Ten things you learn when learning to drive and passing your test in London
If you live here and want to learn to drive, London’s probably where you’re going to do it. A word of warning – don’t it’s not for the faint-hearted. I know my son is a driving instructor.
1. You’ll need a master of the ancient Buddhist practice of meditation to mentor you
Navigating London by car takes the patience of a saint, everyone, and I mean everyone, drives like an idiot. Shop around online for instructors with reviews that include keywords like: ‘calm’, ‘understanding’, ‘relaxed’ and ‘didn’t swear at me when I did an emergency stop in the middle of Hyde Park Corner’.
2. Don’t take someone sounding their horn personally
You’ll get beeped for pausing three seconds to let a little old lady slowly cross at a pedestrian crossing, just relax into that. In plenty of situations, your fellow motorist will helpfully second guess what you’re about to do wrong and honk you before you’ve even done it. Driving a cab I would be disappointed should I not be reminded of any hesitation or transgression.
3. Don’t expect to travel faster than 15mph (or should that now be 24.14016km/h?)
The fact is, if you manage to travel at the blistering speed of 20mph for more than 60 continuous seconds in central London, you’re probably in the bus lane, thus giving the London Mayor £80 to waste on bike lanes.
4. Use Zipcars to practice
The trouble with passing your test, if you don’t have your own car, is staying street-wise, once in a while it makes sense to go for a quick spin. While Zipcar et al aren’t thrifty, they’re still far cheaper than advanced lessons by the hour and there’s no faffy paperwork/credit card nonsense that comes with many car hire companies.
5. Manuals are very . . . well manual
If you don’t fancy changing gear more times than the government changes Covid advice, an automatic transmission is for you. You’re not likely to get into third gear, let alone fourth, fifth or sixth in central London. So instead of contemplating which gear you last selected, concentrate on that cyclist about to commit hara-kiri beneath your wheels.
6. You’ll suddenly feel an affinity for drivers
As a dyed-in-the-wool pedestrian, it’s easy to badmouth cars for little things like blocking zebra crossings, mounting the pavement and giving off a general air of wanting to mow you down. With your sudden transformation into a driver, prepare to experience the other side of the story: Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are tougher to escape than the Crystal Maze; Pedestrians idly strolling out in front of you like they’re at the Chelsea Flower Show; E-scooters falling out of the sky; and taxis deciding to show off their tight turning circle as you approach. Nobody is your friend, it’s a jungle out there.
7. If you can drive in London, you can drive anywhere
Except maybe Rome, Buenos Aires, Mumbai and Hanoi . . . hang on, let us rephrase that. If you can drive in London, you shouldn’t have any problems in Guildford, just give Glasgow a miss for the moment.
8. There are one or two ‘magical moments’ to compensate for the rest
Driving’s often a chore, and in London’s rush hour you probably identify with Edvard Munch’s painting of The Scream. But being behind the wheel does bless you with one or two magical moments. Like driving over the Albert Bridge at night, tourists looking surprised you’ve stopped to let them cross or seeing the BMW which cut you up is now stuck behind a tipper truck.
9. Don’t tell your friends of your brilliant achievement
Bragging about your life skills and qualifications can suppress most conversations. Admitting you can drive in London will qualify you to be the ‘nominated’ driver for the next few nights out.
10. Expect wear and tear
So you have ill-advisedly taken the plunge, or been persuaded by Rylan Clark-Neal to purchase a vehicle. Don’t expect it to remain pristine, despite the Clean Air Act, crap falls from the sky like snow. London has some world-class potholes, holes and humps proliferate Islington, drive faster than 8mph at your peril. Also, London drivers take pride in their ability to pass a vehicle leaving barely room for a cigarette paper between them.
And as a bonus: You don’t really need to drive in London
Being able to drive is a life skill, doubly so being able to drive in London. But the latter should be used sparingly like driving a pregnant woman to the hospital. Otherwise, London has one of the best transport networks anywhere, so as soon as you pass your test, reserve a car for your next countryside getaway, then celebrate by taking the tube, thus rewarding Sadiq Khan with the price of the fare, and not the congestion charge.
Image courtesy: Styles-Steering Driving School