Here at PassMeFast, we believe that real life pass stories provide an incredibly useful insight into what it really takes to earn a licence. With this in mind, we have a brand new driving journey to share with you. Who’s in the hot seat today? That would be me!
Yes, the tables have well and truly turned, dear readers, as it’s time to shine a spotlight on my very own driving journey. Unlike the first-time passers and star pupils I’m often writing about, my road to gaining a driving licence was littered with more than a few hurdles! In fact, you could view this as something of a cautionary tale…
How it all began
Somewhere around the age of 17 or 18 (this was over 10 years ago now, so I’m a little sketchy on the dates!) I decided it was time to become a proper adult and learn to drive. My Mum actually never bothered to get a licence, so she was thrilled at the prospect of having someone to drive her to work every day.
We struck up a deal where she offered to pay for my lessons if I promised to take her to work every morning. Little did she know how many of those lessons she’d have to fork out for! (Let it be known that I did stick to my part of the bargain when I finally became a qualified driver.)
Sadly, my driving journey began long before PassMeFast was a thing. I’m not saying I’m ancient—we had electricity, internet and mobile phones, but good quality intensive courses weren’t really a thing. Crash courses did exist at the time, but they had a reputation for being a bit slapdash and not very safe. So, instead, I got in touch with a local instructor and settled on weekly 1-hour lessons. As you’ll soon see, this probably wasn’t the best choice.
The theory test
This is going to be a fairly short section because, honestly, I breezed through the theory test. If this sounds cocky, please keep in mind that you are about to witness me massively humble myself by describing in excruciating (for me, not you) detail the struggle I went through to pass the practical test.
The theory test, though, was right up my alley! Once I looked into it, I knew exactly what to expect on the day and purchased a couple of revision resources to make the studying process fairly easy. Sure, it was kind of boring and no one loves revision, but once it was done I could move on to the next stage. I showed up to my test appointment on time, earned the marks to pass and strolled home, pass certificate in hand. It really can be that simple if you just put the work in!
It all started out well and good. I was excited to get going with my lessons and was already looking forward to one day having a car of my own. For the first few weeks (remember, I was only taking hourly lessons), I was happily pootling around a local housing estate, getting to grips with the basics like steering and stopping. These skills were quite straightforward and I soon got the hang of them. This driving malarkey is not that hard at all, I thought to myself. Oh, the naivety!
Moving on to the more advanced stuff
Once we started venturing out of the quiet little cul-de-sacs I’d been practicing on and hitting the main roads, I was confronted by the harsh reality that I would not be the only one navigating the road. Suddenly being surrounded by actual qualified drivers caused me to suffer from a kind of driving stage fright.
I immediately assumed that everyone else on the road felt a mixture of dismay and fury at the very sight of me (to be fair, judging by their facial expressions, some of them did). This made me clam up a bit and forget the basics I’d mastered weeks ago. Argh!
Thankfully, my instructor believed in me and was able to coach me away from the metaphorical cliff edge. The more I worked at it, the easier it became. I was soon (read: a few more weeks later) chatting away behind the wheel, without even noticing that I was taking on mini roundabouts, one-way streets and busy T junctions with relative ease.
We also, of course, spent a lot of time making sure I was confident carrying out the advanced manoeuvres. Now, things were a little different back then. At the time I was learning to drive, the manoeuvres that could come up on the test were:
- Parallel park
- Turn in the road
- Reverse around a corner
Like many people, I found the trickiest to be the parallel park. With a few weeks of practice, though, I could do them all without too much trouble.
Areas I struggled with
This wasn’t so much of a struggle, but more of a surprise. It turns out that constantly finding the biting point hurts your foot! There were times when we’d be stuck in slow-moving traffic and my foot would really start to ache from the off and on pressure I was having to apply to that pesky pedal. The good news is that you do get used to it. Oh, and the handbrake can be your best friend if the car is stationary for a while!
While I was absolutely fine taking on mini and regular-sized roundabouts, I found the big ones quite intimidating. Despite knowing the rules of roundabouts, I’d often worry that I was in the wrong lane or changing too late or too early. Plus, I had to be extra careful to avoid any exits that led to motorways. Aside from being terrifying (at this point anyway), when I was learning to drive it was not legal for learners to drive on the motorway AT ALL.
This was my real downfall. I’d say that my driving nerves slowed down the whole learning process for me. Even when I’d master certain skills, my doubts about my own abilities often caused me to make silly mistakes or delay trying new things. I’d particularly dread the moments when I’d be at the front of a long queue at a traffic light. The pressure to get moving again would sometimes cause me to stall, and I could practically feel the impatience of the drivers behind me!
Test-ready at last?
After what seemed like an eternity of driving lessons (in reality it was about 10 months) my instructor informed me that I was ready to take the driving test. I, on the other hand (in what will come as a great shock to you all), had my doubts.
I’d gotten very comfortable driving my instructor around the varied roads of Greater Manchester, but I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the prospect of doing it for a new audience. Especially not an audience with a clipboard and the authority to make or break my driving dreams!
I had to bite the bullet sooner or later, though, so I booked my first driving test…
My first practical test
You can probably guess how well this went from the fact that I’ve had to call this my ‘first’ practical test. There will be more. I would go as far as to say that this was the driving test from hell. There are nights where memories from this day flood my head just as I’m about to drop off to sleep. Thanks, brain!
What I’m trying to say is that it was nothing short of traumatic. Prepare to feel a lot better about your own experiences.
What I needed was a nice, friendly examiner to put me at ease. What I got was a grumpy bloke (we’ll call him Terry) who apparently wanted to be anywhere but Hyde practical test centre at that very moment. This was before the days where you could invite your instructor to sit in on the test. So, it was just me and Terry hitting the road together. Good-o! My nervous energy went into overdrive.
By the time I’d passed the eyesight test, answered the show me, tell me questions and climbed into the car, I was so nervous that my actual legs were shaking. Leaving the test centre involved carefully navigating narrow, one-way streets with vehicles parked on both sides.
I was so busy trying to calm down and look for any traffic ahead that I failed to notice I was inching way too close to a parked car and ended up clipping its wing mirror. Terry was not impressed and did not attempt to hide this. The mirror remained intact and was not damaged, but at that point I knew I had already failed the test. This is not even the low point of the drive.
What commenced was 35 minutes of pure agony for me and Terry, during which I’m fairly certain he feared for his life multiple times. At one point I was instructed to turn right at a busy junction. After waiting for oncoming traffic to pass so I could make my move, the lights began to change and I dawdled. I couldn’t decide whether to quickly go or wait for the next green light.
For reasons that have never become clear, I suddenly adopted the boldness of a lunatic and started to make the turn, even though by now other traffic had started to move across my path. Oh, and this ‘other traffic’ was a huge lorry. Terry swore loudly and grabbed the steering wheel. This, dear readers, was the low point.
After somehow managing to get us both back to the test centre in one piece, I listened as Terry quickly ran through my long list of mistakes and confirmed that I had most definitely not earned a pass. Seriously, the man wanted to get away from me as quickly as possible and, really, who could blame him? My instructor drove me home and I shut myself in my room to come to terms with what had happened.
My second practical test
You know what they say: dust yourself off and try again!
I felt slightly better heading into my second test because I had a much clearer idea of what to expect. I’d also now confirmed that turning right while in the immediate path of an oncoming lorry is not OK.
The only thing that mattered to me was not getting Terry as my examiner again. Surely the odds were in my favour?! Nope. I heard my name called, we locked eyes, and a mutual feeling of dread passed between us. I probably should have just left then and there.
To be honest, my memory of this second test is a blur—I’m almost certain my brain has deleted all recollection of it to protect what’s left of my ego (#thankful). I didn’t pass, but I’m pretty sure Terry didn’t swear this time, so I’m counting that as a small win. Progress!
My third practical test
The year was now 2025. Nah, just kidding. A few weeks and multiple refresher lessons later, I geared up for my third attempt at the practical test.
Things got off to a great start when there was no sign of Terry anywhere. Instead, I was paired with a very friendly and upbeat examiner; we’ll call him Steve. Steve’s demeanour really put me at ease. He was chatty, funny, and nice enough to let me take a breather when he could tell that I was getting a bit nervous.
The drive seemed to be going really well and by the time we were turning the corner back to the test centre, I was happily chatting away to Steve as if we were best mates. Unfortunately, I got a little too relaxed. After we pulled up, Steve said he couldn’t believe that I’d managed a perfect drive right up until the last 2 minutes, in which I’d apparently driven right over a give way line (in my defence, it was very faded and the streets were empty) in the middle of the estate!
That counted as a serious fault and he had no choice but to fail me. Although I was obviously disappointed, I felt a lot better about my ability to pass the driving test. It also helped that Steve was really lovely and obviously felt bad about having to deliver bad news. He assured me I was a good driver and encouraged me to give it another shot soon.
My FOURTH (and thankfully, final) practical test
It was just getting downright embarrassing at this point. Not to mention expensive! Before this driving test I told myself it would be my last one. If I passed, great. If I failed, I would resign myself to a life of trains and taxis and be OK with that. This actually took a lot of the pressure off!
For this test I followed a lot of the tips that I’ve since put in my article about how to avoid test day nerves. I got a good night’s sleep, ate a hearty breakfast and tried to muster up a bit of that elusive self-belief.
When we arrived at the test centre I was relieved to find out that I had the same lovely examiner as last time, Steve. He even remembered me (I’m sure Terry remembers me, too, but for different reasons). I felt confident knowing that I was driving with someone who believed that I had what it took to pass. This time I tried not to get too carried away with the chatting, though, and focused more on the task at hand.
During the test I had to take on one-way streets, busy junctions, a turn in the road and even my personal enemy, the giant roundabout. Thankfully, I managed to tackle all of these skills confidently and safely.
We pulled into the test centre and Steve happily informed me that I’d passed the test. Wahooo! You can imagine the collective sense of relief felt by me, my instructor and, one frantic phone call later, my Mum. Being able to finally call myself a qualified driver felt really good!
Learn from my mistakes…
You may have read the pass story of my fellow PassMeFast writer, Bethany. While hers is an informative, detailed roadmap of how one can pass first time, mine is more a comedy of errors. I didn’t provide this purely for entertainment purposes, though!
In fact, there are a few things my story can teach you about how not to learn to drive…
If, like me, you struggle with nerves and it’s impacting your driving, we have plenty of articles that can help. Have a read of our guide to learning to drive with anxiety. Our 10 tips to help you relax before the driving test will also come in handy!