By: Yasmeen Aslam
After negative comments from my driving instructor and getting into a car accident, I thought I would never be able to sit behind the wheel again
When someone turns 16, everyone’s automatic response is: you can finally get a driver’s license. At least, that’s what people told me when I turned 16. Everyone expects you to jump up and down at the prospect of being able to drive and take yourself wherever you want to go. Now, I will admit, I was excited to get my G1 license. I passed the test on the first try and couldn’t wait to start practicing in an actual car. Yet when I got behind the wheel for the first time, I was filled with feelings of dread and anxiety. After (horribly) testing out my skills in an empty parking lot, I came to a conclusion: I hated driving.
After bringing this up to family members, many reassured me that feeling nervous in the beginning is normal and will eventually go away once I drive more. When practicing, I could never get one hundred per cent comfortable with sitting in the driver’s seat — and this was only in parking lots. The thought of driving on an actual road wasn’t even plausible for me. In fact, it felt less than impossible. Two years passed and I still couldn’t get rid of my nerves. So, I did what most people do when they’re learning to drive: I signed up for driving school. My younger sister and I had taken the class at the same time. While I did learn a lot, the drunk driving videos they showed in class was not good for my existing fear. After the in-person class, it was time to start the in-car lessons with a driving instructor. My sister started her instructions right away, as she loved to drive. She actually ended up getting her G2 later that year.
I, on the other hand, did not want to contact my instructor right away and thought I’d wait it out. Months passed and in that time, we had gotten another car — a Jeep to be specific — and it was meant to be shared amongst my sisters and I. Once I started driving the Jeep, my nerves slowly disappeared. Granted, there was still a bit of anxiousness and I was still only practicing in parking lots, but I felt extremely comfortable driving that car.
My driving skills improved and I finally believed I was able to start my driving lessons without my anxiety completely overtaking me. However, the COVID-19 pandemic started in March and driving schools closed during that time. When they reopened in the summer, I finally contacted my driving instructor to set up a time to practice. Before my first lesson, I told him that I hadn’t driven on the road yet. When my first lesson was complete, he asked me: “Are you sure you haven’t driven on the road before?” This gave me a confidence boost, as I thought he believed I was a great driver.
Yet, things took a turn for the worse. With every lesson that would pass, my instructor would constantly belittle my driving skills. I personally thought I was doing fine, but every small thing was critiqued. The first time he taught me how to parallel park, he expected me to get it right on the first try. After parking a bit too close to the curb, my instructor started yelling at me and told me I wouldn’t pass my G2 test — in fact, he specifically told me that I would get a “negative zero” for my parallel parking. Many people haven’t mastered parallel parking even after having enough driving experience, let alone doing it for the first time. I honestly believe he was insulting my driving skills because I’m female. He would praise other students’ skills (all of them were male) while disparaging mine. However, his attitude changed during my last lesson. He told me that if I drove the way I did that day, I would pass my test. It would’ve been much more beneficial if he had been this encouraging during the past nine lessons.
Then, three days before my G2 test, the unthinkable happened. I got into a car accident. I was out practicing, with my dad in the passenger seat. I stopped at a red light, waiting for it to turn green so I could make a left turn. As soon as it was safe to go, I started turning, when all of a sudden a car came speeding down from the left, crashing into the front end of my dad’s car. There weren’t any serious injuries, thankfully, but I did have whiplash and had to go to a chiropractor for the next three months.
In the moments after the accident, all I could think about was messaging my instructor to postpone my G2 test, as it was still within the 48-hour cancellation window. However, I decided against it, and went ahead with the test. Obviously, I failed the test, as my anxiety had gotten much worse after the accident. The one thing that had scared me when I started driving was getting into a crash — and after it had happened, I thought it was the universe’s way of telling me I shouldn’t drive. I thought my instructor’s insulting comments had been right and I was a terrible driver.
However, as much as I hated driving, I was still passionate about getting my license. I wanted the freedom that came along with it. So, I scheduled another G2 test in December, as my G1 license was set to expire in March. It was risky, as it was going to be winter and driving without snow was already scary for me. Yet in those months, I continued practicing and worked on my mistakes. I would practice over and over, wanting to perfect everything that was going to be on the test.
On the day of my second G2 test, I went on a full ramble to my examiner. I told her about my driving fears and everything that had happened to me in the last couple of months. She told me to take deep breaths and reassured me that all would be fine. I was still doubting myself at that moment. I took my time during the test, and tried not to let my lurking fear cloud my mind. I’ll never forget the relief I felt when my examiner told me I passed. Now that I have my G2, I can’t help but think in some weird way, all of the negative things that had happened to me actually made me a better driver. It homed in on my weaknesses and made me want to improve. I will confess I am still afraid of driving, but not as much as when I first started. I’m going to keep driving and hopefully, after enough exposure, my fear will dissipate. After all, I still have my G test to take.