While staying with my parents over the holidays, I spent a lot of time explaining to my dad why I didn’t want to drive. I live in Boston and get everywhere via subway, bus or walking. Even before I moved to a city with public transportation, I hated driving. Yet whenever I stay with my parents, they expect me to drive, and I will on one condition: it has to be absolutely necessary (like if my parents are out-of-town and no one is home to be my chauffeur). My dad will always try to persuade me to drive when it isn’t necessary though, because he claims I need practice. And every time he tries to make me drive, I cry. I’m 22 years old and am constantly reduced to tears at the thought of driving when someone else could just as easily drive me. It’s embarrassing, but I swear I can’t control that reaction.
I’m a passenger! Even when walking with someone on the sidewalk, I have to be on the right side of them because it feels like the passenger seat. When I do drive, I always go to the passenger’s seat first, and then I have to feel like an idiot when I remember I have to sit in the other seat to drive. I truly believe that is my brain telling me I can’t handle the pressure of driving.
I’m sure I was excited about getting my license when I was 16. I had to be! Driving meant freedom, independence and not taking the bus to school. It meant proving my seniority over my friends, all of whom happened to be a few months younger than me. But I don’t remember the excitement; I only remember being nervous.
I was nervous when I took driver’s ed, which I chose to do during the summer so I had more time for electives during the school year. (It was the summer, the final Harry Potter book was released, so roughly 60% of the class was reading it beneath their desks rather than paying attention. They probably grew up to be terrible drivers.) Driver’s ed was horrible for me. I didn’t know anything, which I found shocking. I was in the car when my mom tried to teach my oldest brother to drive, and my other brother went through a phase where he spent countless hours talking about horsepower and mileage and other car-terms. Surely something had to have rubbed off on me, but no. I knew nothing when it came to driving and cars, and that was a terrifying realization. How could I be expected to operate an actual moving vehicle if I could barely pass a written test about driving a car?
Eventually, I got my learner’s permit, which only led to more terror. My brothers each learned to drive with my parents, but it was decided that I needed some extra help. My high school offered an afterschool course called Behind the Wheel, and I could learn to drive with a qualified instructor a few days a week. During my first lesson, the instructor told me to meet him outside in the Malibu. So I went outside and stared at the row of cars in front of me. How was I supposed to know which car was a Malibu? I stood in the middle of the parking lot, unsure of what to do, until the instructor came outside and found me.
“Look at the back of the car!” He yelled at me. “The type of car is always on the back!”
By the time I sat down in the driver’s seat, I was already shaking. I clutched onto the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white. I don’t think I breathed much during that first lesson. I don’t even remember what I learned that day, other than how to figure out where to find the make of a car.
For my second lesson, my instructor was my English teacher, and it went much better. Once I got into the car, he turned on the radio and actually talked to me while I was driving. It was less formal, and therefore much less intimidating. Thankfully, he was my instructor for the majority of my lessons. When I was able to discuss books and homework assignments, I felt at ease. It made driving a lot easier because I was focused on something other than the possibility of an accident. Other instructors (and my parents) always yelled at me to not focus on the radio and to not talk, but, as weird as it sounds, I needed those little distractions to keep me focused on the road. Without them, I was too wrapped up in my own head, which led to much more dangerous driving.
The first time I took my driver’s test, I felt confident. Too confident. When parking alongside the curb at the end of the test, I decided to try to get exactly six inches from it. Instead of parking six inches away from it, I drove right over it, giving me an automatic 0. I failed. (Which is totally okay! A lot of people fail the first time, like my idol Cher Horowitz!) That was the second test I ever failed, and the first was an eye test. I wear glasses for that, but there weren’t any magical lenses to make me a better driver. I had to practice and keep learning.
A week after I failed my driver’s test, I tried again and passed. The state of Pennsylvania deemed me worthy of being on the road, but I didn’t feel ready. I panicked every time a light turned yellow because I didn’t know what to do. I sat with my neck craned, making sure I could see everything in front of me. I avoided the highway (which I still do). I was only 16! What dummy trusted me with a car? By the time I was 18, I was involved in two fender benders, one of which was definitely my fault (the second one was questionable). Fortunately I drove a Jeep Grand Cherokee, which was pretty big and very sturdy. I was safe, but I probably wasn’t in the right mindset to be a driver yet.
I know a lot of people who never learned how to drive or waited until they were older, and I commend them. You have to be ready to drive, and if that means you have to wait a little longer than others, then so be it. I probably should have waited a year of so before getting my license. A lot of people are ready at age 16, but I wasn’t. I’m a naturally nervous person, and putting me behind the wheel only made that worse. Now I usually feel ready to drive, even if I don’t particularly enjoy it and will cry to get out of it, but it took me a lot of time to get to this point.
I honestly think it’s okay to be afraid of driving. Cars can be dangerous, and being a driver is a lot of responsibility. And when I do drive now, I feel comfortable. While I only drive a few times a year, I have the hang of it. Yes, occasionally I forget which way to turn the wheel when backing out of the driveway, but that’s only in my driveway. By the time I get out of my neighborhood, I fully remember how to operate a vehicle. Even though driving gives me anxiety, I’m handling it right now. In a few years, I’ll reassess the situation, but for now, I think I’m doing okay when it comes to driving.
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