Driving lessons with a family member: your best and worst experiences

Road to divorce

My ex-husband was deeply attached to his car, so much so that when I got my provisional licence, in my early 30s, he wouldn’t let me have a go. It was nothing exotic, only a Seat, but the car was his sovereign territory to the extent that he always insisted on driving home when we were out, sometimes after a bottle or more of red wine. He claimed he never got drunk and his skills were unaffected. Older and wiser, I see that this is the opposite of a man who “looks good on paper”.

He suggested I buy a car of my own to learn in, which I did. He took me out in my little rustbucket Austin Metro once for a practice drive but was constantly edgy and snappy – clearly, he didn’t like not being in control, even if only behind the wheel. It took me 76 lessons over 18 months with a driving instructor to pass my test. I don’t think the marriage lasted much longer after I passed on the third try.

Sasha Scott

Mum was in labour!

Mum was heavily pregnant and Dad had just broken his foot playing rugby. Dad was teaching me to drive, but at this time my driving was limited to first and second gear. On my fifth lesson with Dad, we were about to pull away when Mum screamed from the bathroom: “I’m going into labour!”

Due to his broken foot, Dad had made sure that a back-up driver was available, but this driver was tending to her own emergency at the time. So I became plan B and before I knew it, Dad was helping Mum into the car. I stalled three times before we set off and I was more panicked than my mum. I remember horns blaring in my direction, along with my mum’s screaming. But we finally got to the hospital and my baby brother was born a few hours later.

I’ll always remember that journey because it was the first time I changed to third gear successfully.

Tom Forte

Mum, the minimalist

My mother was born in 1915 so, at 17, she got a driving licence without a test. After she was widowed, she taught my two eldest sisters to drive in our Hillman Minx estate – with us and several friends in the back, and no seat belts.

Because she’d driven trucks in the war, she said we only needed three proper lessons each before our tests.

Janie Hampton Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Janie Hampton, left, sitting on the car bonnet, with her mother and sisters in 1961.
Shortly after I was 17, she made me drive in our old Ford Anglia down the A1 on a bank holiday, then round Hyde Park Corner in central London. After six months she said I was ready to take the test. My instructor said, “Who on earth has been teaching you? A truck driver?”

I passed my test at the second attempt after six lessons, which my mother complained were unnecessary and extravagant. I think it was worth it – I’ve been driving for 46 years and as yet have no points on my licence. But then, neither did my mother, after no lessons and 70 years on the road.

I drew the picture, above, in 1970 while waiting for the AA – it was constantly breaking down but I soon learned to fix the carburettor myself.

Janie Hampton

Terror in the back seat

In the 1960s, my father tried to teach my mother to drive in our brand new Austin 1100. I was too small to be left at home and was forced to sit in the back seat, enduring kangaroo jumps and erratic braking as we lurched slowly along the straight, wide, traffic-free road that led, ironically, to our local crematorium. My fear was as irrational as it was real, but I knew there was no way that we could trust Mummy to drive. She would kill us all.

I screamed and cried relentlessly: “Daddy, don’t let her drive. Pleeeease, Daddy, make her stop!”

Sadly, despite subsequent professional lessons, my mother never took her test.

Mandy Huggins

Attention, son!

My father was a driving instructor, so naturally it was he who taught me to drive. He had been a drill sergeant and PT instructor in the RAF and was used to his commands being carried out without question.

He wanted me to pass first time, as did I, so tuition was intense. At the end of a session, my neck would ache from several attempts to reverse round a corner, “keeping to six inches from the kerb all the way round”. If I hesitated for too long before emerging from a junction he would say, “If we stay here much longer, the lady in the house opposite will bring us tea and biscuits.”

Moving away from the kerb without looking over my shoulder would mean, he said, “The examiner has failed you, the rest of the test is a waste of your time and his.”

Tensions ran high close to the date of the test. He put me through a “mock test” that lasted three minutes before we argued and I got out and walked home. I passed first time. Thanks, Dad.

Jon Webster

Bum steer with MiL

Years ago, when I was still at the “nervous” learner-driver stage, my (now, sadly, late) mother-in-law took me for a practice spin in her Triumph Herald. We began on country lanes in first and second. Followed by an A-road, up a gear.

Then we were on a huge multi-lane road, where I was encouraged (“check there’s nothing coming …”) to leave the nearside lane, switch to fourth gear, overtake other cars, use the middle lane… until, suddenly, in the distance there loomed a huge island-roundabout, a major (city-to-city) highway crossing our path.

Unsure which lane I should be in, I asked as calmly as I could: “Where are we going?”

“Straight ahead!”

So, still in fourth, at about 60mph, I drove straight ahead – across the first half of the road, then the island, the second half of the motorway, and down the (luckily, empty) road opposite. I was encouraged to slow down, pull over and stop.

“Right!” said my mother-in-law, brightly. “I think we’ll change seats now and I’ll drive home …”

Frederick Robinson

Snoozing on duty

My dad took me out on my 17th birthday, in the Mini he had bought me. He was a very laidback man. Nothing fazed him. When he was in the army, in action in the second world war, he was known for falling asleep standing up even when danger was close by.

Off we went on my first “official” on-road driving lesson. As we approached the bottom of our road, I asked where we were going. “Anywhere you like,” he replied. We were only about a mile from home, when I asked if I was doing OK – but there was no answer.

He was asleep. I shouted to wake him up. He asked why I was shouting and I told him he had fallen asleep. He was tired, he said, and besides he knew I would be able to drive as he let me drive his old tractor across the fields when I was 10. I said that I thought that was different and we were on an actual road now, but he had fallen asleep again.

Julie Bronze

Brave, patient Dad

At 17, I was the proud owner of a brown 1.2 litre Vauxhall Nova. Having failed my first test after lessons with an instructor, my dad, who had recently retired, agreed to coach me until my next test date came through.

We spent hours side by side in the car, his patient, gentle support helping me to gain confidence and teaching me far beyond “mirror, signal, manoeuvre” to become a considerate and courteous driver, just like him.

He’d choose our route. Invariably it took us to Middleport, the area of Stoke-on-Trent he’d grown up in, where the poorer streets of the Potteries were being levelled. Three-point-turns were mastered in Prospect Street, a cul-de-sac of abandoned factories and a few remaining homes. Dad would relive youthful memories while I tried to find the clutch.

I didn’t know it at the time but his early retirement was prompted by a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease two years earlier. My parents thought I was too young to be burdened with the news, so I went on in that self-absorbed teenage way, not noticing his grip on the steering wheel becoming more determined.

Years later, when Dad had given up driving, I drove him to appointments, to day centres, and back to the changing streets of Middleport and I was grateful for the skills he’d passed on and that precious time we spent together behind the wheel.

Nicky Taylor

Legacy of the lessons

There was never any question but that my father, a motoring journalist, would teach me to drive. From the day of my 17th birthday, we went out every evening and I passed my test after two months. But the instruction didn’t stop there.

When the first snow came that winter, my father taught me how to handle a skid. He taught me motorway driving skills, how to change a tyre, read a map, park and, when I drove abroad for the first time, gave me a crash course in continental motoring.

Those two months broke down a lot of teenage barriers. Qualities in my father that I sometimes found frustrating at home made him the ideal driving teacher: he was rigorous, patient and unflappable. For 30 years I have loved driving and feel confident and safe behind the wheel of a car.

As my father advances into his 80s, I realise that his greatest legacy to me is his constant presence on the road as I drive every day.

Rachel Bladon

We’re still together

My main aim when I went off to Portsmouth Polytechnic in 1987 was to get a boyfriend. To achieve this in the first term was fantastic, to get a boyfriend with a car was a great bonus.

Sally Cooke with her student boyfriend – now husband – and the car he taught her to drive in, with his windsurf board on the roof.
He drove a 1975 Vauxhall Chevette with his treasured windsurfing board permanently on the roof bars. He offered to teach me to drive when we had been going out for a year. So, after spending a little bit of my student grant on a couple of “proper” lessons, we attached L-plates to the Chevette and hit the local housing and industrial estates.

He winced as his car hit the kerb as I failed repeatedly to reverse round the corner. He buried his head in his hands as I overshot a junction by about 10 feet and patiently waited out my tears as I told him “I JUST CAN’T DRIVE!”

But slowly, gradually I got the hang of it and began to drive.

We’re married now and the kids think I drive better than Dad does.

Sally Cooke

L-plate shenanigans

My parents were never going to pay for driving lessons, so they taught me themselves. I passed my test first time in a six-seater Fiat Multipla that, on test day, was held together with masking tape.

However, it didn’t come without struggles: the arguments on roundabouts about what I had actually been told to do; the family road trips when I had four people (both parents and my two younger siblings) all giving me instructions about how to park; the time when the L-plate flew off the front of the car while we were travelling down a 60mph road and there was nothing else for my mum to do than hold a spare L-plate up at the window for the rest of the 60-minute journey.

Despite all this, it hasn’t put my mum off, she is still planning to teach my siblings to drive.

Fiona Murray