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Instructor advice on calming your driving nerves

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We Are Marmalade

February 24, 2020

Learning to drive 5 min read

Chris Bensted, ADI (Approved Driving Instructor) and co-owner of Better ADIs, gives his advice on coping with anxiety behind the wheel.

Chris said: “Better ADIs was set up to challenge negative perceptions of driving instructors, one part of which is helping them to be better at reacting to clients’ needs. Throughout the driving instructor training process, for example, there is little support in how we can actually help drivers who are suffering with mental illness or feelings of low-confidence/anxiety.

“At the time when many people learn to drive, aged 17 and up, this is an especially vulnerable point in their life with a lot of pressure from education, employment, parents and peers. Driving instructors are privileged to be spending one-to-one time with young learners, but we also have a responsibility to them.

“If feelings of stress, anxiety and a lack of confidence are not properly managed and addressed, they can become even more concentrated – especially in the lead-up to driving tests and exams. Instructors are therefore really well-placed to offer coping strategies that people can apply to all aspects of their lives.


Talk about it

My first and most important tip for young drivers is to talk about it. The best tool in dealing with anxiety or depression is someone to help. It’s really important to find an instructor that understands and can find ways to help you. The reality is that driving is scary and it’s perfectly normal to experience fear or anxiety – the important thing is learning to deal with it which is where the right instructor comes in.

Remember to breathe

Our bodies can subconsciously go into stress-response mode and we forget to breathe. My second tip, therefore, is to be self-aware and focus on things you can control. Regular patterns of breathing make us feel much calmer, as can our posture. Sit up straight without hunching forwards, allowing you to properly in- and exhale. Holding your head up high and looking straight will help you, quite literally, see the world in a different way.

Spend time in the car

If my clients are particularly nervous in the car, I recommend that they spend time in the car doing something they enjoy. Whether that’s watching Netflix on the driveway (with the engine turned off of course!), knitting or chatting on the phone, it’s a good way to get familiar with the car and associate it with something positive.

Set yourself small goals

My next piece of advice is to break the learning process down into smaller goals – it’s not just about the trophy of a driving licence at the end, it’s being able to move the car forwards, learning to parallel park, learning to master roundabouts. Focussing on achievable goals one step at a time will help to demonstrate that you are doing really well and making progress. Whilst taking a driving test is a huge milestone in your life, it’s not as difficult as real-life driving – it’s not an end-goal and learning doesn’t end there, so it’s important to make the actual learning and gaining confidence the priority.

Time to reflect

Taking time to reflect is another important part of driving. I tell my clients that ‘stall’ stands for Stop, Think And Learn a Lesson – it’s an opportunity to learn and one bad day doesn’t destroy everything. Making mistakes means finding out how to overcome them, making you a better driver in the long-run. Mind-mapping is also a powerful tool that helps people get out on paper what the problem is, allowing them to explore potential causes and triggers. You can then look for solutions for how to either prevent or cope with the problem in future. Keeping a reflective log is a good way of both instructor and client keeping track of things, and I’ve known clients in the past to record lessons on a tape recorder or video blog about their lessons – not for an audience, but for themselves.

“I think people have always been willing to talk about their problems, and in fact the biggest change in recent years is an increase in people who are willing to listen. Initiatives such as Mental Health Awareness Week help people to understand what others are going through and what to do about it. My teaching, both to drivers and driving instructors, is based on the approach that people think differently and will experience the same thing in different ways. I’m a ‘conversational’ instructor and learning goes two ways between myself and my clients – the most rewarding clients are those who didn’t think they could do it, but did pass their test and can drive very well.”

For further details of Chris’ coaching for driving instructors please visit:

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