Picture: Being a licenced driver opens up many social and employment opportunities.
I didn’t let my lived experience of anxiety hold me back from my goal of gaining my drivers’ licence.
At 57, I had never held a driver’s licence. I had always dismissed drivers, telling myself that my choice not to drive was better for the environment. The real reason I didn’t want to drive, however, was my lived experience of alcoholism and panic disorder, compounded by the conviction that I wasn’t capable. Once I achieved sobriety for 17 years, I decided to see if I could overcome all other obstacles.
I studied the NSW Road Users Handbook and completed a few practice exams online. Then I booked a Driver’s Knowledge Test (DKT) at Service NSW and paid my learner’s fee. The DKT is a short test, taken on a computer. Most of the questions were actually common sense, although I expected they may be intended to trick me. Hint – they don’t try to trick you.
To my complete surprise, I passed the DKT and was issued with a Learner’s Photo Licence!
I chose a driving school on the basis that friends with disabilities had told me about their positive experiences with them. It was also very affordable. I felt jittery at times but the instructor was very laid back, friendly and patient.
I have experienced panic attacks all my life and dreaded it happening on the road. It did happen on a motorway, on several occasions; while I was merging lanes and also while I was turning right at a busy intersection. In each case, I froze and this resulted in obstructing traffic. Drivers around me appeared to lose their temper. The instructor took control of the vehicle a couple of times but at no point was anyone in actual danger. The instructor never suggested that I should give up but I thought about it because I began to dread each lesson.
I took a break from lessons then chose a different school which was more expensive but very thorough. I found this approach to be better suited to my personality. After a while, I was experiencing boredom instead of fear because driving was becoming second nature to me and my anxiety subsided.
Some people may require a lot of lessons or, if affordability is an issue, patient friends who are willing to supervise your driving until you develop confidence. I was fortunate to be supported by both.
Yet another fee is necessary for a Hazard Perception Test. Designed to weed out risk-takers, this test requires you to make decisions in computer simulated driving situations.
Finally, it was time for the practical driving exam. I was not feeling confident, however the instructor had drilled me so thoroughly that this made no difference. I passed easily was issued with my P plates and driver’s licence after paying another fee.
I will never forget how pleased everyone was that I had passed with my first attempt! Part of what kept me going was not wanting to let down all of the people who had supported me every step of the way through the learning process. You might call it ‘peer group pressure’.
By Warren Heggarty from Panorama Magazine
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