge – I signed up for a Skill for Life course!

When I told friends and family what I was intending the news was generally greeted by a laugh - then a "Seriously!?" - then a "Whatever for!?". Actually, I became the butt of jokes between my husband, brother and family. Comments like: "I tried to find you a pair of driving gloves for Christmas but couldn’t find a pair with holes in the knuckles", or "Do you get letters after your name when you pass?" It was my birthday yesterday and everyone I know must have scoured the card displays looking for hilarious cards depicting old ladies behind the wheel - one in particular of HM the Queen. I'm only 56 by the way.

Actually, the response from men and women differed. Most of my girlfriends said they would be too nervous or wouldn’t want to hear the feedback. All of the men seemed to know all about the process, the test, advice, how to drive, what to do etc. etc. Funnily enough, none of them have actually signed up for Skill for Life or takenthe test. The only person I know who had tried was my Dad who took the advanced test in the 1970s – I remember it well. My Dad was deaf so had to have an interpreter with him. I can't remember any practice drives or how he prepared for his test but he definitely had a sign language interpreter with him for the test – not sure how well that worked!

I had been on a couple of drives with Ian, my assigned Observer, when my brother found a family heirloom and passed it on to me. It was a hardback copy of the Institute of Advance Motorists Manual, published in 1972. It is in pristine condition (perhaps that's why he failed!) and now sits next to my paperback manual on the bookshelf. It is interesting to note that very little, if anything, has changed since then in terms of the advice. BUT - the language is very dated and it is very sexist - always referring to gentlemen drivers. Clearly women didn’t take an advanced test in the 70s.

From the first drive in September to taking my test in February I have enjoyed every single moment. I have enjoyed the challenge of trying not to 'overlap' gear changes and braking after 35+ years and the myriad other bad habits I had adopted over the many years since passing my test. I even enjoyed the test and sort of wished it could have gone on longer. I have scoured my Highway Code from cover to cover, found some 'on-line' questions, although they were designed more for learner drivers. All in all I became a bit of a bore and obsessed with my driving.

It is now three weeks since the test – in the first couple of days I suddenly noticed that I had stopped thinking and lapsed into a couple of old habits – but not all I hasten to add. I think it was just the mental relaxation of having completed and taken the test. If you play golf and have ever won your match fairly comfortably and you decide to 'play in' for the last few holes, you might have experienced that moment when your game goes from being able to walk on water, to looking like you have never held a club before. It is all due to relaxing mentally and I think that is what I did after the test.

I thought I was quite a good driver before – let's be honest here, I wouldn't have put myself through this if I hadn't thought that - although I understand that some people want to gain experience and confidence. So what benefits did I gain from the Skill for Life course? Well, I believe that my overall awareness and anticipation has improved. I generally drive in a lower gear so have better control of my vehicle (Ian did waft his hand over my gear stick to stop me changing up into 4th gear at the earliest opportunity at the beginning!). I think my passengers would agree that they get a smoother ride now. Also, I think that I am using less fuel. Now it might sound a bit odd to say "think" but I changed my car a week or two before the test and for the first time I have a diesel and it may be more to do with that than my driving.

So I am back to my newly acquired, skilful driving, thinking about what I do and how I should do it. As to how I got involved with my local branch – Crewe & Nantwich Advanced Motorists – well, that’s another story altogether!