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The key to successfully failing your driving test is not, as one would imagine, in the preparation or lack thereof, but rather that you tell as many people as possible that you have it coming up. This allows you to develop a network of friends and family who will support you with helpful tips like ‘they will probably let you pass because of your age’, ‘well, you’re hardly a boy racer’, or ‘are you sure you are ready for this?’ Obviously, yes I was sure. I had been on the road a while, had a few extra top-up lessons to highlight my many, many bad habits, and was feeling reasonably confident that I was going to fail. And lo, the prophecy was fulfilled.
The first sign that things were not going my way was in my driving tester. Apart from the fact that she was so young I thought she was an intern, she also had extremely large eyes, all the better to see my speed dial with. I thought that I could use this to my advantage by using peripheral vision to see where her eyes were swivelling towards and reacting accordingly – if she noticed the Lourdes medal on the dash, I could perform an emergency stop at the nearest grotto and beep out a decade of the rosary whilst parallel parking. Sadly, she wore equally large Kim Jong Il-style shades which meant I had no idea what she was gazing towards, although given that I was doing speeds that make Driving Miss Daisy look like an especially charged Top Gear, it is quite possible she nodded off.
There were many high points on our grand tour of Cork suburbs – the ten-point turn, the whiplash I got from twisting my head around like an anxious owl every thirty seconds, or the speed bump I didn’t see in time – but in the end it was deemed that I had failed. I am okay with this, as it is a fitting assessment, and also as I am not alone. With more than 65,000 learner drivers on their third or subsequent permit, there are many out there who wear the scarlet letter of shame upon their car body, and who have either failed the test or are avoiding it like they would have avoided the Leaving Cert, given the chance. People just don’t like being tested or judged. This, clearly, is a problem, as were the statistics showing that some centres had higher pass rates than others – while the national pass/fail average may be roughly 50/50, some centres seem to be particularly harsh, while some seem to be a breeze – Skibbereen, the town in Ireland with the most Lotto wins, also seems to be blessed when it comes to driving test pass rates, with an impressive 60% rate. If only I had booked my test in the land of rainbows down west rather than on the mean streets of Wilton.
One way to tackle the number of learner permits is to start the education sooner. Students in many American states are offered a driver education course as part of their curriculum – this means they are trained in the correct way to drive almost from day one, rather than learning the Irish way by having a parent teach you all their bad habits, which hark back to a time when getting your full license seemed to be as simple as filling out a form. Driving is one of the most important life skills we can develop – for our safety and the safety of others, but also for our day to day lives, work, family, or travel – and it should form some part of the school curriculum. However, given that our school system is still lacking a standardised, state-wide education programme in the most human life skill of all – sex education – I won’t hold my breath.