Charlotte’s driving experience, part 2: from theory to driving test

Charlotte continues her blog on learning to drive following a brain injury.

After passing my theory test I had some more lessons then booked my driving test. It soon came around. First I did the ‘show me, tell me’ questions, which went well. Next was the independent section where they give you four instructions to follow, for example the first being ‘At the first set of traffic lights turn left’. I found this test quite tricky. I knew it wasn’t a memory test, and you can ask the instructor to repeat the instructions, but having a brain injury and being left with a few memory problems becomes hard. I asked the instructor to repeat it twice but didn’t want to ask too much as it would seem like I’m not independent. I find driving a manual tricky and a few times I tried to move off too quickly and stalled. Altogether I stalled three times on my test and had a tricky situation near a crossing. I failed the test.

Preparation for the next test

I got home and told mum the results. We booked another test. Having failed my first test, I was really nervous as I was desperate to pass and make my mum proud. The test had also changed, which made me nervous. I so desperately wanted to be able to drive myself around without having to ask and rely on others for a lift. I had a horrific experience right before Christmas. I was a passenger in a car crash. This severely knocked my confidence. I kept having terrible flashbacks days later. I told myself that I am a safe driver and that I would never make anyone else feel at danger. I messaged my instructor and she was worried I wouldn’t be confident enough for my test. My instructor got a new car early January so I also had to get used to this. In my two lessons in January before my test, I drove to places I’m familiar with to get my confidence back. I did a long drive that day – we drove to a familiar place, then I used the satnav when I didn’t know where I was, and this boosted my confidence. My desperation to drive was so strong I was confident to drive again despite the horrific incident. It was soon time for my second test. I answered the examiner’s questions and for the new test you use a satnav, rather than having to remember four directions in one, and I found this easier. You still have to complete a manouevre and an emergency stop if asked – but the emergency stop didn’t go to plan and I stalled three times in the test. I failed again! I was soooo upset. Once home I burst into tears as I was so upset with myself for failing and all I wanted to do was pass. My mum suggested changing to automatic. After stalling three times on both tests I agreed an automatic would be easier. My instructor agreed.

Switching to an automatic

I switched to an automatic car and found a new driving instructor through QEF, the organisation I’d had a driving assessment with almost two years previously. Someone recommended an instructor who was very good and patient with people who’ve had a brain injury. The instructor advised two lessons a week to get me back into the routine of driving. Later I’d go back to a weekly lesson. The instructor looked through my reports from my last two driving tests so he knew what I had to focus on. We went to a familiar area for driving and the lesson was a success. In my second lesson I struggled with a manoeuvre but we went back to the start and the instructor gave me step-by-step instructions how to do it and taught me simple ways to remember using little acronyms. I would remind the instructor how my brain injury affected me. I had things written down for me to help remember. Being a visual learner I could learn more by seeing and doing. By May I was feeling really positive about driving an automatic and was so glad I made the choice to switch. The next driving test was booked. The day came and I tried to do everything perfectly but the test was strange as I was sure I’d failed! I was amazed when the examiner told me I’d passed.  Since I passed, driving has been great. It’s given me the independence and freedom I’ve been waiting for for years. I love driving and it makes life so much easier!  

My advice to others who’ve had a brain injury and would like to drive:

  1. Don’t be intimidated by other road users. They were learners once too and intimidated by others! If it takes a few weeks until you’re driving on a main road, don’t worry, take your time. Most of all don’t panic – driving is a hard thing to learn.
  2. Try and keep calm. Some drivers can make you stressed but if needs be let them overtake.
  3. Some people do their theory before having lessons but I found it easier to do the theory whilst having lessons. This was because I could put theory into reality and understand it much better.
  4. Having a brain injury makes things tricky. Theory is especially complicated – it took me a long time to understand and learn it.
Read part 1 of Charlotte’s driving blog here! For more information see our information page on driving after a brain injury.
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