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16th Jan 2024

‘I finally passed my driving test at 30 – Here’s what helped me with driving anxiety’

Jody Coffey


The anxiety with comes with learning to drive confidently is one that isn’t talked about enough.

Last year, after three disheartening failures, I finally passed my driving test on my fourth attempt.

During a summer when I landed a job I love, moved to Dublin, and completed my master’s, I can say without hesitation that passing my driving test was my proudest achievement.

This was purely because of the anxiety and self-doubt it was causing me to get to that point.

When I wasn’t practising between fails, I was constantly thinking and worrying about it or feeling ashamed that I had reached my 30s without passing this milestone.

When I finally received that piece of paper that deemed me road-worthy, it was the biggest relief I have ever felt.

Credit: Getty

On my journey to passing the driving test, I felt that not many understood how the simple act of driving could cause someone so much anxiety and stress (and tears).

Everyone I know has had their licence for years and seems to enjoy driving, which I just did not grasp at the time.

In their stories about receiving their full licence, they seemed to pass with ease, and here I was, failing time after time and hating being behind the wheel with an indescribable passion.

To think back to this time last year, it feels like a different person with entirely different thoughts around driving, which I hope can give you some peace of mind knowing it’s not permanent.

Here’s what helped me to get over my driving anxiety.

Find a driving instructor who suits you

Finding the right driving instructor is like finding the right partner – strictly in a driving sense – as you need to have a good rapport with them.

Over the years, I have trialled five instructors, hoping they would work magic on my driving anxiety.

Some drivers, possibly because they’ve been doing it for so long, do not understand how fear can override basic commands, but it can.

I have had driving instructors who I knew saw me as a lost cause, which did not help my anxiety before tests.

I have also had ones who have instilled a false sense of hope, which did nothing to improve my driving and made the inevitable failure all the more crushing.

It was one instructor who changed the narrative inside my head around being behind the wheel.

He sat and talked through why I was feeling anxious, even allowing me to cry my eyes out on the morning before I passed my test, and gave constructive criticism that I could understand and work on.

He doubled as a coach and instructor and understood that it’s not a black-and-white process, as there is an emotional and mental component to passing for some.

If you’re feeling additional stress or a lack of improvement during lessons, consider finding a new instructor.

Credit: Getty

Practice with someone who keeps you calm

My boyfriend gave up countless hours and overlooked multiple scuffs on his wheels to help me pass my test, but it was a task to practice driving with him.

When there’s an emotional investment, there’s a higher drive to perform well, and when mistakes inevitably happen, it just adds to the anxiety.

While he was patient and kind during the entire process, I applied extra pressure to do well in front of him and would feel so crap when I didn’t.

Similarly, my mom, who would admit to being a nervous passenger, added to my fears when driving because she was literally on the edge of her seat the whole time (I don’t blame her at all).

It had nothing to do with them; I was just creating stress and absorbing any energy in the car.

Even the most experienced drivers are justified in feeling afraid while in the passenger seat of a car where a new and terrified driver is in control.

Most of my best learning outside of lessons was done with my cool, calm, and collected aunt in the passenger seat.

If someone beeped behind me when I stalled or drove slowly (also, people need to stop doing this to L drivers), she would tell me to block them out without showing any reaction herself, and it made all the difference when learning the basics.

Try your best to practice with someone who can provide a calm environment.

Credit: Getty

Anxiety-focused meditations

Driving anxiety is like any other anxiety; it’s a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe.

When the thoughts swarm, unsurprisingly, it can actually impact your progress.

Think about it: it’s hard to do anything correctly when your mind is telling you to be afraid or fearful.

Invest some time into meditating to clear your mind and simmer down any racing thoughts about driving.

I found the app ‘Insight Timer’ extremely beneficial, as it has thousands of meditations targeted at different types of anxiety.

Credit: Getty

Talk or write about what is causing the fear

A lot of the time, our fears stem from somewhere, and talking or writing about them can help unlock the why behind them.

After my second failed test, out of sheer frustration, I began writing about my anxieties around driving.

I was able to trace it back to a negative experience involving a car from my childhood, which, for a while, made me succumb even more to my fears.

However, as time went by, I was able to become more rational and realistic about what my child’s mind had deemed as something to fear for life.

The experience I was afraid of repeating didn’t even involve me; I was just witness to the incident where there were some factors at play that I had control over not doing as the driver.

I came to understand that I wasn’t afraid of driving; I was afraid of other drivers and spent a lot of time on edge because I was worried about what they could do.

Armed with this knowledge, I realised that, while it was an understandable fear, it was apointless one.

While I failed the third test, I was ten times more confident because I was finally able to relish the fact that I was in control of the car I was driving and just needed to focus on myself and react accordingly to other road users.

Credit: Getty

Don’t let the fails knock you

This is possibly the most important piece of advice to follow.

Anytime I failed, I was overwhelmed with the desire to give up and rely on public transport and lifts forever.

The failure of driving tests can take many forms; it can feel unfair, it can feel hopeless, and it can even feel like the tester was wrong or too harsh with their scoring.

Trust me, I’ve felt them all.

However, after a good cry and a very short break from the car, I would immediately rebook my test and get back into practicing and lessons.

If you feel like quitting after failing, try to push yourself to get back on the road.

It makes passing feel all the more rewarding when you’ve had setbacks.

Credit: Getty

If you failed your driving test in 2023, you’re not alone.

According to figures released to The Journal by the Road Safety Authority, many test centres in Ireland had a higher fail rate than pass rate.

The Skibbereen test centre had the highest pass rate, with 73.2% of applicants getting their full license there last year.

Meanwhile, Charlestown in North Dublin only passed 38.2% of hopeful drivers who sat their test at this location.

Passing the driving test is no easy feat and the figures confirm this fact.

To put things into perspective, here are the pass rates for each RSA centre this year:

  • Athlone (45.9%)
  • Ballina (54.9%)
  • Birr (53.0%)
  • Buncrana (59.8%)
  • Carlow Talbot Hotel (60.0%)
  • Carrick On Shannon (54.8%)
  • Castlebar (58.7%)
  • Cavan (55.0%)
  • Charlestown (38.2%)
  • Clifden (64.2%)
  • Clonmel (59.8%)
  • Cork – St. Finbarr’s GAA Club, Togher (50.3%)
  • Cork – Wilton (45.3%)
  • Donegal (59.5%)
  • Drogheda (52.0%)
  • Dun Laoghaire / Deansgrange (53.2%)
  • Dundalk (51.2%)
  • Dungarvan (50.7%)
  • Ennis (53.4%)
  • Finglas (38.6%)
  • Galway – Carnmore (53.9%)
  • Galway – Westside (58.7%)
  • Gorey (56.2%)
  • Kilkenny – Govt Buildings (50.7%)
  • Kilkenny – O’Loughlin Gaels (54.9%)
  • Killarney (52.9%)
  • Killester (47.3%)
  • Kilrush (55.6%)
  • Letterkenny (55.6%)
  • Limerick – Castlemungret (53.0%)
  • Limerick – Woodview (52.9%)
  • Longford (43.3%)
  • Loughrea (65.3%)
  • Loughrea – Lough Rea Hotel & Spa (56.0%)
  • Mallow – Cork Racecourse Mallow (51.0%)
  • Monaghan (60.9%)
  • Mulhuddart (45.3%)
  • Mulhuddart – Carlton Hotel (45.0%)
  • Mulhuddart – Maple House (44.1%)
  • Mullingar (47.6%)
  • Naas (51.1%)
  • Navan (55.3%)
  • Nenagh (49.4%)
  • Newcastle West (53.1%)
  • Newcastle West – Longcourt House Hotel (54.5%)
  • Portlaoise (49.8%)
  • Raheny (47.5%)
  • Roscommon (52.2%)
  • Shannon (59.1%)
  • Skibbereen (73.2%)
  • Sligo (52.6%)
  • Tallaght (46.2%)
  • Thurles (48.0%)
  • Tipperary (46.2%)
  • Tralee (47.1%)
  • Tuam (58.4%)
  • Tullamore (50.5%)
  • Waterford (46.6%)
  • Wexford (48.6%)
  • Wicklow (54.5%)