Don’t Build Expectations

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I took a young man for a “Lesson-and-Test” this afternoon – where we spent 45 minutes immediately prior to a Practical Driving Assessment running over any concerns the trainee might have with basic manoeuvres, high speed merging, etcetera. I had a distinct feeling the ‘test’ wasn’t going to go well when the young man wanted to clarify indicating through roundabouts, but put the question down to nerves. A Practical Driving Assessment produces enormous anxiety in those students susceptible to such feelings. As human beings, we do not like being assessed, and frankly, the Practical Driving Assessment is far from an objective, thorough means of assessing a driver’s ability to drive as opposed to being able mechanically move a car around on the road. There are a plethora of broad, sweeping categories against which a student can be assessed, the most important being Judgement. The ability to observe, assess and act upon any given set of circumstances in a safe, non-hazard causing manner. This afternoon’s Practical Driving Assessment failed on the basis of poor judgement. I won’t detail the circumstances, it would take too long and besides that, the young man deserves the right to privately review his performance free of any opinions from me.

What concerned me most was the young man’s reaction to having not succeeded, for a second time. I have my own opinions on his ability and I’ll keep them to myself. Suffice to say, he needs more time. Completing 100 hours of driving recorded in a logbook, accepted as valid by the Department of Transport and Main Roads, doesn’t automatically mean someone is ready for a Practical Driving Assessment. The element of mental preparedness plays an integral part in the entire process. I encourage my students to ask my opinion on their readiness. I promise them honest and open answers. If I don’t believe they’re ready, I’ll say so. I’ll tell them why, and explain what I think they need to focus on when practicing. Most important of all aspects of a Practical Driving Assessment is expectation. Never….and I mean NEVER create expectations for yourself based on self-belief without backing. Further, NEVER expect that you will be presented with a drama free, uncomplicated drive, after which the examiner will smile, tick all the right boxes and ask you to pop upstairs to complete the licensing process.

The young man this afternoon literally dissolved into wracking sobs of abject disappointment, frustration and rage entirely due to the fact that he’d planned on driving his girlfriend and sister to a camping holiday over the Easter weekend. Being unsuccessful, within a week of expiry of his three year Learner’s License, means he now has to renew that license before trying again. Three years is ample time for anyone who applies themselves to the task, to learn to drive. I quite often come across students who have held their license for two years, done nothing, grown older which seems to also raise anxieties about driving, then want to rush their 100 hour logbook process, resulting in a last moment lunge for license success, only to be disappointed. Achieving your ‘P’s’ is a Rite of Passage. An adult achievement, a peer group success marker – call it what you will – it’s important. Don’t treat the process as a fait accompli because all too often the expectations you build for yourself, can be irretrievably shattered with dangerously damaging psychological outcomes. My tips for learners would be:

  • Seek the advice of your instructor – it’s why we exist. If we’re any good at what we do, we’ll tell you honestly if you’re ready, or not;
  • Don’t believe for a moment that driving with Mum or Dad between home/school/work/the coast as a means of racking up 100 hours is sufficient. It’s not;
  • Get professional tuition. We instructors have been highly trained, hold State sanctioned recognition of our abilities, actually PAY a lot each year to retain that sanction, and genuinely care about your future driving ability and lifespan on our roads;
  • Never forget that a motor vehicle is a weapon that WILL kill you if you don’t treat it with respect. That includes not just the motor vehicle you drive, but all the others around you on the roads;
  • Make sure your driving experience involves as many different driving environments, times of day, weather conditions and traffic conditions as you can possibly manage before attempting a Practical Driving Assessment; and lastly
  • Don’t for a moment anticipate success. Anything worth having requires hard work and persistence. Take nothing for granted and if you are unsuccessful, take the feedback from the examiner with maturity and understanding because it is ALWAYS valuable. You can always try again, and you WILL be successful if you pay attention to the above points.

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