I Want Your Car Stories! | How I Grew a Driving Phobia

Afternoon. I can’t believe how autumnal the weather is today. Yesterday I was in shorts and a t-shirt and thought I might fry to a crisp, and this morning I wore gloves walking the dogs. I had to learn where the windscreen wiper controls are in my car (heads up, car designers: those little symbols make absolutely no sense).

Today I want to talk about cars, actually. Well, driving. I think the last time I wrote here I was looking for a job alongside my internship; now I have one! I think it’s bad luck – or stupidity – to talk too much about new jobs before you’ve put a few hours in, but I start in September and I’m tentatively excited. There’s just one catch: I have to drive there.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever bored you all with the exact details of how I learnt to drive, or rather how long I took to learn to drive. I started lessons the summer I left school and passed my test last December. There was a break of a few months when I moved, so I think it took two years. I immediately went to South East Asia and didn’t sit behind the wheel of a vehicle until April, so it’s safe to say my practise-acquisition rate is low. This is mostly my fault. When I was about eight and we were walking home from school, I saw a teenager get hit by a car. I can’t actually remember actual collision when I think back, just weird details like the woman who was driving was taking her grandson home from school, and she wore glasses. But it must have stuck with me, because ten years later I sat in my instructor’s Kia in a side road in the suburbs and couldn’t believe I was trusted to operate a car just like that. Aside from the standard sight test, no one wanted to check I was competent enough to drive on an actual working road. I did not feel competent enough to drive on an actual working road. I felt strapped to a friendly, powerful machine with too many working parts that can be accidentally used to kill.

It probably didn’t help that I’m not naturally good at any of the skills driving requires. I have no sense of direction, my reaction times aren’t that quick and I don’t trust my own senses. I also soaked up all of those driving awareness adverts as a kid – don’t drink and drive, don’t do drugs and drive don’t be that person – and while I was in senior school, a girl a couple of years above me died in a horrible car accident that reverberated through all the schools in the area.

I’m very aware that humans are very easy to kill with cars and I’ve spent most of my life assuming I’ll kill someone with mine.

When I was taking lessons in a dual controlled car with an instructor I trusted – hi John! – the dread in the pit of my stomach gradually ebbed away. When I bought a 2002 Nissan Micra off my cousins’ nan so I could practise with my family, it snapped at my feet but rarely came closer. I used to go out at night, which I weirdly found easier because I’m always more alert when it’s dark out, and piled up the hours. Dread flitted into my car here and there, but everything seemed to be on track (ha). I scraped through my theory test and took my practical with the attitude that if I didn’t pass, I could try again after I came home from Asia. Fear circled, biting at my shoelaces, but I repeated that anecdote that, hey, people who pass second time are safer drivers. I passed first time.

About a week after I came home from Asia, I picked my nan and my brother up for lunch, ignoring what was by then butterflies, and settled back into the Micra thinking ‘goodness, how did I sit comfortably before, it’s quite clunky on junctions, I must say that this car probably isn’t built for me. Perhaps when I have a job I shall upgrade to a comfier one.’ I had sweaty palms, but I had literally just crossed South East Asia. I could cope with a ten minute drive in a car on my own. On our way home, an SUV hooted me on a roundabout; I physically jumped from my seat and when we got home I realised I was shaking. I could not cope with a ten minute drive. The certainty that I’ll kill someone one day was back in my bones. Like I haven’t got enough to think about.

I’ve tried a few cures since then. I sold the Micra to my friend Robyn and bought a newer Mini because they are supposedly good for shorter drivers. Also, they are in The Italian Job. It’s comfier and smoother, but more expensive to insure which does not help my stress levels. I learnt that vehophobia is one of the ten most common phobias in the UK (and judging by how many articles I found, it’s fixable). I keep up with Maggie Stiefvater’s Jalopnik articles and look up car maintenance on YouTube. I go for drives with my uncle on different roads. I do the weekly commute to the supermarket with my mum. When there’s someone in the passenger seat to talk to – and to remind me where I’m going, because 21 years of living in Southend has not imparted any knowledge of the road system – I’m okay. I’m nervous, but in the same way I get nervous for job interviews. It’s a bearable nervous. But when I’m on my own, I’m eight again.

The boy who got hit by a car that time was fine, by the way. The driver was doing about 20 miles per hour and if I remember correctly, the boy had run out between two cars to catch the bus and sort of bounced off the bonnet. No blood or death or anything like that.

My certificate says I’m a qualified driver. I’ve spent hundreds of hours behind the wheel. I don’t shake, vomit, cry or hyperventilate when I’m driving. I like cars. I like the smell of petrol and wind on my face during an evening drive and I fully intend to one day purchase a vintage muscle and drive it across a desert. I am very good at parallel parking and don’t overtake in stupid places. I can drive, for god’s sake. I’m just paralysed with fear by the thought of my impending part-time commute to the other side of Southend. I don’t like being scared, I don’t have time for it and it’s interfering with my plans, but I can’t afford refresher lessons or therapy. I can’t afford a sat nav either, which would probably help. It would give me something to talk to, at any rate…

I’m not sure what to do next, other than force myself into my car and drive until the dread disappears or I don’t notice it. Maybe I should nose the Mini into a tree to get the inevitable over with. Maybe I should spray paint it to feel cooler and therefore braver. Maybe I should sell it and take the bus.

I have a request for you guys: tell me your car stories. Tell me about taking your driving test and backing into a bollard and knocking your wing mirror off on a van. Tell me about your first car and your last car and the weirdest shit you’ve come across on the roads. Tell me which car you’ve always wanted and which one you’ve ended up with. I want something to think about on the commute.

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12 thoughts on “I Want Your Car Stories! | How I Grew a Driving Phobia

  1. I grew up with the same fearto the point that my five years younger brother was driving and i wud get stiff at the thought of it – imagine 25 and not driving. I know that fear

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    1. My little brother passed his driving test while I was still learning. There’s nothing wrong with not driving at 25 – I know people in their 50s who don’t drive. Did you recover from the fear?

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      1. Yes the male ego got the better of me i forced myself to it – it had gotten to a point where i cud afford a brand new car but not drive – so when i got married i was like damn i need to drive (childish huh?) and so i did. I do like it but my dad a 69 year old man thinks i drive too slow so yeah go figure 😉

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          1. Thanks for ur kind words 🙂 i can totally tell u that i ised to initially shit man pants at the thought of driving anywhere in the hills the anxiety of whether the car will climb what if stalls used to physically give me stomach aches

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          2. Btw two weeks or so ago there was a story abt someone who accidentally killed a person with there car and how they coped with it from then on. Its horrible for me to even think of it

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  2. Good lord – such an expansive and extensive request! and so many issues to cover
    So where shall we start?
    Ok. i’ve been driving for at least a quarter of a century. whether that qualifies me to give advice …. probably not. all I can give you is the wealth of knowledge I have obtained in that period of time!
    First up – the fact that you are fully aware of the carnage that your killing machine can inflict, probably makes you a better driver than someone who doesn’t give two hoots about other road users.
    Secondly … thank heavens you got rid of the Micra. it’s an old lady car, a tin coffin. Or maybe, it’s marginally acceptable as a “first car”. So you’ve made progress – you’ve got a better car to drive (and I learnt to drive in a Mini !!)
    Third …. it is all about practice! hours behind the wheel. all that malarkey. Though if you’re a boy-racer-twat in a souped up golf (or a man racer twat in an SUV … bear in mind the old adage about men with big cars!!), no amount of hours behind the wheel will make you a better driver as you’ve got the wrong attitude to ever be a good driver
    (ok, that’s generalising, but you get the idea – attitude counts!)
    So you’ve got off to a good start. With regard to your perception of your driving inadequacies – i’d say you have far more of the skills than you think! Awareness of danger is essential. It helps if you know left from right. reaction times can be improved playing FPS video games!!
    My major tip for being a good driver …. anticipation! Don’t just drive your car – drive the car in front, behind, two or three cars in front and behind, and be the pedestrian too.
    Motorway driving is good for understanding/practising this. If the car behind is driving too close, fall back slightly from the car in front so you have more stopping distance. and if the cars in front are bunching up, pull back a bit for the same reason. So you’re driving as if you’re driving their cars too. Look to see what other road users are doing – if they’re accelerating and braking sharply, lane changing, generally driving badly … just be ready for them to cut you up, or tailgate, or be a complete tosser. Let them do their thing – just drive accordingly.
    My instructor gave me a rule about stopping distances – the two second rule. And it really helps! Simply choose a fixed point on the roadside some way ahead of you. as the car in front passes it, say the following at a normal speaking rate … “only a fool breaks the two second rule”. If you pass the fixed point before you’ve finished speaking, you’re driving too close! And it makes no difference what speed you’re going – it’s all about how long it will take you to react to the behaviour of the car in front. try it!!
    sat nav … don’t do it! it’s handy for telling you about traffic delays, but it makes you complacent as a driver, unable to rely on your own observation or instinct. The number of times I’ve been persuaded to rely on sat nav, usually means a lengthy delay as the damned thing sends me all over the shop!
    Fear …. is not a bad thing, unless it completely paralyses you. Otherwise – just drive. For fun. Not to go anywhere specific within a certain time, just for driving’s sake. Confidence will grow. Don’t try to kill your mini with a tree or any other static and sturdy object – the insurance fallout will be considerable! Accidents will happen – I’ve had a few, but I still consider myself to be a safe driver. I’ve backed into a low wall, I’ve taken the bumper off when i hit a dip in the road while swinging round, catching it on the kerb, I’ve dented the side of an off-duty policeman’s car in a car park!!
    I quite like speed – though today, overtaking a row of three cars, pootling along cos the one at the front was mega slow … still made me kind of hold my breath as i did so, just that slight fear of “what if?” – what if they accelerate, what if a car suddenly comes towards me, what if my car isn’t quick enough etc etc.
    My first car was Bertha (a vauxhall nova!!) then there was Piglet (citroen zx), a few others in between, but currently General Zud (a peugeot 307). I’d love a car that gets me from A to B in a bit more comfort, something that doesn’t keep having bits go wrong – nothing flashy, not a sports car or anything (my sister has at least 3 classic lotus cars – Elise, Elan, Esprit as well as her daily car!!). just high spec comfort is all i require – in everything, not just cars hahaha

    good luck and be safe xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have been digesting this comment for a day (also, no computer yesterday) and thank you. I know practically the best thing I can do is Just Drive and it’s galvanising to hear from someone else.

      My instructor always said about the two second rule! I’ve heard variations of ‘drive the car in front’, I think I might write it on my dashboard as a reminder. I’m tempted to get a second hand sat nav while I build my confidence (and my internal road map) because one of the things that stresses me out mid-drive is thinking about where I have to go next. I may also Google how to improve my sense of direction… I once got disorientated in my own house, it’s that bad. I can’t play video games because of my wrists, but I’m gonna research improving reaction times too.

      I looked up your Nova and Citroen and they look EXCELLENT. Top marks for naming them. I like the look of your sister’s Lotuses, I think everyone should have classic cars if they can. I love cars made before about 2005 – they tootle along, way louder than cars are made today, and I’m pretty sure they could survive a nuclear blast. I guess they are kind of polluting the environment and harder to drive, but they have so much personality. My parents used to have Spitfires (I told someone that once and they said ‘what, the plane?’ pfft). I actually come from a car-loving family, the paralysing fear thing is highly embarrassing.

      ALSO ALSO how did the off-duty policeman react?! Is it an offence to dent a police car?!

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