Most of my friends learned to drive by the time they were 18, but not me.
I was, and to some extent, still am on one of those people who like to walk until their legs are ground into tiny stumps. Cars have just never really interested me.
As I said, I strolled everywhere I could; I grabbed lifts off friends, and I lived in London for almost a decade so all I had to do to get to the other side of the city was jump on a bus or a tube. Plus, you really don't want to be driving around London at rush hour -- not unless you want to lose the will to live.
Then I found out my wife was pregnant and everything changed.
When they first hear the news that they are going to be a dad, most father's to be either plunge into a sweaty state of shock or are so elated that they do an impromptu happy dance that looks a bit like The Animal on steroids. When I first found out, the first thing I thought was (don't get me wrong, my son's the best thing that's happened to me): I'd better get my driving licence, fast.
Learning to drive
In the UK, learning to drive is a pain in the backside. First, you have to revise for hours before taking a very long winded theory test; then you have to rack up countless hours of driving lessons. After that, you have to take one of the toughest driving tests in the world next a large clipboard with hands, that breathes down your neck for 40 minutes.
Once I had passed my theory test and scoured the web for countless hours, trying to find a driving school or instructor with the magic combination of competence and value for money, I settled on a nearby independent tutor who turned out to be excellent. He was also very patient -- especially considering some of the stupid stunts I pulled in his car.
By the time I started my lessons, summer was coming to a close; my wife was getting increasingly more pregnant and the long, dark, wet evenings were closing in. It was a nightmare time to learn to drive.
By the time I had got up in the morning, tended to my wife, worked all day, continued working when I got home and arrived at my driving lesson at 7.30pm, I was too tired to concentrate. It was also pitch black and raining. I also had to drive around some of North London's busiest and most technical roads. Why didn't I learn to drive when I was 17 and living at home?
Another thing that put me under immense pressure was the cost. Not only did I have the prospect of having to buy endless amounts of baby clothes and apparatus, but I was also paying out £26 ($34) per week for my lessons -- and after a whole bunch of them, it starts to get expensive, believe me.
During those tired icy nights, I would end up doing stupid things like going down a one-way system in the wrong direction or continually spray cleaning the windscreen when trying to indicate, so I worked something out with my boss and changed my lessons to the daytime.
The driving test(s)
It was a week before Christmas; my son was due any moment and time was not on my side. I was a jittering wreck as I rolled into the test centre for the big exam.
After meeting the man who would ultimately decide my fate, I walked nervously to the car, pointed out the reg number, showed him a few functions (known here as 'show me tell me' questions), started my engine, creeped out onto the perpetually busy Lordship Lane -- and off I went into the abyss.
Once rolling, I felt surprisingly calm and things were going very smoothly. Just one minute from the test centre, while turning left at some green traffic lights (simple enough), the pickup truck in front of my slammed on its breaks suddenly, and my examiner had to apply his emergency breaks. Instant fail. Oh, and other than that I had a completely clean sheet (quite a rarity at the infamous Wood Green Test Centre). Happy Christmas.
Two months later with a small baby who wouldn't get to sleep for love nor money, test number to was on the horizon. I was mega stressed out, anxious, sleep deprived and as I was walking around the bedroom with my son in my arms at 4 am, I thought to myself, I'll never do this, no chance.
So, for the second time, I was nervously shaking at Wood Green Test Centre. I hopped into the car, and once again, rather ungraciously drove out into the abyss. I stalled, I took wrong turns; I failed to adhere to directions, and I was doomed. Or so I thought.
When I pulled up at the test centre, my examiner told me that I had passed with just two minors; I felt like one of those inflatable dancing tube men at the car lot (inside that is).
It looks me seven whole months in total, but I had done it, and I was certified to drive my family around at last. It felt good -- so good in fact; I polished off a celebratory glass of wine when I got home.
The overall costs
The cost of learning to drive is eye-watering. Here's a breakdown of the costs:
- Theory test app: £3 (4)
- Theory test: £30 (40)
- Cost of 45 lessons (based on £26 per lesson): £1170 (1539)
- Cost of practical test (times two): £120 (158)
- Grand total: £1353 (1741)
That's before you've even thought about buying and running a car. It's compulsory to have car insurance in the UK too.
What I've learned by learning to drive at 30
The most important thing I've learned about learning to drive at 30 is that no matter how much you try to avoid it, you're going to need to be able to drive at some point -- so don't be stubborn.
If you live at home, you're young and you don't have to pay rent/a mortgage, bills or have to support other people financially, make sure you take time out of your schedule (it can't be that busy) now -- it's far worse, and more stressful learning to drive later down the line.
If you are paying for lessons out of your own pocket, make sure you shop around and do your research before pressing the buy button. Just because someone's not affiliated with a nationally renowned driving school, it doesn't mean that they're not as good -- usually, they're better, as they take the time to develop your skills and strengthen your weaknesses. Oh, and always buy in bulk, it's cheaper that way.
Finally, whatever position you're in when you're learning to drive, think about this:
If you are caught in a rainstorm and accept the soaking that you are going to receive, all that's left to do is enjoy the walk.
Basically, learning to drive is stressful, costly and time-consuming, so you'd make as well enjoy the journey as much as you can. Of course, you wouldn't have worry about a rainstorm if you had learned to drive in the first place.
Getting my licence was stressful and pretty expensive, but it was nothing compared to when I actually got a car onto the road - but well, that's another story altogether.
Image from Caroline Granycome
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