61) Driving Lessons as an Adult
Updated: Sep 8, 2022
Howdy! I'm 31 and I only recently enrolled in driving lessons. That not being the norm for most folks in the USA, I thought it might be worth sharing my overall experience.
First off, while there are many factors in why I've waited this long, timing, money. environmental, etc, they boil down to excuses because I was scared. Am I still scared? Yeah. Driving is multitasking, keeping track of many thing happening at once, which I'd argue not everybody is cut out for. I already wrote a rant about why our car-centric society is ablest. While I've spoken with other adult non-drivers, and some of them have a phobia, many have other factors for why they don't drive.
The judgmental take of many drivers against non-drivers is small minded. I remember complaining to a coworker about how difficult it was for me to get around in my then new home city, and how nervous I was going underneath bridges and being forced to walk along highways. They were flabbergasted. Why was I going under bridges, if not to buy drugs? Why was I endangering myself and traffic, by straying from the sidewalk? She couldn't wrap her head around an inability to drive, though had my trouble simply boiled down to "can't afford a car," I doubt I'd have been perceived any more kindly. If those overpasses had sidewalks, I wouldn't have had to cross underneath. If that city had more bus routes, I would never have resorted to walking along a highway. Anyway, non-drivers, I see you and I'm not casting judgement.
One of the excuses for not learning to drive sooner, was that I needed a Texas Learner License, and mine's from New York. You can imagine the scheduling issues during Covid, then I was moving, getting married, etc. When I finally set the Department of Public Safety (Texas' version of the Department of Motor Vehicles), there was minimal wait. I had about a week to study up, so I read the entire Texas Driver's Manual free PDF, took an insane amount of practice written exams, and watched over ten hours of the video equivalent of Driver's Ed on Youtube. While I recall long waits at DMVs in New York, I was in and out of my local DPS in record time, after just a vision test. Technically, I don't need glasses to drive, but they're useful, so I plan to where the anyway.
As for my experience since scheduling classes, first off, when I initially called I wasn't scheduled right away. There are several driving schools nearby and I opted for the one charging $475 for a total of four spaced out hour and a half lessons, concluding with the driving test. The other schools' courses were a couple hundred dollars more for about the same number of hours practicing, so the choice was obvious. When I called, they clarified whether or not I was an adult, and when I explained that I am, they asked if I wanted the 4 sessions class, and I gave confirmation. To my knowledge, I don't believe the school I went with offers the several-students-per-class-per-car variety of driver's ed, to adults.
I called in May. I was waitlisted for August. They called again in June, confirmed that I still wanted to learn with them, and scheduled my classes for August. We confirmed the dates and times. Then I paid over the phone, one lump sum, not a separate charge per class. I did confirm that I had the ability to cancel and reschedule the classes if anything came up.
I did practice written driving tests online to practice, leading up to my first lesson.
My first lesson was Thursday, August 11th, 2022. The lesson began as scheduled. My teacher pulled up in a vehicle similar to mine, but bedecked with large Student Driver stickers. I was visibly nervous but his demeanor was calming. He showed me how to adjust my seat and the mirrors. We went over the brake pedal, the gas pedal, and how to put the car into drive, neutral, and reverse. Once he was sure I had good lane control, we moved on to busier roads. Over the span of my lesson, we drove along side streets, main roads, including some big (to me) intersections, over railroad crossings, and through a round-about. He also had me parallel park. Roads ranged from speed limits of 30 miles per hour, up to 45 miles per hour. Previously practicing with my sister, husband, and friends, the fastest I'd gone was 20mph. By the end of class, I could tell that while I'm good at following directions in the moment, I'm bad at retaining the why and the how. My lane control is decent, but I had the bad habit of braking before turning on main roads, not checking my rearview mirror, not checking my side mirrors, not looking over my shoulder, looking over the wrong shoulder when corrected, and putting on my blinker too late. I was also unable to maintain a speed limit, going both over and under the limit frequently. He showed me the emergency brake, or parking break, at the end of the lesson.
I practiced once on side streets between my first and second lesson, but I wasn't confident enough to practice on main roads. I should've practiced parking but didn't. I did take a bunch more practice written exams.
My second lesson was August 16, 2022, and went much like the first. My teacher pulled up, immediately offered me the drivers side seat, and walked me through angling my mirrors and adjusting my seat. We went over the brake pedal, the gas pedal, and how to put the car into drive, neutral, and reverse. We still didn't touch on the other numbers and letter L (Low) of the gear shift (a term I just looked up by watching this iconic scene from the Suite Life of Zack and Cody). Over the span of my lesson, we drove along side streets, main roads, including some big (to me) intersections, over railroad crossings, and through a round-about. He had me parallel park again, emphasizing the importance of looking over my shoulder before turning, and he separately had me line up the car with a curb and reverse for four car lengths. I was initially very confused by this, likely as it doesn't have the same infamy as "parallel parking" when folks speak of their driving exams, but he indicated I should expect to be tested on that. Roads ranged from speed limits of 30 mph, up to 60 mph. Part of that included the driving test course. Unfortunately, I have no head for directions and was unable to memorize the course, which spanned more than a neighborhood, so I can't practice it with my husband. I wish I could say I'd greatly improved since my first lesson but, while my lane control remains decent, I still had the bad habit of braking before turning on main roads, not looking over my shoulder, looking over the wrong shoulder when corrected, and putting on my blinker too late. At one point I used the wrong blinker. I remained somewhat unable to maintain a speed limit, going both over and under the limit frequently. Early on, he called me out on looking for oncoming traffic while approaching stop signs, then stopping, and explained that he'd dock me for that in a road test. It's "stop before the sign, look, then go." My braking was slightly more gradual, but I had to be reminded to tap it before reducing speed, the gradually stopping. I tried to always be aware of the speed limit, but I noticed in my first lesson that the dashboard posts the limit, and fell into the bad habit of relying on that, as opposed to the speed limit sign after each intersection, so when the car didn't record those signs, I had to guess. The teacher has the speed limits memorized so he lightly quizzed me as we went. There are clues leading up to intersections—whether there are cars, pedestrians waiting to cross my road, pedestrians moving in the same direction as me, crossing the street opposite. I'm supposed to recognize those clues and predict the light but I didn't. I braked at a yellow light, then had to accelerate through the intersection. By the end of my second lesson, we'd yet to deal with headlights or high beams, though I was warned that if I kept braking so sharply, I'd skid during rain. There was an emphasis on points in this lesson, regarding how many each mistake would've docked me during the road test. By the end, I was pretty sure I'd fail my first road test.
I practiced driving at night after class. The neighborhood I practiced in has much narrower roads than where I took my classes, and I got too close to some of the parked cars while passing them. I didn't turn confidently onto my own street, turned wide, and then turned wide again onto my own driveway. My husband said I almost hit the mailboxes.
My third lesson was Thursday, August 18, 2022, and went much like the first. My teacher pulled up, immediately offered me the drivers side seat, and walked me through angling my mirrors and adjusting my seat. We still didn't touch on the other numbers and letter L (Low) of the gear shift. Over the span of my lesson, we drove along side streets, main roads, including some big (to me) intersections, and on highways. He had me parallel three times, once between cars, emphasizing the importance of looking over my shoulder before turning, and he separately had me line up the car with a curb and reverse for four car lengths. Roads ranged from speed limits of 30 mph, up to 70 mph. Part of that included the driving test course which we went over twice. Unfortunately, I still have no head for directions and was unable to memorize the course, which spanned more than a neighborhood, so I can't practice it exactly, with my husband. However, I knew it was by the driving school, so I could google maps that location, and then practice driving around the neighborhood. My teacher informed my that I could practice parallel parking in their parking lot if I so chose on my off-time.
I practiced driving in the downpouring rain that Sunday, especially working on my parallel parking, which I didn't quite get the hang of, before having to head home as another student driver, in the middle of their lesson, arrived to use the practice space.
My fourth and final lesson was Tuesday, August 24th, 2022. My teacher pulled up, immediately offered me the drivers side seat, before showing my how to use the windshield wipers and hazard lights. I already knew about the hazard lights button because when I'd gone practice driving with my husband on side streets, he had me use that tp notify other drivers that I ~am~ the hazard. My teacher had me drive to the driving school. We drove the route the driver's test would follow, and he let me know what mistakes I made, as well as what I did well. My turns were still wide, I drove below the speed limit, and I nearly pulled in front of an oncoming car because I thought I had the right of way. Then we did the practice exam, during which I was graded. I stopped before turning at a green light, because the turn was sharp and I lacked any confidence that I could make it at the speed I was going. In a real test, that would have been an automatic fail. We persisted with the practice run, during which he graded me as if I hadn't done that. After, he said I had 9 points off. I was allowed 30 points off, in order to pass. The actual test was off to a rude exam as I pulled out of my space in the awkwardest possible way, but I was able to correct my direction (using drive, then reverse, then drive again) and was always in control of the vehicle, so I lost no points for that. I made that tight turn without stopping and concluded the test with 7 points off. Apparently, I'd failed to look at one cross street, and turned wide at one point. So yes, I did pass the driving exam my first time. Yay me.
For the record, I fully expected to fail the test and was content to simply retake it as many times as necessary until I passed. Nobody I know passed on the first try. I don't say this to brag, but to show that my experience was unusual, and it's totally okay not to pass the first time.
At the end of the test, I was given a sealed envelope and receipt. The sealed envelope has to go with me to DPS (the Texas DMV), where I will trade it in for a paper license. They'll mail the real one to my house. I believe I'm to go through the eye exam again. I'll take it without glasses but I have them if I need them. So far, I always wear my glasses while driving. I'm not a licensed driver until the paper license is in my hand, so for now, I still need a licensed driver over the age of 25 in the car.
I'm still super nervous about driving, but forcing myself to practice at least every other day. My husband was hoping we could go up to New York for labor day weekend, but I don't see being comfortable enough driving to agree to my half of that trip, especially with our dogs in the car. My husband is a consenting adult but they are babies, one of whom gets carsick even with experienced drivers, and they didn't sign on for helping me learn.
Anyway, I hope any of this was helpful for you! I drop a new blog post every Monday. Thanks for stopping by!