I’m going to tell you a story about my first driving instructor, when I began learning to drive aged 17. I was sucked in by her business card in Tesco’s, which read: “Experienced female driving instructor! Patient!” I was relieved to have found her at the time, because in my area it is really confusing to find a qualified female instructor, which, at the time, I thought was really important. Let me tell you: one’s gender does not make a good driving instructor.
While none of the things (let’s call her Shelley) wrote on her business card were lies, they were not necessarily the most important things one needs from driving tuition. In my first lesson, Shelley seemed to be a really friendly, chatty, encouraging woman. But too chatty. She spent one hour taking my details, then spent the next hour telling me horror stories about her other pupils. On returning to school after my lesson, I told my friends about it. They seemed more concerned than I did: apparently, you’re supposed to spend the second hour of your first lesson driving around a business park, learning to start and stop.
Yet that wasn’t the thing they were most concerned about. Shelley would take my money for the next lesson before it had even happened, as she would claim that she would make appointments with pupils who wouldn’t turn up, thus wasting her time and money. But she was the one who wouldn’t turn up for the lesson. I would receive a text about 10/20 minutes before she was due to pick me up, stating that she had to take her cat to the vet, or some other emergency. On several occasions, I went for a walk upon learning my lesson was cancelled, and spotted her out with another pupil. I tried calling her up on this, but she would say that a pupil was just about to take their test, but needed some extra help. I knew for a fact that this was a lie, as a lot of the people I saw her out with had only just turned 17.
Our lessons would pan out like this: Shelley would pick me up about 15 minutes late for my lesson, complaining that the queue at the petrol station was ridiculously long. I would go to swap places with her, but she would insist I sat in the passenger’s seat. We would go somewhere quiet, swap over, then spend so much time driving around country lanes, while she complained about her other pupils and went in to too much detail about her and her boyfriend’s sex life. It was not uncommon for her to make me switch places with her again, so she could drive to Tesco to get groceries during the lesson. I would sit in the car for 15 minutes, waiting for her to come out. She tended to finish lessons up to 30 minutes early, and not give me a refund.
After four months, I started to get impatient. Was it normal for me to have made so little progress? Loads of people had passed their tests already, and I hadn’t even started doing any manoeuvres. After 5 months, I asked Shelley if we could do some manoeuvres, but she said I didn’t have enough control yet to even think about doing them. I then asked if she had an idea of how long it would be before I could take my theory test. She told me I wasn’t ready. Seriously. She wouldn’t even let me use 5th gear!
After that lesson, I told her I would be too busy to take regular lessons, so I would let her know when I was ready to take the next lesson so I didn’t have to give her any money. Since then, she kept hounding me, even trying to call me up during an exam. I was complaining about this to a girl at work, who told me I really ought to leave her. I was nervous about confronting her at first, and in a way wussed out, because I ended up sending her a text, saying: “I’m sorry but I really can’t afford to take driving lessons at the moment. I’ll let you know when I have enough to start again.” A bit later, she replied: “Ok, just let me know.” And I never contacted her again.
It’s important to know that a lot of driving instructors are not really interested in teaching their students to drive. They are just looking for an easy way to make £20 an hour. They will tend to stretch your lessons out as long as possible. I moved on to a male instructor two weeks after finishing with Shelley. I passed my test only a few months later, and he was much more fair.