Did I mention before that the real driving test happens when we drive alone for the first time, without an instructor/examiner? When there’s nobody to point out various signs and markings, or watch the vehicle’s positioning, it’s a whole different ball game. I still feel a little more apprehensive just getting into my car than I did at the test centre.
My first proper experience of independent driving, since buying the car, was to pick someone up from a hospital. This was over a mountain towards Cardiff, into rush hour traffic, at night. After the first several minutes, when I reached the top of that mountain that I realised it probably wasn’t the smartest idea. Because of my small frame, the Renault Clio seemed much bigger than I was comfortable with initially, but my confidence returned after I made the journey several times.
After much thought and a little experience, I’ve come up with three things that I found really helpful over the past three weeks.
1. The Vehicle: Every used car will have defects somewhere, so it’s definitely worth spending a weekend looking under the bonnet, doing the recommended checks, scanning through the owners’ manual, sorting any minor issues and taking it to an independent garage for a once over.
Also take the vehicle out while the traffic’s relatively quiet – an industrial estate, for example – and get really familiar with how it handles. I’m told by a mechanic that brakes are less effective on a car that hasn’t been used for several weeks, so that’s another thing to watch out for.
2. Routes: Since there isn’t an instructor giving directions, clocking hazards and pointing out road markings, it’s worth sticking to familiar routes and doing a quick recce of them beforehand. Google Maps and Maverick (for Android) are useful for planning journeys in advance.
3. Giving Other Drivers a Heads-Up: In my experience, ‘L’ plates didn’t stop others pulling up millimetres behind on hill junctions, knowing that a learner driver is liable to roll backwards, and it didn’t stop the odd impatient tosser in a BMW from tailgating. I still reckon it’s better to give people behind a heads-up by attaching a green ‘P’ plates to the rear, and by using the brake lights a few seconds before I actually reduce speed.