How Can I Become A More Confident Driver?

Here is a question I received and answered on the now-defunct website AllExperts.com:

I got my drivers license at the end of June and I’m still a very nervous driver, I prefer to have someone in the car with me and I’m quite nervous to drive alone. I’m pretty nervous with changing lanes and left hand turns, although I’m getting a bit better with those things I would prefer to be fully confident. How long does it take to become a fully confident driver? I still find myself making mistakes and feeling badly about my driving skills because of it, for instance I was coming to a stop light and I didn’t realize how fast I was going and I had to stop a bit harder than usual, (mind you I’m more concious about that now) but the person in the car with me (who’s been driving for 45 years) yelled at me because of it and it really shook me up and upset me. What can I do to overcome this fear and anxiety with driving? Thank you in advance.

First off, appreciate that there is no universal clock that elapses and then one days dings, declaring you a master driver.  Driving is a lifelong learning process, taking time and practice to master physical and cognitive skills.  After all, if you’re like most people, driving is the first thing you’ve learned to do with precision using your feet since you began to toddle.

Imagine each driving experience like a file folder handing in a drawer.  Each experience informs the choices you make in similar situations in the future.  The longer you drive, the more file folders you cram into the drawer, and the more experiences you have to draw upon to choose the right action next time.

It’s okay to not be a great driver yet.  There’s an old adage that says you must put in 10,000 hours of committed practice to become an expert in anything.  If that’s the case, and you put in half an hour of committed practice every single day, you still wouldn’t become an expert driver until you were in your 40’s.  The goal is competency and survivability.

Yes, you’re a licensed driver, but you’re still a novice driver.  Accept that and remind friends before they go off the horn on you for making a mistake.  You will make mistakes, and that’s okay – it’s how we learn.  I can see you’re already learning from your mistakes, which tells me you’re going to be fine.  For now, focus on the basics and get comfortable with those before spending too much time in complex environments (cities, crowded highways).

Be patient with yourself, and remind your passengers to be patient with you, as you are still learning.  Earning a license isn’t the end of the learning, it’s really only the beginning.

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