The fear of driving as a grown-up - Do not give up hope, you are not alone!
Charlie Inglefield - 14/07/2011
Kind words from Charlie who was terrified of driving
The fear starts with the mere thought of a driving lesson. The sweats have long since raised their ugly head, displaying ugly dark patches across my shirt. The nauseous nerves continue at the first site of the car and I find myself wanting to be as far away as humanly possible from this death contraption. I dread it and I know it’s going to keep coming.
The majority of adults drive. Indeed, most of us passed our driving tests when we were 17 without too many complications.
I, on the other hand come from a distinct minority. I am 33 years old and I still don’t have a driving licence. Driving has been and to an extent continues to be my biggest demon. For the last 16 years not a day has gone by when I have not felt guilty or embarrassed by the fact that I don’t drive. I have used many excuses, some hilarious others frankly rather sad. Take my wedding day for example. It was a magical occasion and yet even during one of the happiest moments of my life, I felt awful that I couldn’t drive my beautiful wife away afterwards.
I have lost count of the times when the inevitable subject of favourite cars has been raised whilst in a car with friends. I would hope upon hope that my mates would not ask the dreaded question, ‘Charlie, what car do you drive’? Or even worse, ‘Charlie, do you drive’. As for the late teen trips to the pub all those years ago, I was the only one who would sit in the back as my mates would drive me back leaving me feeling decidedly sheepish.
We all have our demons; there is not a person on this earth who doesn’t. They can be as diverse as being scared of a grapefruit which my driving instructor recently said to me.
Having opened up a great deal on the subject of driving these last couple of months, people have asked me how it all started. Initially it was a serious car accident in which a friend died and my best mate nearly joined him. It was a crash I should have been in. An Innocuous pizzas run into Lincoln which I turned down because I wanted to go for a run instead. The chances of me running and turning down a pizza in those days were a million to one but my mind told me to get some training in for a run which was happening a few weeks later.
I have had many years to go through this and the agonies that three sets of families had to and still endure on that fateful night. I found excuses, craved for them even. At university I was far too busy enjoying my student days and a car was not needed. I then moved down to London and worked in and around the city for eight years and again a car was not needed. Then I had my first stab at driving. I was in the process of moving to Sydney and felt this was the prime opportunity to give it a try.
I enlisted the services of a driving agency based in west London. I very nearly didn’t make it. I smoked furiously for an hour, looking longingly at the tube station entrance just knowing that I could hop on the train and the terror would be exorcised for another day. I trembled at the site of my teacher, a very overweight man who looked decidedly disinterested. We then drove around the back streets of Hammersmith with my hands on the steering wheel and the pedals being worked by the instructor. I began to relax until I saw my instructor beginning to fall asleep with dribble around his mouth.
I changed instructors and I had a Jekyll and Hyde replacement. Some days he was a great laugh but mostly he would berate me for any mistakes and make me feel like I was back at school. I don’t react well to criticism unless it is constructive and was crying out for someone who understood the mental fragilities I possessed. A heavy smell of smoke in the car and the occasional smell of alcohol from the night before did not help.
I cancelled at least six lessons because I was so scared of getting into the car. The cunningly easy excuse of having a last minute meeting always came in handy. Finally, I gave up, my confidence totally shot. I promised myself that Sydney would be different. I spent four great years in Australia and not once did I decide to start driving, the same old excuses would crop up.
The first steps towards redemption came from the most unlikely of sources. A coffee with one of my wife’s work contacts who when I first met her was dressed in a donkey outfit at an office Christmas party when revealing her former life as a driving instructor. I had a chance to pour out pent-up emotions of not being able to drive from the innocuous surroundings of Manly beach. Clare listened, understood and crucially told me that I was not unique and put me in touch with an old colleague, who worked in Reading.
With a move back to Europe came the chance I was waiting for which was to go on a genuine referral and start from scratch again.
Barrie Preece, who runs his own business as part of the LDC national franchise has been a saviour. For the simple fact that he recognised the kind of candidate I am and the demon within myself rather than the driving itself. Being able to operate the car without wanting to throw up or wish that I had never got into the driver’s seat in the first place have been substantial steps forward. I still get brain explosions, I still get nerves but I keep coming back for more because I genuinely believe that I can drive.
There is no fairy tale ending yet as I am about to take my test but the biggest challenge for me is over and that is summoning up every reserve to get into the driver’s seat. Like any psychological problem this will be a case in progress for me but did I ever think that I would be in a position to take my test two months ago? Not a chance.
For those who are in a similar situation to me, please don’t give up hope, speak to people, open up and look for genuine recommendations. You are not alone and you would be amazed how many people will come out of the woodwork admitting the same fears. For those drivers out there perhaps when you are waiting behind an L-Plater and the irrestible temptation to honk the horn becomes difficult to ignore just remember that you were there once.