It’s never great to hear anyone say to you that “my driving instructor makes me nervous”, but sadly it happens a lot more than it should. All too often driving instructors (male ones mostly) seem to lack the necessary communication skills and/or patience required to convey what they want you to do and why.
The very worst driving instructors get frustrated with students far too quickly and resort to shouting or passing snarky comments belittling you. Later in this article we will give you some tips on how to deal with that and what to do if your relationship with them is beyond repair.
But first let’s deal with some of your potential issues first.
Why am I nervous for my driving lesson?
Everybody, yes absolutely everybody will be nervous about driving lessons before they start learning how to drive. The point is though that on a scale of one to ten, one being just a little bit apprehensive to ten being a full-blown panic attack, most of us are only a 1-4 on the scale.
Those lucky people will easily be able to hide their concern and appear outwardly relaxed about it but even they will have some slight nervousness prior to driving for the first time.
They are also able relax into the process quicker so those who were say a 3 on the scale will drop to a 1 after the first lesson or two and by the third or fourth lesson will be wondering what they ever worried about in the first place.
If you are 5-7 on the scale, then you’ll perhaps need a bit more preparation before your fist lesson and there are a few things you can try. Further into this article is a section on, what to expect on your first lesson and that will help you prepare for it.
People who are a 6 or 7 on the scale will very slowly reduce their anxiety levels at first and it will take a few more lessons before that eases down but then you too should be able to conquer your nervousness over time.
Whatever your level of nerves prior to starting your lessons, having a good instructor who can show empathy and reassurance will greatly reduce the time it takes you to overcome those natural initial nerves.
Learning to drive anxiety
If you are an 8, 9 or 10 on the anxiety scale then you may need some outside help above and beyond talking to family/friends and your driving instructor.
If you can determine what the main cause of your anxiety about lessons is, that will be a big first step. If you have a lot going on in your life, then often learning to drive can seem like the one extra thing that makes it all seem worse.
My best tip though is to turn that around. Make the time you get into the car actually the time when/where you escape from everything else that’s going on in your life. Make being in the car a special little world away from it all.
For the one hour of the driving lesson, you can forget regular day to day issues and just 100% focus on learning a new skill. (driving)
When you pass your test and feel confident it is very empowering to be out on the open road on your own, to go where you want when you want. Start to tell yourself that even when you are learning. Get away from it all for that one precious hour.
Remember you are in a safe place; you have a qualified instructor sat next to you and the car will be “dual control” so if needed they can apply the brakes.
Just keep trying even if you are struggling, eventually you’ll effectively “turn the corner” and your nerves will reduce, and your knowledge and driving skills will increase and with that your confidence.
What to expect for your first lesson?
Let me give you an idea of lesson one and what that will be like. This isn’t set in stone of course each instructor does things their way, but most will do something like this.
Your driving instructor will arrive and come to your door. After a while when your confidence is up, they stop doing this and just pull up outside and wait like a taxi would but on the first lesson they normally come to escort you to the car.
They’ll ask you to be the passenger initially and they’ll drive you off to somewhere quiet and park up.
You’ll be chatting and you’ll start to see what you are going to be covering initially. After that if you are clear so far then the exciting bit starts, when you swap seats and you sit in the driver’s seat!
Basics will normally start now, such as starting the car which pedal does what, indicators, mirror and seat set up.
The reason why you’ll be somewhere very quiet is so you can start to learn how to start the car get it moving and then stop it again over and over while not being a nuisance to other road users.
Signs of a bad driving instructor
Well, there are many things that an older, experienced driver would pick up on straight away. The problem is though, if you are just 17 with no driving experience and you’ve never had lessons before how on earth are you supposed to know if you have no one else to compare your instructor to?
So, let me give you a couple of definite no-noes. Your instructor should not be shouting at you, insulting you, berating you in anyway.
Maybe just maybe if you are in a near miss accident their own self-preservation instinct might take over if you were in danger of crashing but that apart they shouldn’t be raising voices. Just because you make a mess of a manoeuvre isn’t a reason for them to get frustrated.
Bad instructors will try and spin out the learning process as long as possible, so they earn more money from you. If you spend more time parked up chatting about manoeuvres rather than actually doing them, that may be an issue.
If your instructor doesn’t seem to be paying attention and is constantly on their mobile phone that isn’t good enough. You pay to have their undivided attention for the hour and that’s what they should give. It’s dangerous as much as anything they should be watching the road as much as you.
Under no circumstances should you agree to pay for lots of driving lessons before you even start with them. Always ask to try a couple first see how you get on and then if there is a good discount available and you are happy so far then you could consider buying a block of lessons.
Even after the initial trial, my advice though is never buy too many upfront. It pays to keep them on their toes.
Bad instructors can normally mask it initially but once you’ve signed up to a block booking of 40 lessons do they need to bother anymore?
Short fused instructors more often than not destroy a learner drivers fragile confidence, so it is essential for you to find a good teacher who will encourage you and build you up.
Is my driving instructor rude or just direct?
There is no doubt some instructors can be rude but often they may be quite reasonable and just seem shall we say, “blunt and to the point”.
If through your young life the only adults you’ve come into contact with are your family members and teachers, then you may be somewhat taken aback when an adult starts talking to you like you are an adult not a child. Remember most of your family and teachers will view you as a child.
(I’m 33 and my dad still talks to me like I’m ten)
Driving a car is a serious business and the instructor is, let’s be frank, putting their life in danger getting in a vehicle and allowing someone to drive it who has little to no driving experience!
They will want to give you clear instructions and for safety reasons they will expect you to follow them. Saying “would you mind, it its not too much trouble, can you possibly…” That’s no good it has to be. “Take the first exit off the roundabout”.
They don’t have to be your new best friend. Having a professional no nonsense relationship can work well. If they say you didn’t do something particularly well, you’ll accept it and try to do better. People who have lessons from parents don’t tend to take “you did that badly” very well at all and rows and arguments often ensue.
My dad did take me out before my first lesson and showed me the basics of the pedals and how to start the car move off and go through the gears, but he flat out refused to do any more than that. It was probably a good thing.
If you want to buy a set of “L” plates to put on your mom or dads car you can buy L plates here.
How to deal with a bad instructor
OK so let us assume that they are beyond being direct and to the point and they are actually making matters worse for you not better. Sometimes being told you’ve make a mistake isn’t the problem but it’s the way they say it that makes it worse. If it impacts on your confidence you’ll then make more mistakes and the downward spiral can begin.
If that is the case you need to talk to them and the sooner the better. Explain that they are making you more anxious not less as time goes by. If you can give an example of something they’ve done or said then that is better.
If they are prepared to take onboard what you said and make a change to their teaching style then great.
Is the relationship beyond repair? If you are ever going home after lessons and saying thinks like, “my driving instructor shouts at me”, or “my driving instructor made me cry”, then it’s time to take some drastic steps.
Even if your driving instructor makes you uncomfortable, and you are starting to dread spending time with them (not the actual driving part) then you have to look into changing to a different driving instructor.
Don’t feel you have to stick with them. It’s your money you can spend it how you wish.
Choosing a good instructor in the first place
Don’t just pick the cheapest, try to get some recommendations from people you know who are or who have recently passed their driving test.
You should check that your instructor is qualified and here is how to do that. You can visit the official government website, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and see if they are listed on it.
Approved driving instructors (ADI) can opt not to be listed on the DVSA but if you wish you can still enquire if the are qualified via the DVSA if you have the name and their ADI number.
Do they have Trust Pilot reviews if so check them out and also a Google search for them should show up any negative posts if you scroll down past the first few results.
Are they fairly local to you and regularly work in your area? Also, what type of car do they have, and is it one that you think you would like?
Yes, cost is a factor so bear it in mind but that should not be the deciding factor so long as they are in the ballpark.
Have a chat with them over the phone or better still meet them to try and ascertain if you would get on well with them.
OK so there is no way around this. Learning to drive and those first few lessons will bring some level of anxiety to most, all I can promise you is this. Over a period of time with practise your knowledge , skills and attitude towards driving will all improve. So do not give up!
If you are ever planning to take your car on a road trip when you pass your test, see the Road Trip Blog here.