Maria McCarthy
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The Girls' Guide to Losing your L-Plates
Teaching & Workshops
The Girls' Guide To Losing Your L-Plates
The Girls’ Guide to Losing Your L Plates published by Simon and Schuster is packed full of information to get you through your test as easily as possible. It covers -

Money, Money, Money – budgeting for the cost of your lessons.

Decisions, Decisions – finding the right driving instructor, learning on a manual or automatic car, intensive courses learning to drive if you’re pregnant or have a disability – and driving instructors to avoid.

Making the Most of Your Lessons – the best shoes to learn in, how to cope if you hit a learning plateau – or cry in front of your driving instructor!

You’re Driving Me Crazy – how to practice with family and friends without your relationship cracking under the strain, tips for accompanying a learner, the pros and cons of taking the test in your practice car.

The Theory Test – how to apply the theory to real-life driving situations, understanding the hazard perception test.

The Final Stretch – getting ready for your test, the ten most common reasons for driving test failure(and how to avoid them) and uncovering the truth about driving test myths.

Your Practical Test Triumph – strategies for overcoming driving test nerves ranging from visualisation and hypnotherapy to wearing your lucky pants!

If at First You Don’t Succeed – post-match analysis – what went wrong and how to put it right, inspiring cheesy quotations to keep your spirits up, overcoming multiple failures en route to success.

You’ve Passed! – your first drive alone, the pass plus course, buying your first car.

Car Insurance without Tears – how to understand what people are saying when they talk to you about car insurance, car insurance and your zodiac sign.

Driving Instructors to Avoid

The Gossip
– his golf handicap, his divorce, his holiday. This driving instructor wants to talk about everything except your driving and will continue to ramble on even when you’re sweating over a manoeuvre and are in serious need of some help and advice. A certain amount of social chat can be fine and even relaxing. But if you feel he’s not giving you enough attention this needs to be dealt with – you’re paying for his time after all! Rather than putting up with it explain that you find too much chatting distracting and you’d rather you both just concentrated on the driving. Hopefully that should sort the problem out. If not, it’s time to look for another instructor.

The Critic - by their very nature driving instructors have to give feedback – but it should be aimed at helping you to do better rather than bringing you down. This is a very personal thing and an instructor whose blunt approach is appreciated by one student could be found really scary by a less confident one. If you feel that your instructor’s criticism is bringing you down, tell him you feel you could do with more encouragement. If he doesn’t take your comments on board then it’s probably time to change.

The Short-changer
– As we all know, traffic can be unpredictable so it’s understandable if your instructor occasionally turns up late. However, this time should be made up to ensure you’ve got the full hour you’ve paid for – if not straight away then at a later lesson. A few instructors can sometimes take advantage by ‘just popping into’ a shop or bank during your lesson time – again, this shouldn’t happen but if it does the time should be made up. In some driving schools it’s common practice for a student to take the previous student home during the first part of their lesson. However this can be embarrassing and means you’re often likely to be doing the route to their home rather than practising test routes. The whole lesson should be focused on improving your driving skills, not using you as a taxi service to ferry around other learners. This is a school to avoid.

The Lech - This is one to get rid of straight away! If you feel that your driving instructor is making over-personal remarks, trying to stare down your blouse or (shudder!) being unnecessarily tactile, then terminate your lessons and find someone else. If you are upset by his behaviour then you should report it to the Driving Standards Agency.

Myths about the Driving Test - Fact or Fiction?

In the run-up to your test you’ll find that well-meaning friends, family, colleagues and old blokes down the pub all want to share ‘insider tips’ about the driving test. Here’s a selection of the most popular – discover if there’s any truth in them!

"You should set the mirror slightly off so you have to move your head more and the examiner will see that you’re checking regularly."

This advice had a grain of truth in it once, but is now seriously dated. Until 1998 the only mirror in the car would be the usual rear-view mirror, which meant there was more reason for candidates to believe they had to make exaggerated movements to show they were checking properly. However now it’s a requirement for the examiner to also have a traffic mirror, and driving school cars are also often fitted with an eye mirror placed to monitor the students’ eye movements. Examiners will also turn as you’re driving along and observe you directly – so with all different opportunities to observe you there’s absolutely no need to go in for ‘theatrical looking’.

"You can stall on your test and still pass."

This is true. ‘As long as you don’t stall in a dangerous situation, such as on a roundabout, and as long as you handle it properly this needn’t count as a major fault and you can still pass your test,’ says driving instructor Chris Pope. ‘If you stall, correct it then put it behind you and concentrate on driving as well as you can.’

"Examiners have pass a certain percentage every week so it’s all about quotas, really.

The DSA state that all examiners are trained to carry out the test to the same standard and that they don’t have pass or fail quotas. However every examiner does have to be within 5% of their centre pass rate and 10% of the national pass rate. If this doesn’t happen then they are likely to be investigated. And in one off-the-record instructor’s opinion, ‘this could mean that if an examiner has had a run of good test candidates and given lots of passes then they might be a bit more critical with the next one because they need to get their average back down. Though of course it can also work the other way in that if they’ve had a run of failures then they’ll be keen to get back on track by passing someone.’

But basically, this is the sort of thing you can’t really have any control over so it’s best not to worry too much about quotas and concentrate on driving so well they’ve got no choice but to pass you!

"That particular test centre is a really difficult one to pass at – the routes are a nightmare."

There are test centres all over the UK and inevitably the road conditions are going to vary a lot. In London you have a high density of traffic, in Cambridge you don’t get much opportunity to show off your hill starts and on the Isle of Skye you get a lot of, um, scenery. Every effort is made by the DSA to standardise test routes so that each one contains a mixture of straightforward and more challenging junctions, roundabouts, sections of dual carriageway and so on – but given the nature of our varied land, that’s not realistically going to be possible. In the opinion of my off-the-record instructor, ‘I think that the way many examiners try to work round this for a more fair result is to accept that in, say, the north of Scotland candidates might not be challenged particularly by the volume of traffic, so they’ll demand a rather higher standard in their manoeuvres.’

But even taking this into consideration, there are still significant differences in the pass rates of some test centres – see the relevant appendix for full details. The overall pass rate for 2004-05 was 42.3%. However at the London (Wood Green) centre the pass rate was 26.7%, in Cambridge (Chesterton Road) it was 51.2%, in Glasgow (Mosspark) it was 29.3% and on the Isle of Skye (Portree) it was 63.6%.

In the opinion of the DSA, the differences aren’t just down to quieter or busy road systems. Another factor is that in low-income areas people often have trouble affording lessons and don’t have a family car to practice on so they sometimes come for their test before they’re totally prepared and are more likely to fail.

However, don’t obsess about the pass rates at your local centre. Whether they’re low or high it isn’t going to make any difference to your particular test – you’ll be judged on how you drive on the day and as long as you’re at the required standard you’ll be fine.

"The driving test is so much harder to pass these days – I’m glad I’m not taking my test now."

‘Yes, it is,’ says Eddie Barnaville, general manager of the Driving Instructors Association. ‘When I was teaching back in the late 1960s it was possible to get most people through in about 10 or 15 lessons. These days that target would be ridiculous. The roads are far busier which means standards have to be higher. The test has far more components than it used to have – including the reverse parking manoeuvres which many learners struggle with. There’s also the ‘show and tell’ section of the test, and a separate theory test where in the past the candidate would just be asked a few questions on the Highway Code.’

Driving instructor Chris Pope agrees, ‘It is getting more and more difficult to pass. There’s much more traffic on the roads, which creates challenging situations requiring very accurate judgement. Traffic systems have had to become more complex to deal with the volume. For example a lot of junctions will have several sets of traffic lights rather than just one.’
And a National Travel Survey carried out by the DfT in 2005 reports that ‘The proportion of young adults holding licences has fallen over the last decade. 42% of women aged 17-20 held a licence in 1992-94 compared to 24% in 2004. The proportions for men were 54% and 29% respectively. This may be due to the car driving test becoming more difficult and/or the introduction of the theory element to the test.’ And a knock-on effect of the test becoming more difficult is that it takes more lessons to pass, making it a lot more expensive and beyond the financial grasp of many young people.
But the fact is there’s not a lot you can do about this situation other than learn to drive to the high standard currently required. Alternatively you could try getting your hands on a time machine. Maybe on ebay?

"Women should wear short skirts and low-cut tops, then the examiner will be so busy drooling that he’ll pass you."

This is a definite example of flawed logic. If anything, surely the examiner would be more inclined to fail you so you’d have to take your test again and he might get another chance to glimpse your gorgeous cleavage? To say nothing of the fact that you could be examined by a straight woman or a gay man who aren’t going to be interested in it anyway. Concentrate on your driving and save your feminine wiles for a time where they’re more likely to get results, such as getting blokes to buy you drinks in swanky bars.

Overcoming Driving Test Nerves

Some people feel completely calm at the prospect of taking their practical driving test and are confident they’ll breeze through effortlessly. If that’s you, then please feel free to skip this section, safe in the knowledge that the rest of us are teeth-grittingly envious of you.

If, on the other hand the prospect makes you feel rather anxious, that’s perfectly understandable. Exams are nerve-wracking at the best of times, and driving tests can feel particularly harrowing. After all, with written exams if you get something wrong you can always go back and cross it out, whereas if you reverse into a bollard on your practical test then your fate is sealed. Knowing that someone is watching and judging your every move can feel pretty bizarre as well. It would be enough to make most people feel bumblingly self-conscious if they were just doing an everyday activity like folding laundry or eating beans on toast, let alone demonstrating a complex skill like driving.

Most learners get their knickers in a twist about their test to some extent.

‘I was very worried about letting my driving instructor down – he was so keen on getting pupils through first time I was terrified that if I failed he’d feel I’d brought shame on him and all his ancestors and we’d both have to commit hara-kiri together or something.’ Eva, 33

‘I was so nervous on my first test I accidentally put my front door key in the car ignition. It jammed and I couldn’t get it out again so the test had to be cancelled.’ Jane, 23

‘I took my test a total of five times before I passed. Two tests I actually took. The three in the middle I got myself in such a state that I refused to leave the test centre building and get into the car. Eventually I got the same examiner twice and he said, ‘Look, at least promise me we’ll get out of the car park this time.’ Amazingly, I passed!’ Lucy, 24

All these women went on to pass their test and are now capable and confident drivers – so it just goes to show that it can be done!

Remember nerves don’t mean failure. Most people are nervous. If the only people who passed tests took them in a state of zen-like calm, there would be very few people on the roads!

A degree of nervous tension is actually a good thing – it releases adrenaline, helps you be extra-alert and on top of your game. But on the other hand, if you get too stressed out that can lead you to make silly mistakes. Basically it’s a balancing act, but there are plenty of techniques available to help you get it right.

The Girls’ Guide to Losing Your L Plates covers a pick-and-mix selection of strategies you can use in the run-up to your test – ranging from scientifically proven mental and physical calming techniques to spells, crystals and wearing your lucky pants!

Some facts about the Driving Test
In 1893 France became the first country in the world to introduce a driving test, along with vehicle registration plates and parking restrictions.Driving tests began in the UK in 1955. They cost 37and a half pence and the pass rate was 63%.

Vera Hedges Butler was the first British woman to pass a driving test in 1900. As they hadn’t yet started in Britain the keen-as-mustard Miss Hedges Butler went all the way to Paris to take the French test.

Driving tests were suspended during WW2, which is why some older drivers have never taken a test.

A study carried out by the Department of Transport in 2004 found that in their sample men took on average 36 lessons to pass while women took 52. And the average number of tests for men to pass was 1.87 compared with women’s 2.12.

However, women are much safer drivers once they’ve passed their tests. Home Office figures for 2003 revealed that 96% of all dangerous driving offences are carried out by men.