The driving test toasts its 80th birthday this week.
Whether you sailed through the first time or took several attempts to throw away your L-plates, everyone tends to remember the occasion they passed vividly.
I passed my driving test the first time, but I’m pretty sure I should've failed.
A few minutes in, I performed a turn in the road. You aren't supposed to even touch the curb but I slammed into it, bouncing off! I knew that was a fail, so I calmed right down and treated it as a standard lesson.
The test instructor and I had a really good discussion about the then-US president George W Bush, and both agreed we thoroughly disliked him.
He passed me with no mention of hitting the curb – I will never know if that was because he thought my driving was good enough once I calmed down, or because we were both so angry about ‘Dubya’…
It took me four attempts and over a year of lessons to pass my test.
The first time I took it, I failed within five minutes of leaving the test centre when some unexpected roadworks caused me to go into a panic while approaching one of Cwmbran’s verdant roundabouts. The instructor mercifully called time on the test shortly afterwards.
I can’t remember the details of the second and third time, but there was a certain grim, resigned inevitability about it all.
By the time the fourth came around, learning to drive had become a real exercise in futility. I couldn’t face the ignominy of having to face my pals knowing I’d failed again, never mind enduring the agonisingly slow bus services from my small valleys hometown.
Arriving a sweaty-palmed ball of emotions at the test centre on a cold November afternoon, I somehow managed to breeze through. I even bossed the feared reverse parking.
I couldn’t even begin to describe the elation when I found out I hadn’t failed again.
Driving has never been my strongest suit. A lack of co-ordination, terrible spatial awareness and a quickness to panic do not a good driver make.
I passed my test eight years ago but started university a week later and didn’t get in a car again until last year. It took me a few months to drive without P-plates, for pity’s sake.
So when I tell people that I passed my test the first time, they seem surprised. When I follow it with: “But it took me almost a year to learn,” they seem less shocked.
Passing my test first time was lucky in itself. After cancelling a few months earlier due to lack of confidence, the stars aligned to provide quiet roads and a nice examiner who asked for easy manoeuvres.
You’d think that mounting the pavement before leaving the test centre would put the kibosh on a pass, but amazingly I drove back an hour later a qualified driver. If I'd been asked to reverse, it would probably have been a completely different story…
My examiner was a jolly fellow who spent a long time chuckling at my surname and joking that he could "tell all the lads he'd had Miss England in his car".
I completely mucked up several manoeuvres and indicated the wrong way going onto a dual carriageway, but he still passed me. Huh?
When I was finally handed my pass certificate, after my fourth attempt, I was weak with relief.
Being from a small town, I’d had the same instructor for the three previous attempts: a diminutive, shrewish woman with a tight bun and a face that hung in a wizened expression of haughty disgust. She didn’t seem to be enjoying enormous career satisfaction.
Nevertheless, I’ve her to thank for nudging me away from failure number four.
As I attempted to back into a parking space at the test centre, with an exasperated tone and without looking at me she exclaimed “you may open the door to check if you like.”
A sneaky glance, a straighten-up wiggle and I was, at last, a fully-fledged motorist…
I seem to recall a beautiful June day in that tropical idyll of Merthyr Tydfil, back in those balmy days of the late 1980s.
We climbed the hill towards Dowlais Top, the side of my eye catching the instructor’s clipboard, poised ready to slam into the dashboard.
Lynx – my deodorant of choice – would have done little to control the river running from my armpits, but– as I heard the sharp slap of cardboard on plastic – my feet slammed onto the brake and clutch in beautiful symmetry.
The dreaded emergency stop was negotiated with a degree of style and, dare I say it, panache.
The rest is a blur – the signalling, the manoeuvring, the reverse park… until that moment the chubby instructor uttered the words: “you’ve passed”.
My over-effusive thank-yous seemed to last about five minutes before he said sternly “It’s REALLY ok” as he clambered quickly away from this spotty, sweat-drenched 17-year-old.
I let him walk around the corner before ripping off with tyres screaming, punching the air through the open window while bellowing out a bit of Simple Minds.
5 July, 1999. Flash floods swamped Las Vegas, engulfing trailer parks, and over in Herne Bay we were having our own issues with the weather…
My entire life had been leading up to my driving test. Having been obsessed with cars since birth, the date when I’d get the go-ahead to actually drive by myself couldn’t come soon enough. So you can imagine my dismay on the morning of the test when the biblical rain appeared.
It was actually fine. Despite the monsoon I passed easily, only picking up a couple of minors for driving too slowly!
When my instructor dropped me home, he advised me to wait until the next day before driving on my own. “Too risky, with this weather,” he said.
I ignored him, of course, and went straight out in my mum’s Fiesta. Within 10 minutes I was stranded, abandoning the conked-out motor to wade to the kerb for help.