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Learning to drive

Why you need practice with driving different cars

They say you kiss a lot of frogs before you find the one for you. I guess this is true for cars as well - I flirted with a tonne of different cars before I found the right one and settled down.

I'll let you into a secret: I actually started driving different cars way before I even turned 17.

I'm 18 now and I've driven 376 different vehicles. It sounds illegal and you're probably wondering if I'm some kind of vampire or spy kid so - here we go.

The Under 17 Car Club

Like pretty much everyone, when I turned 17, I couldn't wait to pass my test. I wanted the freedom and didn't want to rely on my parents or public transport. Duh.

But I actually started driving when I was 11 and a half (that half was very important at the time!) with the Under 17 Car Club. We learned driving skills at safe, private sites that were set up like road networks.

Not gonna lie - it was amazing fun and I made some of my best friends through the club. But it also gave me some really useful skills for when I actually got out on the road, which was the main reason my parents got me to do it.

Truck, bus, Aston Martin - you name it, I drove it

When you start learning to drive, you start fantasising about the car you'll have when you pass - but most of us don’t get to learn to drive in that car.

So when you do get your first car, it's new. It's different. You've been taught how to drive your instructor's car and translating that to a whole new set of controls, a different size and potentially a much older model can be a shock.

My experience with driving everything from a Reliant Robin (wouldn't advise it - they are scary) to an Aston Martin gave me a real understanding of how cars work - not how that one car worked.

The most basic part of learning to drive is the mechanics of controlling a vehicle - it's the other skills you need to be concentrating on all the time. Getting to train my muscle memory for the stop-go control of a car meant I was freeing up brain space for hazard perception, road awareness and manoeuvre planning.

Eloise drives a bus

Learn to drive any car, not ONE car

Not everyone is going to jump into a double decker bus at 13. The answer to this problem is to do loads of private practice.

Having access to at least one car other than your instructors will be enough to give you experience of how cars handle in general, so moving to your own car when you pass isn't a struggle.

How to get used to a new car

  1. Walk around the car so you can gauge its size compared to other cars you've driven
  2. Take some time to check where all your controls are: fog lights, demister, high beams and so on
  3. Adjust your seat, mirrors and headrest so everything feels comfortable
  4. In a quiet area, start the car and release the handbrake so you can get a feel for the clutch - it may have a higher or lower bite than what you're used to
  5. Move forward slowly and try out the car's acceleration - a higher powered car is going to need very cautious handling
  6. At low speed, test the brakes to see how sensitive they are
  7. Go through the gears gradually
  8. Carefully try out a few manoeuvres to get yourself used to how much space the car needs

Driving all these different vehicles helped me understand how they worked, giving me a feel for the dynamics of the car and, in the case of the bigger vehicles such as a van or truck, the vastly different space they require to manoeuvre.

Eloise drives an Aston Martin

In the future, if I need to drive something different (a hire vehicle when I'm on holiday or a courtesy car while mine's being fixed), I won't be so apprehensive.

So my advice for you is to get out in as many cars and as often as you can (insurance permitting). The more you drive outside of your driving lessons, practising the skills you've been taught, the more instinctively you'll drive - even with the nerves of the driving test.

You'll broaden your skills, develop your spatial awareness and build your confidence for test day. And beyond...

Check out the learning to drive syllabus to see if you're ready to take your driving test.