“I’m just here to teach you how to pass your test, you don’t learn how to drive until you’re out there on your own.”
My tale of learning to drive was never one to brag about as a teenager: I had the advantage of having grown up at a mechanics garage and my driving instructor was my uncle, yet I still managed to fail a theory test and two practical exams.
“You’ve got to get it this time because it doesn’t look good for business if I can’t get my own nephew to pass!”
I finally did at the third attempt, but it wasn’t more than a couple of years before I had upcycled my first car into baked bean tins and accepted my role as the easy target when we joke about driving in our family.
Over the next eleven years I would grow in confidence and experience gained from driving on the continent, through North America and getting comfortable in larger vehicles than the little Nissan Micra my journey began with. Last year, I took a job as a van driver delivering beer to pubs around the north of England and polished my driving habits to a level that I felt confident, aware and safe on the roads for long periods of time. Fair to say, I felt like I had grown into a professional driver.
Oh boy was I nervous in January of this year, when I signed up for a driver training course to complete my B+E test which would allow me to tow a trailer behind vehicles I was currently able to drive. The first thing you do is hop in and try the reversing manoeuvre that will be a critical part of your test. It’s fairly simple, you pull forward and stop between a set of cones before reversing back around another and parking your trailer in a designated bay.
You are taught the parts to look out for as you make the turn, and when to adjust your steering at the correct moments. Steer the opposite of where you want to go, keep making minor adjustments as they are far easier to correct than larger ones. And the key part of the advice to take on board is that you do have a couple of lifelines in the form of “shunts”. If you get yourself a little too sharp as you’re making the turn and feel the need to pull forward a little bit to correct yourself and go again you will receive a minor fault on your test; however the next shunt is then free so to speak. Use it if you feel even the slightest bit unsure. Need a third, you will fail, but that second is free in the examiner’s eyes and handy if you find yourself with a wheel or cone slightly out of view. It took some doing, and I was not fully confident until my last attempt at the end of the full day’s training I received.
The road part of the test I was confident for, but aware that there were likely to be a couple of bad habits I had picked up over the years. I made a conscious effort to be a star pupil yet was still politely reminded that I would be marked down for leaving my left hand on the gear stick too long and steering out of a junction with the palm of my right. Oops, noted!
Come test day my manoeuvre went fine, I picked up my minor fault and used my second free shunt and managed to get the part of the test I felt weakest on ticked off the list. You do a coupling/uncoupling routine to show you can safely connect a trailer to your vehicle and off you pop onto the roads for a 45-minute practical exam. This was where I found myself back in a driving test that had caused me so much terror as a teenager; don’t worry I held my nerve and came out with just two minor faults. One was for being too nice in giving a van right of way (what can I say, I’m one of them and I appreciate it when people are kind to me) in a situation where I could have gone and I can’t recall the other but it wasn’t anything to raise concern. The key part I took an interest in is a feedback part of the test form in which the examiner marks you driving in an eco-friendly sense. The marks don’t affect your result, but I was impressed that young drivers are being instructed on how to drive greener.
This was one of a few little things I learned as part of the experience, along with the fact that if you passed your driving test after 1997 you do need to take an additional test to tow a trailer; but the refreshment on driving habits and going through a test situation again were the parts I actually felt I gained the most from. I didn’t consider myself a bad driver beforehand, but I certainly feel like I walked out a better one for my experience.