A back seat view of a driving lesson
It's been a long time since I took driving lessons, and with my children soon coming to an age where they will be taking the leap into the driving seat, when I had a chance to join a learner and driving instructor on a lesson, I thought - why not, I may even learn something!
I am really glad I did as it was a real eye-opener. Above all, after going on this little adventure I would thoroughly recommend that every parent join their young driver in one of their lessons to see what it is really like. If you're reading this as a parent, and give it a go - I think it will help you have a real understanding of how your young driver may be feeling, and have more patience in the passenger seat :)
5 things I learnt as a back seat driver
1. There really is a lot to think about
Watching the learner in the front, I realised how much I take my experience for granted and the fact that everything comes naturally. Seeing them consciously have to think about when to change gear, keep an eye on the road, check their mirrors (and their blind spot), operate the indicators keep an eye out for road signs and hazards, listen to the instructor, check the mirrors again, manoeuvre - there really is a lot happening that you need to make a conscious effort to do - and it is easy to forget one (like changing gear for example!). We tried motorway driving on this lesson, so this was a new experience too - with half the motorway driving at a standstill - and the other at nearly 70mph.
2. Learning to drive is mentally tiring
The lesson lasted just over an hour, and the learner was concentrating hard the whole time. She had an excellent lesson, but it was clear in the last 10 minutes or so that she was finding it harder to concentrate. With the motorway section of the lesson (and the complicated road system in Birmingham), I'm not surprised. It made me realise how important it is to practice at a time the learner (and supervising driver) are alert and in good spirits - as the practice will not only be safer but probably more productive.
3. Other road users can be really inconsiderate...
...and rude! This was one of the most shocking things for me and I really didn't expect it. I was surprised at how many times we got honked when the learner wasn't actually doing anything wrong. Not only that, but we were tailgated a couple of times (even in crawling traffic!) and when we pulled in to let a car that had right of way past, the drivers behind - instead of allowing us out, all sped down the road past without letting us out. Very disappointing - as every driver on the road would have been in that learner seat themselves before!
4. There is no substitute for experience
When you've been driving for a number of years you get the hang of what to expect in a variety of conditions - and have no doubt dealt with things we didn't expect to as well, which means you probably feel a lot more confident driving and are able to react quickly - to either avoid or manage a situation. During the lesson, the learner came across a few situations for the first time. These included: an emergency vehicle, joining the motorway in nose to tail traffic (and having to deal with smart motorway signs signalling closing lanes!) and driving up a road that was full of parked cars, and needing to pull into a small space to let the person who had right of way past. All of these situations were noticeably stressful for the learner driver, and the instructor guided her through - but not all of these situations form part of the test. It made me realise just how important it is to allow the learner plenty of opportunities to practice - as the more situations they experience with an instructor or parent by their side before they pass, the more confidence they will have when they pass.
5. Instructors deserve huge praise
I appreciate instructors have dual controls, but it takes excellent communication and heaps of patience to train someone to control a vehicle and navigate them around the urban jungle. I think I would probably find guiding my child to drive around an empty car park difficult enough, without taking into account the unpredictability of the public roads. I really admired the calmness, encouragement and assertiveness the instructor showed - which gave confidence to the learner, and of course, assured us we were all safe. When the time comes for my teenagers to learn to drive I know I'll be taking tips from their instructor - to help me while I'm supervising!
So, if you're learning to drive - keep up the practice and know that it will all become second nature soon enough. If you're a parent - encourage your young driver to get as much driving experience as they can with you before they take their test, to learn how to handle as many real-life situations as possible. Finally, whether you passed your test last week or have held your licence for decades - don't forget to give those with L and P plates a bit of space and time on the road