Too scared to learn to drive

A letter writer is so scared of driving that she didn’t even show up for the test.

Our elder has some practical advice on how to get over her fear behind the wheel. It just takes practice!


Dear EWC

Hi, I need just some comfort on some a fear and issue I have. So I’m a 16-year-old girl and I’m getting older of course. I’ll be 17 in January and I still don’t have my permit I have studying for about seven months and still haven’t gotten it and of course it’s been complicated with Covid, which is stressful, but it’s mostly me. I’m too scared to learn how to drive and even take the test – all I can think of is failure. I have so much anxiety you don’t even understand. I made a appointment about two months ago and didn’t even attend – I’m so mad at myself. I really need this – it’s so important. I need the new responsibility, you know, and I really want my own car and license. How do you get over the fear of driving? I also can’t comprehend too well; like my brain lags or I panic. Please give me the best advice you can. Thank you for reading. Take care.


Ms.JuliaJ replies

Thank you for writing to us. Learning to drive creates anxiety in a lot of people so please don’t feel like you are the only one to be fearful. It takes a lot of practice to feel comfortable driving and you will feel more comfortable the more you practice. Did you learn to ride a bicycle when you were young? If you did, you remember how shaky and afraid you were at first, but the more you practiced the better you got until you were riding like you had always done so. 

Did you take a driver’s education course either at your high school or from a company who teaches people how to drive? It’s OK if you didn’t, but going that route does help in learning with a teacher sitting beside you. I have known quite a few people who did not get their license until they were in their later teens or early twenties and they decided to take driving lessons from a company which gave them the confidence they needed. 

You are right; you do need to get your learner’s permit first. I think you just need to get over the hurdle of actually taking the test. Since you have been studying for seven months, you have studied enough and you are well prepared to take the test. Just go take it. If you fail it, it’s truly not a big deal because you will just take it again. I think you need to ‘practice’ the test and go in with the attitude of, “Iif I pass, OK, if I fail, OK,” and not be stressed over it. Anxiety makes you so tense that you can’t remember the information that you know. Just go take the test to have the experience so you will know what to expect. Plus, there are online practice tests that you can practice before you take the test the first time. I truly do not think that with all of the studying you have already done, plus taking the practice tests, that you will fail the written part. But, if you do, just take it again and I am certain you will pass it the second time.

The next step after getting your learner’s permit is to practice driving. You will need a licensed driver who is 21 or over and with you at all times when you are practicing. This can be a parent, or an older friend, but it should not be someone who is a new driver. You need someone who is experienced so they can help you know what to do if you have a question or make a mistake. This is where driver’s education or driving classes can be helpful but you don’t need them in order to learn how to drive. Just make sure that the adult with you is a good driver and is also calm and steady. They need to be able to teach, not get uptight or yell.

It’s a good idea to go to a big parking lot in the evenings or on the weekends when the business is closed and just practice driving around the empty parking lot. You can practice many things – starting, stopping, turning, backing up, using turn signals, watching your mirrors, speeding up, slowing down, and parking. You can’t generally go over 10 to 15 miles per hour, so big parking lots are a great way to ease into the basics of handling a car. 

When you feel comfortable in the parking lot, start driving around a few blocks near your home. You will learn to back out of your driveway, watching for cars and people as you back out. Once out on the street you will continue watching for other cars, staying in your lane, looking for kids who are playing and being prepared to stop if one of them gets near the street, you may be following behind other cars and other cars may be behind you, which will help you get used to proper distance when following other cars. You will be using your turn signals and learning how hard to brake when you stop. There may be traffic lights, 4-way stop signs, pedestrian crosswalks, etc. which will all be excellent for giving you practice about how to proceed. There are many things you can learn just by driving around a few blocks near your house.

You will gradually expand the distance. Maybe next, you drive for five miles to a school lot or church lot where you can turn around and then drive back home. You will most likely be on a busier road but the principles are the same – go the speed you are comfortable with, stay in your lane, obey the traffic laws, use your turn signals, be ready to stop if you need to and become more used to the road. You will gain confidence and your anxiety will lessen more and more. Each state has its own rules regarding the length of time that a learner’s permit is good; the range is from one to five years depending upon the state. While you have a learner’s permit, you cannot have anyone else in the car with you except a supervising driver.

Your parents will gradually let you drive to busier places and for longer periods of time. Each trip you take will help you learn more about driving. They will be able to help you decide when you are ready to take the driving test. So, with some embarrassment, let me tell you what I did when I first got my driving license. We had to parallel park and I was using a friend’s car for the test. I did fine until parallel parking – I bumped the bumper of  a parked car as I was trying to maneuver into the parking spot. Well, I immediately failed the test because you can’t hit a car while driving and pass the test, ha! I about died of being mortified, plus now my friend’s car and the other car had dents in the bumpers. Somehow, I got the courage to try again two weeks later, and I passed. I went from there to driving a school bus when I was in my early twenties. I have never had an accident since, so I am here as a witness, that you can mess up and still live to be a good driver! 

Good driving starts with where we began – a lot of practice. But you do have to start. So, go get your permit and start practicing. I know you can do it! Driving is a life skill that most of us need unless we are going to live all of our lives in a big city and walk or use public transportation. Since we can’t predict where our lives are going to take us, it makes sense to go ahead and get a driver’s license. I wish you lots of fun while learning and I know you will be successful. Write back sometime to let us know how things are going!

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