On (Re)Learning to Drive

I was never eager to drive, but I did take two different driver’s ed courses as a teen. After getting my license at 18, I immediately headed to college (living in dorms and then taking public transportation or walking), so I never got around to buying a car. Indeed, the last time I was behind the wheel was in 2004. So, what’s it like trying to drive again?

Thankfully, my husband didn’t learn to drive until he was 20, so he understands my driving arrested development. Late at night, with few cars on the road, we head out, driving in circles to practice. He is calm and patient, everything my mother wasn’t. And he can’t unexpectedly hit the brakes the way my driving instructors could.

My heart pounds less now than it did in 2004.

I have turned, as I always do in times of crisis, to books: I have read a half dozen books on driving, ranging from the Oregon Driving Manual to a tome on how to deal with road rage. The authors assure me that it’s possible to learn how to drive.

This might not be news to most people, but cars are different from the ones I first learned to drive. Computer interfaces, back-up cameras, automatic headlights, and brakes that work with a mere tap are all things I need to get used to.

Ford Explorer
I took my driving test in my mom’s Ford Explorer. I tried and failed three times to parallel park. The examiner had pity on me and I received my license anyway. From

We started, my husband and I, as all beginners do, in a parking lot. We went around in circles, first going much too slowly, then much too quickly. It went like this: turn on the blinker, now turn into the correct lane. Oops, now I’ve hit the invisible pedestrians.

I drove across the street to another parking lot, one belonging to a hospital. A security guard stopped us and physically blocked our car so we couldn’t move. We explained what we were doing and offered our licenses and plate number, but she asked us to leave. Clearly, we were up to no good. I was too rattled to continue after that, so we returned to our original parking lot, exchanged places and headed home.

The second time we went out, we stayed closer to home, traveling on actual streets. Pulling out of our parking space proved a challenge: I can’t rotate 3D objects in my head, so it took three tries to reverse correctly. My turns were wide, just as they had been when I was a teen. I have no sense of space.

I drove slowly on the quiet streets, my husband reminding me of the actual speed limit from time to time. (“Okay, the speed limit here is 45 and you’re only going 23.”) A family of deer crossed our path, and thanks to my slowness, we didn’t have to worry about hitting them. We’d never seen deer in our city before. They ambled along, surprised to see us. It was midnight, a time when everyone should be asleep.

We ended our lesson with a visit to the gas station. In Oregon, it is illegal to pump one’s own gas, so this was just an exercise in getting close enough to the pump. I was terrified to take the narrow, hilly road back to our apartment. I am prone to melodrama and have often envisioned falling over the side of the steep hill that lacks guard rails. I was able to navigate it.

Our third lesson was an actual trip to Tualatin, a city ten minutes away. I took the back roads, narrow country lanes with a speed limit (45 mph) that seemed dangerously high.

Narrow is a theme in this area.

Dodge Dart
Basically what our car looks like. Much easier to drive than a Ford Explorer.

Anyway, I managed to make it to Tualatin, I even parked in an actual space at the McDonald’s. I triumphantly returned our RedBox DVDs, only to have my husband remind me that one shouldn’t leave the keys in the ignition and the car running.

Look, the car doesn’t even have keys. It’s a key fob. I can be forgiven for forgetting. (No, I can’t, that’s pretty egregious.) How can a car not have keys? This continues to blow my mind. My mom’s Ford Explorer had keyless entry, but this is some sci-fi stuff here.

Our fourth lesson was a trip to Target. I turned into the wrong lane and utterly failed at parking. I nearly freaked out once inside the store and begged my husband to drive us home. He suggested I just try to work through it. I did, and I got us home.

He always parks, if you are wondering — we switch off at the entrance of our apartment complex. We’ll dedicate a day to parking, a day that I am dreading.

Our fifth lesson was extra exciting and nerve wracking: We went out to eat (Boneless Thursday at Buffalo Wild Wings). My husband had a drink. He’s certainly had drinks while we were out before, but always with a lot of planning to ensure he could drive us home. But now I would drive us home. He could enjoy his drink in peace. I was terrified, I felt really on my own because he couldn’t take over if there was a problem. But I was proud. This is what a partnership is, after all.

I still dislike driving. I still weasel out of it when I can. I still keep my hands at ten and two and I rarely turn quickly or smoothly enough. My husband praises me constantly and is gentle in his corrections, but driving certainly seems to be an exercise in what I can’t do. An exercise in feeling far behind the curve.

The Federal Highway Administration reports:

In 2009, 87 percent of the driving-age population (age 16 and over) have a license. There are 685 drivers for every 1,000 residents. In 1960, just a few years after all states required driver licensing, there were only 487 drivers for every 1,000 residents.

In 2009 there were 210 million licensed drivers, a compounded annual increase of 1.6 percent. In 2005 the number of licensed female drivers exceeded the number of licensed male drivers.

So, like, why is this so hard? But wait!

For younger age groups the opposite effect seems apparent, with a slightly lower percentage of the population licensed in each group in 2009 compared with 1990 and 2000.

Millenials strike again: fewer licensed drivers. Who wants to drive?

I don’t really want to drive. I am working on it so I can help my husband, so I can take over if he is sick, tired, or just wants a drink. It’s frustrating to have to rely on others and worry they are frustrated with you. I don’t want to live my life by counting in miles and city blocks. (Is X within walking distance?) But I don’t like driving. Even after so many years, I still don’t like it.

By Natasha

History. Hindi cinema. Hugging cats.

10 replies on “On (Re)Learning to Drive”

Oh, I haaaaaaaaate driving. I still don’t actually have my license (the parents wouldn’t shell out the driver’s ed fee when I was in high school, because I should earn that money, but I didn’t have a way to get to and from a job…) and, fortunately, live somewhere with an okay bus system. It usually gets me within a mile of where I need to be, and I can walk a mile (I can walk more if I know the area and there are sidewalks). Driving is the worst and I get so anxious.

I learned to drive when I was 21. That wouldn’t really be considered late here though, cars are expensive to run compared to in the US, I think. The only people I know who learned to drive before finishing college were those living in rural areas where they really didn’t have much of a choice. Public transport in Ireland is useless outside major urban centres. My brother is 24 and he’s still never learned. He can’t afford the insurance so he doesn’t see the point.

I didn’t want to learn and would never have done it except that my mother made me. I’m glad now that I can, especially as my partner lives about 45 mins drive away (but at least 2 hours by bus-tram-train combo), and when we first started dating, he didn’t have a car. I’m a very comfortable driver now but that took a long time, and I still wouldn’t say I enjoy it. I can park anywhere due to hours of practice in the Escher style car park at work but at the time I did my test, I couldn’t parallel park at all (it’s not on the test here).

Keep at it and it will get easier! I didn’t believe the people who told me that but it’s true! I was terrified of driving and now it comes easily (except when merging onto the motorway, I don’t think I will ever be comfortable with that!)

I am 100% with you. I am living with my parents in suburbs for a while, and unexpectedly have access to their car – but I hate hate hate hate driving it. I can do it – and I must, because there’s nothing within walking distance of here, not if I’m being practical, and I’m not much of a biker, nor do I trust the drivers to not hit me here – but I don’t like it. *solidarity fistbumps*

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