I feel super good today. I finally overcame one of my biggest fears: driving. I passed my driver’s license!
It all started exactly ten years ago in France. I had signed up for the new “learner permit program”: the idea was to learn with an instructor (mandatory in France) before passing the road test at 18 years old (the minimum age for taking it). After many months of sitting in a class learning theory, I passed the dreaded written test. At first, I was very excited by the idea of driving. I didn’t mind cars. It was all a matter of practice, I thought.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I became terrified of driving. I was doing fine at first. Steering the wheel, pushing the clutch, first gear, second gear — there are no automatic cars in France, the standard is manual transmission. I started driving around the city with the instructor. He was a fairly old guy, who loved cars and hated people who didn’t fall in love with the Freudian stick shift: “can you feel how smooth it is?” No, I couldn’t. I didn’t care either. To me, driving was getting from point A to point B safely.
I never seemed to understand where I was going. Either I was too focused on the clutch, either I was just dumb. My instructor opted for the second choice. “Turn right here. NO NO NOOOO Not here!” Half of the time, I didn’t even understand what I was doing wrong. I was relieved when stopping at an intersection behind another car — at least, I wouldn’t have to go first and possibly take the wrong way. I just had to follow. It also gave me a previous extra few second to not stall.
My city had the most roundabouts in France. French just love roundabouts: big, small, decorated with a fountain in the middle — we spent hours theorizing on how to drive on them (cars to your left have the right-of-way etc.).
Eventually, I had to go for my road test along with three other students. We felt like lambs to the slaughter. Both of the other students failed right away. When my turn came, I started the car fine, drove for a few minutes and almost felt confident. But a few seconds later, the examiner braked suddenly and yelled “look at what you are doing!” I parked safely on the side of the street, puzzled. “What did I do?” “The roundabout, the roundabout!” I looked behind me. I didn’t see any roundabout, just a four-way intersection on which I had stopped, signalled, yielded etc. Turned out that at the middle of the intersection, there was a tiny dot painted: a new roundabout in construction. I had failed my test.
I had to wait 6 months to take another road test — by no mean a mandatory waiting period but the result of a backlog. Road tests in France and notoriously difficult and expensive and taking a driver license is very expensive: around 1 400 €. Then, the examiner went on strike. Another few months wait.
Eventually I got a test date right before my written exam, valid for three years, expired. In between, I had been to Australia and New Zealand, where I had driven a bit on empty roads. It was bound to happen: when I took my road test, at the first intersection, the examiner asked me to turn right. I signalled, or at least I thought I did. Because my latest experience driving had been in Australia, where you drive on the left side on the road, I turned on the wipers instead of the signal (commands are on the opposite side). I laughed nervously and realized my mistake right away. Too late: I had failed again and my written test had expired. I had to start all over from the beginning again.
I never did. I moved to Canada, and decided to take my driver license there. Ontario has a graduated licensing system: first you take your G1 and you must drive accompanied by a licensed driver and must not drive on freeways. Then you take your G2, the probationary licence where all major restrictions are lifted. Finally, you take your G license.
Taking the written test was unceremonious, unlike in France. You just have to show up at the Ministry of Transportation — no need to make an appointment or to take classes. Just borrow the Driver Handbook at the library, study, pay $10 and take the test. I passed right away. I explained my French driving stories and for $125 I was given a G1 license on the spot.
Sure, I couldn’t drive alone or on freeways, but I was happy with that. I was too scared of driving anyway. I used my licence mostly as a piece of ID. I thought it could stay like that forever… until I received a letter this summer. My G1 was only valid for 5 years, I had to pass the G2 test or I’d lose my G1. Damn it.
Shortly after, the examiners went on strike. I freaked out — it felt like a déjà-vu. I decided I had been scared for long enough. The strike ended abruptly after Christmas. I booked a road test and arranged to take 5 hours practice lessons with an instructor. He was very patient and seemed relaxed with me. He corrected a few things here and there but told me I should pass no problem. Really?
I spent time driving around with Feng. I practiced parallel parking and driving in the snow. To me own surprise, I could actually drive. Suddenly, road rules made sense. I wasn’t scared anymore. I knew where and when to look, which streets to turn in and what do to.
I showed up at my test nervous and scared. My hands were shaking. The examiner got in the car, made me do a three-point-turn and parallel parking. I did just fine. We took a short drive around the Ministry. As soon as I parked, he handed me my papers back and told me I had passed. As simple as that.
I walked into the Ministry, was congratulated, had my picture taken again, got a temporary license and was told I’d receive my full licence within three weeks.
I feel great. Not just for passing the test but for feeling confident to drive for the first time in my life. And mostly for overcoming a ten years old stupid fear.
Have you ever felt like that?