Congratulations! You have finally passed your driving test, and you can’t wait to tell everyone and celebrate becoming a fully-fledged, bona fide member of the qualified driver’s club.
Once the initial excitement has subsided, you will no doubt be champing at the bit to get on the road. You have sent off for your full licence, acquired a vehicle, arranged your insurance, and attached your P plates.
But, despite having a strong desire to just get started, you have a knot in your stomach and you feel slightly nauseous whenever you think about taking that first drive alone. This is entirely normal, and the self-doubt and anxiety will gradually fade once you develop your driving habit and become more confident.
To help you on your way, here are a few tips which should help to make that transition from learner to aficionado feel as painless as possible.
- Start slowly
It is advisable to restrict yourself to familiar roads fairly close to home when you first pass your test, before venturing further afield. When you feel ready to take that next step, perhaps to drive yourself to work or college, ask an experienced driver to accompany you as a passenger the first time, so that you can overcome your nerves and build your confidence before attempting it alone. When it comes to making your first solo journey, give yourself plenty of extra time to avoid any additional stress that might otherwise arise from running late for work, an appointment, or an exam.
- Be prepared
Before embarking on any journey, you should always think about what you may need to take with you to ensure you are prepared for any unforeseen delays or problems. These might include: lengthy traffic jams due to accidents or roadworks; your vehicle breaking down; running out of petrol; blowing a tyre; getting lost; encountering adverse weather conditions; or becoming ill or tired whilst driving.
Items to keep in the boot of your car
A full petrol can
A couple of cloths or rags
A large empty water bottle
Windscreen de-icer and scraper
A fold-down reflective hazard sign
A pair of jump-leads
Items to keep inside your car
Items to keep in the glove box
Breakdown policy document and emergency phone number
Copy of insurance and MOT documents
A physical map (in case GPS signal is lost)
- Know your route
Before you set out, ensure that you know where you are going. This may sound obvious, but even the most familiar destination can take on a whole new outlook when you suddenly find yourself in the driving seat and on your own. No longer do you have an instructor giving you every direction, and it is now up to you to anticipate any one-way systems or obstacles along the way.
If you’re going somewhere you have never been before, then it is especially important to programme your sat-nav if you have one, and ensure that you also have a physical map in the car just in case you lose the GPS signal. If you don’t have a sat-nav and you intend to drive on the motorway, be sure to check which junction you need to exit at before you set out. Remember, you won’t be able to check your map whilst you are driving on the motorway unless you pull over onto the hard shoulder.
- Get familiar with your controls
There are few things worse than being caught in a dense patch of fog whilst driving, and not having a clue where your fog light is. Before you so much as turn the ignition in a car you have never driven before, you should get to grips with all of your dashboard controls, including hazard lights. Not knowing where or how to turn a function on or off immediately when needed causes great distraction, and can lead to a huge amount of unnecessary stress or even an accident.
There is no standard rule for which side your indicators or lights should be located, and it differs from vehicle to vehicle, so you may need to get your head around this if the car you learnt in was different. It is also important to understand how your fans and heaters work – if in doubt about anything, be sure to check your vehicle manual (you do have one, don’t you? 😉).
- Remember to adjust your seat and mirrors
You should have developed a steadfast habit with this when you were learning, but it can be easy to let things slip once you have your own car, and you don’t have someone beside you watching your every move. Ensuring that your seat is the right height and positioned correctly will not only make you a safer driver, but also a more comfortable and confident driver. And I’m sure I don’t need to remind you why it is so important to re-position all your mirrors to the correct angle once you have adjusted your seat.
- Eliminate all distractions
Your car may have the best sound system in the universe, but when you first start driving on your own it is best to leave it well alone. You will need all your senses to be on high alert to begin with, including your hearing. Once you feel more confident, you will be able to fill your boots with music whilst driving, but now isn’t the time.
You should also turn off (or switch to silent) any mobile phones. Ringing phones tend to put us on edge and force us to think about who might be calling and why, rather than focusing on road signs, paying attention to other traffic, watching your speed, and anticipating unexpected occurrences.
It is probably best not to offer to transport young children in the early days too – screaming babies and loud, argumentative, demanding kids can be stressful at the best of times. The same goes for teenage mates (but for slightly different reasons, obviously) – now is not the time to be in the company of those you might usually feel compelled to impress by acting the fool. Speeding, racing, and spinning your wheels on public roads is neither big nor clever.
- Learn how to fill up
One skill you may not have learnt from your driving instructor is how to put fuel into your car. It may seem absurdly obvious for anyone who has been driving for a while but, unless you have done it before, it can feel quite intimidating the first time. It may be best to have someone you know walk you through it before attempting to do it alone.
Perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to check that you’re putting in the right type of fuel. Filling a petrol car with diesel, or vice-versa, is a very costly and sometimes disastrous mistake – one that many, many drivers have made at least once. It’s easily done when you’re distracted, so always be mindful to concentrate on the task at hand.
- Watch your fuel consumption
Whether you are fortunate enough to have the resources to purchase your own vehicle, or you have access to someone else’s, one thing is for certain – you will soon discover that fuel is expensive!
Luckily, there are a number of steps you can take to reduce the amount of fuel your vehicle burns, enabling you to drive more economically. For example, taking heavy items out of the vehicle when they’re not needed, avoiding rapid acceleration and deceleration, keeping your speed down, checking your tyre pressure, and using the correct oil for your particular engine can all really help.
You will also need to get into the habit of keeping an eye on that fuel gauge, to ensure you don’t get caught out with an empty tank miles away from the nearest garage. To be on the safe side, you should always keep a can of petrol in the boot of your car in case of such emergencies.
Still feeling anxious?
If you feel you might benefit from some intermediate tuition before going it alone, then it might be worth considering the Pass Plus scheme. The scheme allows new drivers to practice driving in situations and environments that might otherwise be stressful (e.g. busy city centres, bad weather, motorways, night-time driving, etc). You may even be able to source a cheaper insurance deal after completing the course.
There is a saying that it is only when you begin to venture out alone that you really start learning to drive. Whilst you will have needed to reach a good level of competence to pass your test, remember that you have thus far been driving in somewhat artificial conditions which no longer apply. There is now nobody directing your every manoeuvre, no dual control safety net, and no reassuring advice.
However, do be assured that the more often you drive, the better driver you will become. Remember that confidence comes gradually, over time and with experience. Be patient. There is no hurry. You will get there!