I have a student, who we’ll call Louise. Not her real name, of course, but I really like the name, Louise.
Louise, on her very first lesson, said she’d never sat in a driver’s seat in her life. Never held a steering wheel. Never actually attempted to drive a car. So, I took her on a very slow tour of her immediately local streets, and very soon discovered that this young lady was scared to death of the car she had control of. So frightened, she clutched the steering wheel with a death grip. If the leather wasn’t bound so tightly, she’d have left fingerprints. We had a couple of close calls with power poles, mounted the gutter more times than I care to count, but by the end of the hour, I’d managed to show her how hand_over_hand steering works, and how pull_push steering works by putting the front of the car on grass and simply reefing the wheel around.
Today, one week later, she’d had no opportunity to practice what we’d done last week, but I was prepared.
“Today”, I said, “We’re going over to Gardner Road where there are 2 new housing estates, and you’re going to toodle around those, hopefully, empty streets.”
And empty they were, save for a couple of spots where work was going on. We avoided those areas. We cruised very slowly around several of the streets where tradies weren’t evident, around a couple of roundabouts, left one estate & entered another, doing laps between two roundabouts, before I suggested we swap seats & I’d show her how the steering wheel self-centers after a turn. Suddenly, she got it! We swapped seats, went back to the second estate, and despite her own fear, she experimented with letting the wheel slide from full lock back to centre under her hands, very soon realising that this thing under her hands does have a life of it’s own, but only when she allows it to live. Within minutes, her hands became similar to those of a piano player, light on the wheel, but firmly playing it as & when she needed to. We did a few more laps and the hour slipped into overtime (which I really don’t care about if there’s not another lesson immediately after), so I suggested we head for home. That required getting back onto a main road, indeed, several main roads, and making right hand turns from single carriageway to dual carriageway, etcetera.
I asked Louise whether she wanted to drive home, or would she rather I did it, seeing as I’d driven her to the new developments from home. She pondered briefly, then said, “No, I’ll do it”. HUGE step for her, so I said “okay, off you go, I’ll direct”. She did precisely what I asked her to do, with absolutely minimal effort. She drove as if the person I’d picked up 75 minutes earlier had somewhere along the way, stepped out of the car, and this new, more confident Louise had stepped in. The transformation was remarkable. Somewhere in that hour & 15 minutes, she’d clicked. She still had a very healthy respect for what she was doing, but suddenly the fear & trepidation vanished.
It’s these small moments, and these small successes that really make it for me. To take someone who is deathly afraid of driving, but also desperately wants to learn, from their fear of the unknown to the knowledge that they too can do what everyone else takes for granted. Louise has a long way to go, but she has made the transition. And Man……what a buzz for the instructor!!!