As plenty of you know, I’m currently 32 and learning to drive. Combined with freelancing, looking for contract work, Pilates, training for the London 10K in May, and trying to finish writing a book, also by May. (Doing things by halves, as ever. Might pop over to the IMF later and see if Christine needs a hand with anything….).
I’m now seven months (about thirty hours) into having lessons, and at the consciously-incompetent stage, which is the stage between “Yay, I drove and didn’t kill a child” and “Oh balls, not killing a child isn’t enough to be proud of anymore. I actually have to understand roundabouts and filter lanes, will I ever.” It’s the “I’ve come a long way but gosh, there’s still a bloody long way to go” stage. The stage where thinking about the sheer number of reasons it’s possible to fail a driving test is enough to make you want to move to an abandoned island for reasons other than political…
Since October, when my instructor suggested I book a test for January and I replied “LOL HELL NOPE”, I’ve been putting off having the conversation about how things are going and when my test is actually going to be, in a way that indicates why my longest relationship has lasted months. In the summer I hope, but my instructor is now being as specific as Theresa May on Brexit. Generally the very “best” learners take under 20 hours, the UK average is around 50 and the weakest can take between 80 and 100. His record is 140 hours and counting. I can’t even begin to imagine affording so many, so I bloody well hope that’s not going to be me (Oh, and a tip: Don’t look at online forums for learner drivers. They’re full of teenagers who think everyone learns in under ten hours – I had enough of that circa 2001, thanks).
The good news about driving is that clutch control – which many dyspraxic people struggle with to the point they’re recommended automatic cars – is dead easy for me and I’m pretty confident using gears (well, except sixth gear which I forget exists and don’t use. Car, you’re a learner Citroen, not a Maserati; get over yourself). I was also taught three-point turns and reverse parking a lot when I was much younger, before moving north to university disrupted my learning, hence I can do those pretty fine, once I’ve mapped out the reference points and remembered which key principle applies to which manoeuvre (I can almost remember how to do a three point turn better than I can remember how to spell manoeuvre, and I’m a copywriter and journalist…).
Driving is also helping me become a more decisive pedestrian because I realise how unnerving it can be for a driver when people hover by the road not sure whether to cross, or nonchalantly stroll out without looking. And I’m better at trusting that people will stop for me when they’re supposed to, even though drivers regularly zoom up to the pedestrian crossing near where I live as though it’s a pit stop.
My nemesis in driving (and life generally, pretty much) is spatial awareness. Although it’s improved a great deal with age, thanks to a decade of walking around with music in my ears, five years of semi-often Pilates classes, and two years of road running, it is still emphatically Not My Best Feature. It manifests as clipping my elbows/knees/ankles on things more than most (although no injuries from running, touch wood). On the road it manifests as being told I’m too close to the kerb quite often, and making a hash of finding a sensible place to pull over beyond the stage when I probably should.
Specifically the most difficult bits for me right now are steering and roundabouts. I’m starting to work out the small ones OK on my own, but the big multi-lane ones are still a salad. I did some of the massive ones quite fearlessly when I was younger, or I must have done because I drove a lot and got quite close to test standard (during one of the worst mental health periods of my life, incidentally). But I had a hairy incident on a busy one last time I learned at 25, so that’s probably stayed with me. The steering issue is just odd. Apparently in my yoof I was not properly taught the proper 12-to-6 steering technique which affects a number of other things. It’s coming, but has taken lots of drilling in.
My instructor has the right combination of pedantry and nonchalance to teach me (He’s dyslexic himself, and I’ve learned to handle his occasional left-right indecision without panicking. (“Take the next road on the left – no, actually right.” “Right. Are you sure?” Yep.” “Still sure?” “OK”) He works me hard on my weaknesses but equally makes sure I know when I do something well. And he doesn’t indulge me when I’m being a drama-llama, although, vitally, he understands why I am (Understanding anxiety without either playing to it or dismissing it is really important, FYI). I’m trying to absorb his mantra – essentially, be patient and get on with it, try not to overthink it – even though it goes against my nature in the way that modesty goes against Donald Trump’s
Here’s to the next six months or so. With the emphasis on “or so.”
All driver tips on dealing with roundabouts gladly received.
Oh, and just to clear something up while I’m here…
Sometimes people (by “people” I mean usually reactionary idiotholes on the internet, although it’s a fair question…) ask why people with dyspraxia are allowed to drive, and aren’t disqualified like people with epilepsy and most eye conditions. The simple answer is because dyspraxic weaknesses improve with practice and dyspraxia is a spectrum. In the same way as public speaking would be impossible for some people on the autistic spectrum but some are fine at it and some are brilliant. For those who do it, doing it well probably didn’t come naturally and needed a good deal of committed practice. As with anything in that category, how much practice you’re prepared to put in is up to the individual and depends on many things – usually time, money, resources and patience. All clear, I hope…