*All of the rules, ages, etc referred to in this post are specific to the UK at the time of going to print*
I started driving lessons not long after my 17th birthday, but I didn’t actually pass my driving test until I was 26. That’s not to say that it took me nine years to learn how to drive properly (I’m not sure if that would make me the safest or the most dangerous driver on the roads!), I had a pretty hefty hiatus in the middle.
I think there is often a lot of questions about when is best to learn to drive. For years they’ve been speaking about raising the age to learn to drive to 18, of course some people think it should be dropped to 16 to coincide with when you can move out, get married and have kids (legally). You’re never going to please everyone, in fact nowadays it’s a miracle if you can please anyone. Naturally most people tend to start their lessons at 17, it’s almost like a rite of passage. Is that really the best way to do it though? I have tried to summarise some of the main differences from my personal experience:
At the age of 25 you stop being classed as a young driver. So even though you are a brand new head on the road, you’re insurance is cheaper. It’s still expensive, naturally, because you have just passed your test and your deemed to be inexperienced which is totally fair, but expensive in over 25 terms is a drop in the ocean compared to expensive in 17 year old terms.
I have already touched on the fact that learning to drive at 17 is a rite of passage. Driving lessons, or money towards lessons, is a go-to gift for a 17th birthday. Depending on your family, they might buy you a car to learn in for your birthday. What really is the purpose of being able to drive at 17 though? It is of course for the freedom and the ability to feel just that little bit more grown up. If you live rurally and have a part time job or partake in extra-curricular activities then it gives your parents some of their freedom back, but apart from that how much of the driving you do at that age is *just because you can*.
I think if you’re not learning until you’re a bit older then it’s because you have a reason for wanting to drive. You have a job you need to get to that doesn’t fit well with the busses. Maybe, like me, you have a job that requires you to be able to drive. You’ve got young children that you need to be able to take to different groups or activities. Maybe you’re planning to move to the countryside. Whatever it is, you probably have some solid justification that just learning because you are finally the right age to, and instructors and assessors are aware of this too.
Learning to drive, and then the actual lifetime of driving that follows is expensive. You need to sell your organs just to afford lessons and learners insurance, or at least that’s what it feels like (please don’t actually sell any of your organs!). You’ve got to pay for your theory and practical tests, and probably the practice materials, possibly even more than once. You have to pay for your licence. You have to pay for a car, then there’s fuel and insurance and road tax, and depending on where you live maybe a parking permit. There are MOTs and services and random days where your exhaust decides to fall off that you hadn’t scheduled. Driving doesn’t really get any cheaper once you’ve passed your test.
Most people by the age of 25 nowadays are either working and have a steady income, or have had a steady income of wages in the past. A lot of people at 17 are still at school, and scrimping by on a Saturday job if they’re lucky. While I know a lot of people will save up for a car and lessons for years before turning 17 if it’s important to them, I personally find coping with the financial responsibilities of driving a lot easier now than I ever would have at 17.
I sound like such an old fuddy-duddy, but at 25 you have more life experience than at 17. You have more experience of how dangerous driving and the roads can be. There’s a high chance you actually know somebody who has been involved in a car accident, not necessarily through any fault of their own, rather than just knowing of people that you’re not really attached to.
Finding Company When Learning
In theory finding somebody to ‘take you out’ for a drive is easier when you’re 25 than when you’re 17 (didn’t work for me, but the theory is there). At 17 you rely heavily on your parents or other adult family members or family friends if you want to practice outside of lessons (and then, hypothetically, a bus overtakes you on a blind bend and nearly runs you off the road and they never want to take you out again even though they acknowledge that you did nothing wrong). The rule for being a learner’s passenger though is that you have had your licence for 3 years and you’re over the age of 21. So at 25 you’re much more likely to find a friend, colleague, partner or sibling who is willing to brave a ride in the passenger seat to help you out and give your poor parents a break.
I realise that this post probably sounds super biased towards learning to drive when you’re a bit older, but I swear that isn’t intentional! That’s why I thought that this was a super important point to mention – I think a lot of people who learn to drive when they’re younger are generally more confident (perhaps over-confident) drivers. I don’t just mean because they’ve had more experience, but I mean they genuinely walk out of their test guns ablazing full of the belief that with their freedom comes a certain level of invincibility. Weirdly, that bravado seems to keep going and it almost is like if you act with confidence behind the wheel then some weird untouchable power follows. People who learn later I think tend to be more nervous drivers like myself, and that is probably related to a combination of the points that I mention in this post.
I think it’s a bit like a lot of things, where you see children doing something and think ‘wow, look how carefree they are!’ – 17 year olds just don’t have that same level of fear in them that 25 year olds do.
Knowing When It’s Not Right For You
Come sit round the fire, children, Granny Kirsty has some old person wisdom to impart.
I had five different driving instructors. Four between the ages of 17 and 19, and then one when I was 26 (and a brief return to one of the ones I had before, but then I got a job and he couldn’t fit me in around my work hours). The reality is that I think my first driving instructor put me off and was probably the reason that I didn’t learn to drive at 17 or 18. He was in high demand since he was pretty much the only instructor in the area at a time and his mission was to get students passed as quickly as possible so that he could work through his waiting list. This didn’t work for me, and after a few weeks he refused to book anymore lessons for me because I said I didn’t feel ready to do my theory. I was up past my eyeballs in schoolwork, my health was failing and it just wasn’t the right time for me. I then tried somebody else, who was fully booked but recommended that I try this new instructor who was looking for students and covered the area, so I gave her a call and she took me on. After a few weeks though, she stopped covering our area. I went back to the person who had recommended her and she had a space just opened up, so I snatched it. We clicked, I didn’t feel pressured, things were going pretty well. I didn’t dread lessons so much, and that’s the way it should have always been. Then she moved away and the search started all over again and it’s ultimately why I ended up giving up as I thought it just wasn’t meant to be.
I didn’t realise what a big difference having the right instructor made when I was 17. I went to that once person because that’s who all my friends went to, and that is really how it works. You don’t think to do research, or shop around. I wish I would have had the courage to pack it in with that first instructor a lot sooner before he took what was left of my non-existent confidence. I believe if I had found myself in that situation at 25 then I would have had the knowledge and the confidence to just say no thank you, this isn’t working. You’re so much more desperate to impress and succeed at 17, however, that you just absorb every blow and assume that it’s normal. I’ve seen friends (who are also learning to drive in their twenties) do it, to just say no when something isn’t working for them, and I wish I had been that person at 17. Be that person.