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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.

21 year old journalism student
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