My Experience: Getting Behind the Wheel

Contribute Jennifer Keegan recalls her difficult road to a full driving license.

Driving is almost an inevitable part of everyone’s life.  I was no different. 

I have always been lucky that I live close to both my secondary school and college so I was able to cycle or at least get a bus. I knew though, that despite having all of these amenities close to my house, that one day I would have to learn how to drive. 

I bought the theory book and practised a fair bit before my theory test. I had never done a test that was outside of school, so it was daunting. I needn’t have worried though because I answered 39 questions correctly and had plenty of time leftover. 

I didn’t start driving until a good while later. The insurance was so expensive that it didn’t make sense for me to be insured on the car that I wouldn’t get to drive a huge amount while I was studying for the Leaving Cert. We were also in the process of replacing our 20-year-old car, which would decrease the insurance immensely, as newer cars are often cheaper to insure. 

The car came and the Leaving Cert went and I got into my first driving lesson not having stepped a foot into a car before then. 

In my first lesson, my instructor, Brian, threw me right in the deep end making me drive all the way home. It was horrific. I don’t think I have ever held my breath as long as I did that journey home. I still don’t really know how I managed it, considering that even now,  I sometimes still cut out. 

Driving was fun at the beginning but I began to dislike Brian. He got annoyed at me if I made the smallest mistake. This made me nervous which meant I made even more mistakes. Several times I had to bite my lip to stop crying in the car and would hold it in until I got behind closed doors.

The worst part was that for the first three months of driving, there were issues getting the insurance cleared on our own car which meant that I had to learn in Brian’s car which was only once a week, so progress was slow from the get-go. 

 I felt like I was always going backwards rather than forwards and as soon I got one thing right, I do something wrong that I had managed perfectly fine before. It made me lose confidence quickly and I got very nervous behind the wheel. 

Eventually, I booked my test, almost a year after I had started driving. I knew I wasn’t in the best position but I was still capable of passing. 

My test was in the Raheny test centre, which is infamous for having a huge failure rate. Most people I knew (except annoyingly, my two best friends, who started learning after me) hadn’t passed the first time, so I wasn’t expecting to pass anyway. 

When I did fail, I was upset, but not because I failed but because of why I’d failed. Yet again, I had made stupid mistakes. Brian made sure I felt even worse about them when I had a chat with him on the phone later on that day.  

It was then that I stopped having lessons with him, electing to only learn with my mam or dad in the car. Brian just made me feel rubbish when I didn’t need to. 

I booked my second test, in the same centre. I felt way better on the lead up to that one, I think mainly because I didn’t have Brian anymore. 

The test went well but something just told me as I drove back towards the centre that I hadn’t got it. I was right. Just like the last time, I had made several small mistakes that were apparently ‘easily fixed’. 

Everything I had done wrong the last time had been improved but now there was a whole new set of things to work on. I was angry. It felt so unfair that I had been picked up on tiny things, such as one time not looking all the way over my right shoulder before moving off.

I was fed up. Each lesson cost me €35 and there were only so many that I could afford that couldn’t count as accumulated birthday presents. 

I decided I needed a new driving instructor. I was recommended a woman called Ruth by someone who had also failed their first two tests. She was amazing. I remember wanting to kick myself for not having switched sooner. 

I practised every day, absolutely determined to pass. I forced my parents into the car and drove for at least an hour every day. If I failed a third time I would give up. Clearly driving was not for me.

I changed my test centre to Finglas. Eventually, I knew every single dodgy corner and speed limit in the area. When the examiner told me I had passed I actually didn’t believe him because although it had been my best test so far, I had set myself up to be told yet again that I had failed. But I had actually passed. 

I hated my entire learning experience. I hated how much everything cost, from the price of the eye and theory test to every single lesson to the tests which were €80 a pop to actually having to pay for my physical licence. 

I hated how much time spent in the car when I had heaps of college work to be doing. I hated trying to be environmentally friendly, yet having to drive for several hours a week going nowhere. 

I really enjoy driving now. It‘s a freedom I had never had before. I don’t drive a lot. I still opt for public transport or bike route when I can but it’s so nice to be able to go in the car should I have to. If I go somewhere with my parents, they can have a drink and I can bring them home. 

For anyone who is in the middle of learning, I feel that. Some people take to it like a duck to water, some don’t. Don’t pitch yourself against people who learnt and passed in six months, or passed the first time. 

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but learning to drive, along with all the finances is difficult enough as it is without loading yourself with even more pressure. You’ll get there eventually.