Beginning to learn to drive is often accompanied by an abundance of unwarranted advice from family members, friends, or even your mum’s friend from work. Your grandad warns you that all road users are idiots (but he’ll most likely use a far more unsavoury term that is utterly inappropriate for this blog). Your best mate advises you to exaggerate your mirror checks on test day, to the point where you look like an owl twisting its head backwards, or even a scene from the Exorcist. And Linda – mum’s friend from Slimming World- tells you that you should never try to drive in anything higher than a kitten heel. But one key aspect of learning to drive that is often overlooked, is how different your experience on the road can be, in regards to whether or not you have a giant red L or bright green P plastered across the bonnet and boot of your car.
L stands for ‘Leave me alone’
On the road, it is clear that other drivers are instantly filled with irritation, proceeded by an obligatory huff of annoyance, whenever they set eyes on an L or P plated tail-end. Most people tend to adhere to the slow pace that learners and new drivers often adopt, mumbling and grumbling about how they’re only doing twenty miles-per-hour in a forty zone, yet acknowledging the new driver’s nervous tendencies. However, you do have to watch out for those ‘idiots’ that your grandad warned you about: drivers who appear to treat any plated car as if it were nothing more than a traffic cone, zooming around it. These drivers have no issue cutting you up unnecessarily or overtaking you dangerously on a roundabout, usually intensifying the pre-existing jitters of a new or learner driver.
Having experienced both learning practice in my driving instructors car (which is clearly branded with the driving school’s logo, as well as bumper stickers warning of an active dash cam) and private practice in my mum’s L plated car, it became clear that people were often more tentative when stuck behind my driving instructor’s car. Personally, I think the threat of the dash cam probably had a lot to do with it!
Smile: you’re on camera!
Having said that, the idea of being caught on camera did nothing to discourage certain ‘idiots’. Once, during one of my lessons with my driving instructor, I was heading toward my exit on a busy town roundabout, which then proceeded to be blocked up by a slow traffic jam. Instinctively, I braked in order to stop and join the trailing line of cars, however, the driver behind me seemed to interpret this as a stuck-behind-a-slow-learner situation and drove straight into the back of the car! My extremely irritated instructor attempted unsuccessfully to wave the offender into a nearby car park, yet the cheeky driver simply hurried off. After a quick breather in the ASDA car park, my instructor reassured me that the entire shenanigan was caught on camera so that if there was any damage, the offending driver could easily be found.
Moreover, driving with P plates on hasn’t been much better. Most other road users are ignorant to the fact that the majority of newly qualified drivers are likely to have a black box installed, requiring them to strictly stick to speed limits. This leads to many impatient drivers swerving around you, even when it’s clearly not a safe place to do so.
More a hindrance than a help
Despite all the negative connotations of L and P plates, they can often attract sympathy from other road users, meaning they may kindly give way to you, even if it’s not necessary, or maybe graciously move over as you join a motorway from a slip road. Although this is very enjoyable once you’ve passed, as a learner driver, it can often create more of an issue than they may anticipate. If another driver gives way to you in a situation that you usually wouldn’t have right of way, this can create confusion for learner drivers, who need to be especially aware of who has right of way in particular scenarios. It can be particularly muddling during a driving test, as the driving examiner needs to be assured that you understand who has right of way during such encounters. Therefore, whilst you are still learning to drive, ask your driving instructor how best to deal with these issues, but after you’ve passed, revel in all the patience and kindness that your P plates can draw in.
Don’t add fuel to the fire; save it for your car
The best piece of advice that I can offer you (apart from my grandad’s nugget of wisdom), is when dealing with a situation that may have been sparked by the display of an L or P plate, it’s best to stay calm and avoid developing any road rage. If you begin evolving road rage this young, in a few years’ time, you’ll be like the Tasmanian Devil on wheels- trust me, my dad is perfect evidence for this progression. If another driver is acting obnoxious and infuriating, take a deep breath and continue driving safely. Try not to get worked up, anxiously or angrily, as this could inhibit your driving skills and cause you to drive dangerously.
Now, hit the road and present your L and P plates with pride. Remember to always approach the issue safely and ask your driving instructor if you are every unsure about a situation…
Oh, and in the wise words of Linda: never drive in six-inch heels.