When it comes to learning to drive, one of the biggest questions we’re faced with is to when to start. Many people hop behind the wheel as soon as they turn 17, whereas others wait a little while before starting their driving journey. What we wanted to know was, is there a right or wrong time to start learning? We asked two young drivers what they think. Sarah, who passed when she was 17, and Jade, who didn’t pass until 22.
Introducing Sarah, 17
I’m 19 years old. I’m currently a university student studying languages in Nottingham, a few hours away from home. I started learning to drive when I was 17 straight after my birthday after I finally persuaded my parents to let me learn. I was really keen to start driving straight away when I turned 17 because I wanted to pass as soon as possible, especially because a lot of my friends were passing so quickly.
Introducing Jade, 23
I’m 23 years old. I was like any other 17 year old, excited to receive my provisional license in the post and just going along with what my friends were doing – learning to drive but after struggling to make progress my with my instructor I stopped taking lessons and took a break. A few years later, after meeting my current partner and seeing her confidence while driving, I decided that maybe I did want to learn to drive after all. I got in touch with another family friend and picked up lessons again. After having lessons with my latest instructor for 7 months I eventually passed my test, 5 years after I’d started to learn!
What was your biggest challenge learning to drive at the age you learned?
Sarah: My parents weren’t too keen on me learning to drive at 17, because I was still really young so they were probably just really worried about me - but eventually, after much convincing, they ordered my provisional license and helped me book in some lessons. The biggest challenge I encountered when I learned to drive was the pressure I faced to pass from other people of the same age, especially when they had their own cars and a lot more practice than me. However, when I passed, I didn’t really face any major challenges (apart from becoming a personal chauffeur for my whole family).
Jade: My biggest challenge was my family and their expectations. They never pushed me into it, but it was always pretty much an unspoken expectation that I would learn to drive, and that it would open up a lot more opportunities for me in terms of work, etc. It was almost like it was not an option to not learn to drive, and each time I stopped having lessons I felt more disappointment from them. I think the point I really decided I needed to learn was when my younger brother turned 17 and started learning to drive, I couldn't possibly let my baby brother beat me! As it happened, he did beat me and pass before me, but I found it really nice being able to almost compare notes because we were having lessons at the same time. Also being in a relationship with my partner who lived in a different town to me, and having to get the train or bus backwards and forwards every weekend was also a driving force for me learning to drive, pardon the pun!
Are you glad you learned to drive and passed your test at the age you did?
Sarah: Learning at 17 was definitely the right decision for me because I managed to pass before I was too busy with exams at college and I loved having the freedom to drive alone and with my friends. Because I learned and passed when I was 17, I feel like I am more confident now when driving and I have much more experience than I would have had if I had waited longer to learn. Also, I love that my parents trust me more now when I drive alone because I’ve already been driving for over two years.
Jade: I'm really glad that I took as long as I did. I feel like by gaining a little bit of experience 10 lessons at a time and then having a break actually really helped me. I had the basics down but struggled with the instructor. When I found an instructor I got on with, I already knew the basic skills, I just needed to build up my confidence! Also having friends, family members and partners having lessons, taking tests, and driving in general, I was able to get so much advice and so many tips from lots of different people.
What would you say is the biggest perk of passing at the age you did?
Sarah: The biggest perk of learning early is definitely the freedom. It’s great to be able to drive wherever I like, picking up my friends and being able to visit friends and family more who live further away.
Jade: I feel like if I'd have taken my test at 17, I definitely wouldn't have passed, and I'm more than likely be a very anxious driver because I wouldn't have had the chance to work on my anxieties as I have done. I've also found that because I'm in my twenties, even though I'm a new driver, my car insurance is considerably cheaper than what some of my friends had when that passed at age 17!
What advice would you give other young drivers who are starting their driving journey?
Sarah: I would definitely recommend that anyone thinking about driving starts to learn as early as possible after they turn 17, as long as it’s something you really want to do. Also, think about how time-consuming it is – I managed to pass my test before my exams got too full on, so I was only focusing on driving. I think that learning earlier really helps with confidence and gives more road experience. It’s definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made!
Jade: Don't let the pressure get to you - it's not the law that you have to learn to drive at 17! Just because all of your friends seem to be learning, passing, and driving, doesn't mean that you have to. If you don't feel comfortable, or if you don't genuinely want to learn, then you won't put 100% into your lessons. Take things at your own pace, spend time looking into different instructors, have one lesson and decide whether it feels right for you.