Wednesday, May 09, 2007

I came across this post and remembered that recently I was thinking of my driving (or rather, non-driving) again. I did a search of the Gully Brook Press archives to see if I'd written about this subject, and all I came up with was this quote from February 2003: "Certainly there are way too many angry drivers on the road; this became more apparent in my quest to get a license. So I gave up. I think I’m just not mad enough to drive." That sort of sums it up.

I've taken the written test to get my learner's permit three times in my life. Every time I got a perfect score on it. I am a walking manual of driving laws. The first time I got my learner's permit was when I was 16. I wasn't all that interested in driving, but learning to drive is expected at that age. I practiced a few times in an old Jeep my parents had, and later in an old car that my father bought. I never got up to the point of going very far from the house, mostly I drove around in the church parking lot next door to where we lived. The situation was complicated because a friend of mine lived with us and my parents didn't really feel like teaching her, so she would have resented them doing it for me. Then, shortly before I turned 17, I went off to college and abandoned driving. I think permits were only good for one year at that time.

I took the written test again several years later, but never bothered to practice driving at all and it expired. My final attempt came seven years ago. I was graduating with my PhD, figured I needed a new goal, and decided that I wanted to try to get my license before I turned 40 in 2001. I've received a lot of pressure over the years on this subject. People think you are crazy if you don't drive. They can't comprehend how you can function in modern society without a license. It always embarrassed me. So once again, I took the written test, but this time I made a serious effort to learn. I practiced all the time, and even took one lesson to sharpen my parallel parking skills. The end result: I failed the road test. Four times. Once in Kingston, twice in Troy and once in Delhi. Three times in a car, and once in a truck. Every time it was for a different reason. Twice were automatic failures, twice because of too many points.

Although no one at New York State motor vehicles will vouch for this, I am actually a competent driver and should have had no problem passing the test. But here's the thing: I hate driving. I have never felt comfortable in a car, whether as a driver or as a passenger, even when I have complete confidence in the driver. One thing my last attempt taught me was that I am not concerned about my own skills. Before that, I was always afraid I couldn't control the car in an emergency, was certain I'd hit deer and other critters and I couldn't cope with that. But I discovered that isn't a problem at all, my observational and reaction skills are fine. Other people, all those people who have had no problem sailing though the road test hurdle, just scare the crap out of me.

Unfortunately, the awareness of how truly dangerous driving can be only increases with age. It's a crime really, what a bloodbath our highways are and no one bats an eye. We advocate about diseases and protest war but act like getting killed in a motor vehicle accident is not the much greater threat. It's just a fact of life. It is a much better idea to get a license when you are young and naive. Even with a ton of practice, I had to psych myself up every time I got behind the wheel and practically wanted to kiss the ground when I arrived at my destination. Driving never felt natural to me. I think this is the real reason I failed four times at my age. My demeanor makes my feelings obvious on the road test. It isn't simple nervousness, because in truth, I was not that nervous when taking the test. I just know I could never pass it.

My learner's permit was good for five years this time, and it expired in 2005. This time, I made peace with it. Decided that driving is just not for me. What I thought in the past - that if I practiced enough I'd get comfortable - isn't true. It would take years not behind the wheel but on the couch to get the courage to pass the road test, and I don't care to invest the energy. And that's OK. I don't get nearly as much pressure as in the past; everyone knows I tried hard and it isn't in the cards. While I was searching for old posts, I came across this one. Could that be the seed for my driving phobia?


Sya said...

I don't see why driving would be a priority if you can get along fine without it. I live in a place where the public transportation sucks so driving is a bit of a necessity to even get to the grocery store.

When I was in high school, getting a driver's license was like a rite of passage. I sort of ignored the whole hoopla since I had other priorities at the time. It was the summer between high school and college that I finally got a license because I had time to practice. And then after that, I didn't drive for five years.

I failed the driver's test two times before getting it right. But then again, I somehow got the same examiner both times and I had the impression that she had it in for me.

howzerdo said...

I had four different examiners. The first one definitely had it in for me (and as a result I thought I'd pass for sure on the next try). But the next three were all very professional and pleasant. So I guess that wasn't it!!