Until last week, I hadn’t driven in five years since I passed my exam. In London, like many others, I depend on public transport and the thought of owning a car in the capital feels a little frivolous given the excellent transport links.
But lately I had started to yearn to get back on the open road and step back in the driver’s seat for that taste of freedom I had worked so many hours towards in my early 20s.
With a vacation at home seeming to be the only option again this year, renting a car sounds more and more attractive – but I feel too out of practice to just take the plunge.
Instead, I accepted the offer of a ride Confidence course from a company called Drive Doctors.
Many say they have lost confidence in driving since the pandemic, NFU Mutual said
Mark Johnston is the founder and recently teamed up with insurance giant NFU Mutual to help people get back on the road safely after many stopped driving during the lockdown.
While Drive Doctors was founded nine years ago to make it easier for younger rural drivers to drive safely in urban areas, it has now been expanded to include all age groups who want to be more confident driving.
The lockdown has been a catalyst for more people to sign up for the service as one in four drivers who haven’t driven for such a long period of time becomes nervous about getting back on the road if restrictions are fully relaxed revealed an investigation by NFU Mutual.
To get them back on the road, the insurer gave away 1,000 driving safety training courses to its insurance customers for cars and light commercial vehicles through Drive Doctors.
As someone who sits in the slightly nervous driver category, I decided to take one of the courses to test my skills and hopefully make sure I feel safe enough to drive alone in the future.
I was sure I wouldn’t remember how to start the engine, let alone drive on an expressway – but all my fears were quickly gone.
Instead of driving a car in London for the first time – after all, I first learned it in my quiet hometown of Eastbourne – I was offered the chance to drive to the Bedford Autodrome, where the chance of an accident is low.
The grand racetrack has hosted a number of celebrities – and even kings – over the years, with space for miles and miles.
previous driving experience
While Grace enjoyed her driving lesson, she’s likely not quite ready for the circuit just yet
Before the session started, I was worried about how I would find navigating a car again as my previous driving experience was turbulent.
I started studying at 17 and failed my first practical exam before going to university where driving took a back seat.
I started again at 22, with a different teacher, and had to repeat my theory test because the two-year period had expired.
Two more attempts later in the internship and I finally passed my test of never driving again until last week.
I guess some people are in a similar situation – they have their full driver’s license, but they live in cities and are completely out of practice with it.
The thought of being in control of a vehicle after a long break is certainly nerve-wracking for many. 45 percent of drivers state that they are interested in a confidential meeting.
39 percent in particular would very much like to receive training on how to use their vehicle in emergency situations, such as skidding on ice.
45% of people told NFU Mutual that they would be interested in driver confidence training
This is how the session works
The first thing Mark, a racing driver who became a safe driving instructor, did was to emphasize that the session was not a lesson but a time to familiarize oneself with pre-existing knowledge.
After driving myself to the Autodrome from Bedford Station, we swapped places in a quiet part of the track where no other cars were around.
This was the first time I’ve driven a car other than a Mini Cooper – it was a Ford Fiesta – and the only time I’ve sat in a vehicle where the passenger didn’t have dual controls, which meant I was full Had autonomy.
Before I left, I registered Mark’s concern when I told him the best way to remember the pedals was to say, “I can’t a * sed” – clutch, brake, accelerate.
To my and his surprise, however, the first part of the ride was a lot easier than I thought. I easily found the bite site and slowly drove off.
He asked if I needed special help with anything – something he does with all clients to make sure they are getting the most out of their time – which for me was just a confident shift in gears.
After several slow laps around the autodrome, Mark suggested that we try to switch to the public roads.
I accelerated from 30 mph to 70 mph, stepped off the track and drove through the Bedford countryside, where I drove on the two-lane road and successfully crossed a three-lane roundabout, which added to my confidence.
The skills I had learned years ago, including carefully checking mirrors, came back to me.
Only a few times did I come a little too close to the curb with my somewhat clumsy steering.
As we drove, Mark told me that many of those who signed up for a self-confidence course are mature adults looking to regain confidence in their abilities.
Some of the clients are a woman who was afraid of driving over bridges while another was a man with early-onset dementia who wanted to feel safe enough to drive while he still could.
Mark Johnston is a former racing driver who is now working with drivers on confidence courses
How can I close a session?
Trust rides have proven popular. When NFU Mutual offered customers the opportunity to take a self-confidence lesson, there was great interest. More than 2,000 applicants applied in less than half an hour – although only 1,000 places were available.
The sessions were offered after research showed that driving assistance was in high demand.
Right now, however, this is not a product that people can buy at NFU Mutual.
What they can do is book them separately themselves with sessions with Drive Doctors which cost £ 150 and usually take place in the client’s own car with the instructor driving to them.
The sessions last around two hours and are all tailored to the individual driver, with the driving instructor calling ahead to ask which aspects of driving they are least familiar with and to set some learning goals.
Upon arrival, the customers do a vehicle check together and then drive a route planned in advance that covers as many driving scenarios as possible.
The driver then receives a report with goals, progress and any advice for the future. The instructor offers a follow-up talk a week later.
Other companies that offer trust courses include RED, The AA, and BSM, while it is worth checking with local independent instructors to see if they offer packages.
The two hour refresher was worth it in my opinion and I can’t wait to drive alone.
By the end of the session, both Mark and I were pleased with my progress, and I was relieved to know that I would feel safe and confident enough to drive the streets on my own.
While I may not be ready for the busy streets of London just yet, I would certainly love to rent a car on my future vacation and drive around a quieter coastal city.
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