It is really exciting the first time you put L plates on a car, and, accompanied by a friend, parent or other relative, take to the road as a driver for the first time. But it can also be a bit nerve racking, and it’s not helped by the attitude of other drivers on the road who seem to have forgotten that they were once a learner too.
As well as learning to control the car – start, stop, steer, change gear, operate indicators and wipers – learners also have to be aware of other people on the road. Driving is all about anticipation – anticipating hazards such as pedestrians, cyclists, children about to run out from between cars etc, but as a learner there seem to be additional threats too. Inconsiderate car drivers who’ll do anything to get past a learner to the extent of being a road hazard themselves! Drivers can ignore proper roundabout protocol and jump out in front as they don’t want to drive behind a learner, often almost causing the learner to do an emergency stop!
So how can you best prepare to deal with these situations?
Before you take to the road in a private car, however experienced your accompanying driver might be, have some lessons with an Approved Driving Instructor first. The advantage of this is that your instructor will be able to use the dual controls and help you get out of trouble. S/he will be well experienced with other inconsiderate road users, and to some extent will be able to predict their behaviour. With your newly learned and up to date knowledge of the highway code you’ll be expecting others to obey the rules – your instructor will be expecting them not to, and will be ready with the brake.
All learners take time to learn clutch control and how to move off smoothly without stalling. When you have difficulty getting going at a roundabout or junction drivers behind you will get impatient – particularly if the light has turned red a second time. Your instructor will be able to reassure you and speak to you calmly, giving you the time to relax until you can move off properly. If you are having real problems, s/he will help you pull away.
Your driving instructor will know when you are ready to drive in a car without dual controls so take their advice.
When you drive a private car for the first time you will be very aware that you are on your own. You must accept that you are very inexperienced and listen to the advice from your accompanying driver. You should drive exactly as your instructor told you to, but the person with you can give you advice such as which lane to get into, and also be on the lookout for cars trying to dodge the learner! Beware for cars overtaking dangerously (and often unnecessarily) just because they think you are going to slow them down. Be aware they may jump out at roundabouts and junctions for the same reason as they are expecting you to stall.
Luckily the majority of drivers have sympathy for learners, but you’re almost certain to come up against one or more of the minority.
Being aware of other road users and what they might do will keep you safe as you’re learning to drive, and will give you useful skills to take forward as at some time in your driving life you’re bound to come up against drivers who seem to have forgotten everything they ever learned about the highway code.
Always remember that you have as much right to be on the road as anyone else. Don’t get angry if someone cuts you up – being able to remain calm when driving is an important part of being safe. Put incidences like this down to experience. Being aware of some other drivers reaction when they see L Plates will help you to expect the unexpected. And when you pass your test yourself, always remember that everyone has to start somewhere, and be courteous and thoughtful to learners.