Driving lessons: what to expect

So, you’re about to get behind the wheel for the first time, slip the key into the ignition and start learning how to drive. The ultimate aim is freedom and independence.

It’s all pretty exciting, but the prospect of driving lessons might also make you feel a little nervous.

But look, preparation breeds confidence, which is why we’ve created this little guide on what to expect from taking driving lessons. Let’s pull back the curtain…

Is the first driving lesson really scary?


The thought of learning to drive for the first time is much scarier than the reality. And you know what? It's perfectly natural to feel a little jittery. 

However, bear in mind that driving instructors have seen it all before. They know that everyone's different, so you'll always be learning at a pace that's right for you.

As with everything in life, some people will take to driving like a duck to water. Others will struggle because of nerves. And most people will fit somewhere in between the 2 extremes.

Nevertheless, a good driving instructor will learn the best approach for you, adapt and tailor your lessons pretty quickly. 

How should I prepare for my first driving lesson?


Preparing for any driving lesson is common sense, really. Don't drink any alcohol the night before and avoid any Netflix marathons. Instead, try to relax and get a good night's sleep.

On lesson day, pick out comfortable clothes so that you'll feel relaxed and be sure to wear flat-heeled, non-slip shoes or trainers so that you can feel the pedals easily.

Bring glasses or contacts if you have them and bring a bottle of water, too.  

What can I expect from my first driving lesson?


First of all, you'll be picked up by your driving instructor either at your home, college, university, place of work or from wherever you've arranged.

Before you do anything, your instructor will introduce themselves and put you at ease.

They'll show you their qualifications, then they'll check your provisional licence to see if you’re legally able to drive (so bring it to your first lesson). If you don’t have a provisional licence yet, you can apply for one here.

Depending on where you live, your instructor will then drive you to a quiet spot and teach you the DSSM cockpit drill. This is an essential vehicle safety routine that should be performed before every drive.

  • Doors - are they securely closed?
  • Seat - is it in comfortable position?
  • Steering position - has it been established?
  • Seatbelts - are they on?
  • Mirrors - have they been adjusted?

After the cockpit drill, your instructor will then run through some basics by showing you how to work the clutch, accelerator, brakes, handbrake and indicator. 

You’ll also be introduced to the dashboard and all the various buttons at your fingertips.

At this stage, you might have some time left for a little driving. It might only be a gentle introduction to pulling away and stopping, but 5mph will still seem like 500 the first time you do it.

The idea is to start developing your ability to move a car from a stationary position and get used to speeding up and slowing down.

And as far as first lessons go, that's probably all you'll have time for. Your instructor will then take you back to your agreed drop-off point, discuss how the lesson went and schedule another session.

What else will you learn during your driving lessons?

With the first lesson done and dusted, you'll be feeling more confident next time around and your driving instructor will now introduce a number of key skills over the coming weeks and months. 

All the different driving topics are listed below and, although the order might vary a little depending on the instructor, this is generally the agenda most learners will follow.

There’s no rush, but when you can execute them all without any prompting, you’re ready for your test. 

  • Safe road positioning
  • Mirrors and signalling
  • Approaching junctions
  • Meeting traffic
  • Use of speed
  • Hazard awareness
  • Emergency stop
  • Roundabouts
  • Junctions
  • Pedestrian crossings
  • Dual carriageways
  • Parking and reversing
  • Tackling different road conditions
  • Following directions

Will I have any motorway driving lessons?

Your practical test won’t involve any motorway driving, so you don’t have to have any motorway driving lessons. These lessons are a personal choice and it's a decision that you can discuss with your instructor.

For a long while, by law, UK learner drivers were not allowed to head out onto a motorway. They were expected to know the driving rules and regulations for motorways, but that was it. 

And that always seemed a counterintuitive stance.

After all, there are over 2,000 miles of motorway in the UK – we drive on them a lot it and it made no sense for novice drivers to have to experience motorway driving on their own first time out. 

But in June 2018, everything changed.

Now, learners can practice their motorway driving before taking their test and get to grips with increased speeds, changing lanes, overtaking slower vehicles and suchlike.  

Whether you have motorway driving lessons or not will largely depend on how your  lessons are going in general. If they're going well and you’ve mastered dual carriageways, motorway driving won't be a shock to the system and it's probably worth having one or two sessions.

But if everything’s proving to be a bit more of a struggle, you might want to give motorway driving a miss until you’ve passed your test. Remember that you can always take motorway driving lessons at a later date after passing your practical.

Either way, don't worry. In many ways, motorway driving is the easiest kind of driving.

You’ll be driving at higher speeds so the temptation is to think that there’s more danger. In reality, motorways are the safest roads in the UK. 

Many people are anxious about motorway driving but you can’t argue with the stats - hazards pop up far more frequently in city and country roads.

Assuming that you can learn how to enter and exit a motorway safely, overtake slow-moving vehicles, use lanes correctly and understand motorway-specific traffic signs, then you’ll be fine.

Other things to remember

Don’t forget that you’ll have to pass your Theory Test before taking a practical driving test. Most likely, you’ll be able to do that about halfway into the syllabus.

Need help passing your Theory Test?

Check out our free guide.

But aside from the Theory Test, that’s your schedule. And now that you know what to expect from your first driving lesson, you can relax a bit.

Try to keep things in perspective - making mistakes is inevitable; that’s part of the learning process. 

Being a proactive learner will stand you in good stead, so get reports from your instructor at the end of every lesson and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

What if I'm really anxious about my driving lessons?


From sweaty palms to full-on panic attacks, some learners really struggle with anxiety. And these feelings could be caused by a wide variety of things.

Perhaps you’ve previously had a bad experience in a car (either as a learner or a passenger).

Maybe you’ve had a bad driving instructor in the past who didn’t bring out the best in you.

Meanwhile, some people are simply paralysed by the thought of making a mistake. Psychologists would probably call this performance anxiety.

Or maybe these feelings have nothing to do with driving. Perhaps you’re just naturally an anxious person. Regardless of your personal situation, this is a barrier that must be overcome.

What can you do about your nerves?


The first step is to acknowledge your issues and identify the root problem. What’s causing your anxiety?

After that, it’s important to find a driving instructor that you can connect with and open up to about how you feel about learning to drive.

A good driving instructor will have seen everything before and they’ll be able to tailor your driving lessons to cater for your anxiety. 

You see, whilst an instructor must teach you driving techniques, instilling confidence is also part of their job.

Luckily, it’s really easy to assess driving instructors on our platform. Just enter your postcode to be able to read reviews and see ratings.

That info alone should make it more likely that you’ll find the right instructor for you, but if you need to change your tutor, you can do it whenever you want.

Practical advice to help you control your emotions


There are a few things you can do which will help you on your way. 

For starters, tiredness will affect your ability to think rationally so try to get a good night's sleep before having a driving lesson. 

Similarly, it’s vital that you stay hydrated and don’t have any driving lessons on an empty stomach. Quite simply, your brain will just not function logically if you’re feeling thirsty and hungry. 

Work on breathing techniques (especially when you’re placed under stress) and don't schedule any lessons around any other stressful evens (like meetings with your boss or bank manager).

And lastly, remove all other potential causes of stress. Arrive for your driving lesson on time, switch your mobile phone off during the session and unwind properly afterwards.


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