My experience of learning to drivePublished Date: 27 Feb 2020
I applied for my license as soon as I was 17. I've lived on campus at Loughborough since I was 16 as part of an elite sports program. It’s a long way from home and I travel a lot with my sporting commitments, I decided life would be easier if I could drive myself.
I didn't actually start driving until I was 18. If I'm honest I was a little anxious about driving and put it off. I was worried I wouldn't be able to hear the instructor. I have a cochlear implant and use lip-reading but I knew I couldn’t look at the instructor’s face while driving. The road and engine noise would also add to my difficulty hearing people in a car.
When I booked my theory test they said I could take an interpreter if I wanted. I took a family member just to help out with any communication problems at the theory test centre. I was allowed help in the booking-in phase but not in the actual test area. This wasn't a problem though because it was a very visual multi-choice test.
I would definitely recommend using a theory test revision app before taking the test. It cost a few pounds but I found practising on lots of mock questions really helped, it meant I knew about the type of questions that would come up and how they would be set out. This really helped to settle my nerves going into the test.
I passed first time! I could now concentrate on passing my practical test.
Choosing a driving instructor
I chose a driving instructor who was recommended by a friend. He was patient and sympathetic. My dad initially explained about my hearing and how best to communicate with me, basics like making explanations face-to-face. I’d only consider an instructor who can adapt to accommodate my needs.
Using a radio aid
I rely heavily on lip-reading so I knew I wouldn’t be able to look at my instructor without taking my attention off the road. The instructor was happy to adapt by using my radio aid, the Phonak Roger pen. Conversations were face-to-face in a quiet area with the engine turned off. The radio aid sent his voice loud and clear directly to my cochlear implant. It cut out engine and road noise and reduced the need to lip-read all the time. He also used basic hand signals to reinforce his instructions. This was great for my confidence because I could concentrate on driving and the road ahead.
Everyone communicates differently so it’s important to establish the best methods of communication for you with your instructor from the start. I understand there are a few instructors who can sign but this wasn't necessary for me.
The instructor kept asking if I could hear the engine revs or the clutch biting but I couldn't. The engine was really quiet so this made it harder to set off and know when to change gear. A louder engine or rev counter may have helped. Some cars also have warning lights advising you when to change gear.
The practical test
I passed my practical test first time! I was surprised because I wasn't a confident driver - we have some hilarious family footage of my first few drives. We all thought it would take years but I only had the summer to get driving. By test day I had improved, I wasn’t confident, but I was cautious and safe. I suppose that’s what they are looking for.
I had a lesson before my test to calm my nerves. We requested an examiner without a strong regional accent, I really struggle lip-reading strong accents and when there is facial hair covering the speaker’s mouth. The examiner was very patient, clearly-spoken and looked at me when she was talking.
Driving on my own
A couple of days after passing my test I moved to London. One of my first drives was from Yorkshire to London. My Dad came and we shared the driving, which meant I had an on the spot motorway driving lesson! This was the first time I’d driven on a motorway. Driving in London can also be crazy for a new driver, but it forced me to learn very quickly. Now I love the convenience and peace of driving my car - I was always anxious and stressed using public transport.