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Overcoming your fear of driving is not the impossible dream. It is yours for the taking. The phobic drivers described in this book are real. They learned to drive despite their irrational fears. Some were propelled by sheer desperation. Others simply refused to succumb to these fears and ultimately learned to drive.
Contrary to what you may believe, nervousness will not prevent you from learning to drive an automobile. I have seen it happen hundreds of times. Your fear of driving will subside and your confidence will grow as you improve. Many men and women are disheartened by news reports concerning people getting killed or crippled in automobile accidents. A large percentage of these accidents are caused by intoxicated drivers or by others who drive recklessly, carelessly and thoughtlessly.
Many of my students have confided in me and related how for years they were afraid to drive. They would conjure visions of themselves behind the wheel having accidents. Positive imaging is extremely important. People behave outwardly in the manner they imagine they will behave. Negative thoughts about driving could prevent them from trying to learn. Picture yourself driving an automobile smoothly and confidently. Do not imagine yourself pushing the accelerator instead of the brake or crashing off a cliff. Too many older men and women are convinced that they cannot learn to drive.
If driving was that difficult, how could many millions of people all over the world be driving? Take one step at a time. You don't have to drive on expressways or turnpikes! You can be very happy being a neighborhood driver. A certain doctor in Philadelphia advised all of his recently widowed patients to learn how to drive. Some who took his advice eventually were able to stop taking tranquilizers. Almost anyone who can learn to steer an automobile can learn to drive. When I started to teach people how to drive, I observed the difficulty older people encountered learning to steer. In time, I developed methods and procedures which proved successful in almost every instance.
Before you enter the driving arena, it would be helpful to have some knowledge of the traffic problems you will encounter. It is not easy for an inexperienced older driver to apply "common sense" when confronted with different situations. "Common sense" can't be applied unless the subject is understood, especially for older people unfamiliar with the many diverse traffic regulations. Driving an automobile in today's traffic has become more complicated than it was years ago.
Surprisingly, only a small percentage of the people who came to me for driving lessons could not learn to steer the automobile. This included students up to the age of seventy-two. Young people learn to steer much sooner than older people but, occasionally, even a teenager who does not have good "motor skills" will have problems. The small percentage of students who did not learn, either had extremely poor "motor skills" or they did not have the patience and determination to continue.
Of all the people I have taught to drive, Betty V. epitomizes the importance of determination and perseverance. Betty depended on her husband for everything. He passed away when she was sixty-seven years old. She was devastated and depressed. Betty didn't know a brake pedal from an accelerator.
Betty was obsessed with the fear that someday, she would be like the little white haired old ladies who clutched each other as they walked across the street. She was not a good candidate for driving. Her "motor skills" were not good. She was extremely frightened. At first she did not listen to my instructions. At one point I suggested that she forget about driving. However, she was adamant. In the midst of many tears, trials and errors, she declared she would never stop trying.
Betty couldn't seem to concentrate on what I wanted her to do. No one I taught tried my patience as she did. She couldn't seem to remember to keep her foot on the brake when changing from "R" to "D" or from "D" to "R". I spent hours with her going forward ten feet and back ten feet until she remembered to hold her foot on the brake when changing gears. She mastered this because she persevered and would not stop trying to learn to drive. She may have been the slowest student I ever taught, but I admired her for her tenacity. Many women with more ability than Betty are not driving today because they did not have her determination.
There were a few I stopped trying to teach almost immediately because I considered them unteachable. I considered Betty to be marginal. When she stopped crying she did show slight signs of improvement.
Because she was so insistent, I stayed with her for two years. The bottom line is she bought a car and is now driving in her neighborhood. Betty will never be a complete driver, but she takes her ailing mother to the doctor and she can do her shopping without imposing on others. I saw her recently and she happily informed me that after four years of driving, she has never had an accident. She has also stopped crying. She is no longer concerned about crossing streets in her old age while holding onto another older woman.
Dorothy was seventy years old when her husband died. She had tried to drive when she was a young woman, but had stopped trying because her husband did not encourage her. She was completely alone in the world. Dorothy's "motor skills" were excellent for her age. Her only problem was a deep rooted fear of driving. She did so well after six hours of instruction that her fear began to diminish. She passed the driving test on her first attempt after ten driving lessons. She asked me to take her out in her car a few times. Her husband always liked a big car so she was a little hesitant about driving it. With encouraging words from me, she had no difficulty driving her car. I advised her to stay in her neighborhood for a few months before venturing out further. I met her in a food store two years later. Dorothy was exuberant. She told me she drove everywhere. Driving a car kept her occupied and was good therapy for her loneliness.
There are probably millions of lonely women who could be driving if they would only try. Do not become discouraged if you have a steering problem. No matter how poorly you drive in the beginning, you can learn if you continue to show the slightest improvement. I know it can be done. I have taught many who seemed hopeless in the beginning.
Lil thought she was hopeless. She was in a desperate situation. Her husband was a "manic depressive" and his condition was deteriorating. She worked in a hospital a half mile from her home. She no longer could depend on her husband to drive her to work. She was fifty-four years old and four feet, eight inches tall. An upholsterer made a special cushion to enable her to sit comfortably because she was so tiny.
Lil decided to go to a large driving school for lessons. It was a disaster. She was shuttled back and forth among four different instructors. None of them knew how to cope with her. One of them told her she would never drive.
Lil was distraught, but didn't want to stop trying. A woman in the hospital suggested calling me. I started to give her driving lessons and although she was very nervous and hesitant at the beginning, I assured her that she could learn. Lil was no worse than the hundreds of women I had taught to drive. I discovered that when she made right and left turns, she pushed the accelerator too much. As a result, she could not straighten out in time. This is not unusual for middle aged beginners or any new driver.
I advised her not to touch the accelerator when turning from a stopped position and to let the automobile glide with no pressure on the accelerator. I also told her to look straight ahead after the turn. She was amazed at the results. After a few hours of practice, she mastered the turns. With her confidence restored Lil went on to become on of my best students. Six months after she obtained her driver's license, Lil called me to tell me she drove from Philadelphia to Long Island by herself.
Betty, Dorothy and Lil are not isolated examples. Their very survival depended on whether or not they could drive an automobile. What is needed is persistence, tenacity and determination. Dorothy once tried when she was in her thirties. She tried again in her seventies and was successful.
It is obvious that city driving presents more hazards and complications than small towns or back road driving. However, no matter where you drive, the basics are the same. Before driving on your own, you must master steering the car precisely, executing left and right turns correctly, and being able to go back in reverse accurately.
Those of you who already have a driver's license are fortunate since you do not have to take a driving test. If you do not have a license, don't despair. I have taught hundreds of middle-aged women and men who have succeeded in passing the state examination.
I do not recommend anyone over sixty years of age to learn on a stick shift car. If you must drive this type of car, it is extremely important to first learn on a car with automatic transmission. Take the driving examination in the car with automatic transmission. After you pass the test, you can learn on a stick shift car. I have included a chapter on driving this type of automobile. However, I strongly urge anyone over sixty to drive an automatic transmission car with power steering and power brakes.
No matter how frightened people are about driving, they will learn if strongly motivated. In most instances, nervousness will not stop a person from learning. Extremely poor "motor skills" can prevent people from learning how to drive. Most people do not have poor "motor skills". Nervousness disappears gradually as your skill and confidence grows. The more you practice, the less nervous you become. Motor skills can be improved.
Many older women would love to drive, but they lack the determination, courage and patience to follow through to success. They make a half hearted attempt to learn and at the slightest setback resign themselves that driving is not for them. They talk about it constantly becoming increasingly boring to anyone who will listen. Some of these women have friends or relatives who take them shopping, to doctors, beauty parlors, etc. How long can these women impose on others. Circumstances and situations are constantly changing. Perhaps two or three years from now these same women will not be the beneficiary of charitable friends and relatives.
It is true that most young people learn to drive an automobile quickly. A twelve year old boy or girl can probably learn how to drive a car quicker than any other age group. However, anyone that age would be too immature to drive safely. Some women stop trying to learn because they are having difficulty steering the automobile. These women must realize that they will not learn quickly. They should not look for reasons to quit, but instead realize how important it is for them to continue.
A slow learner does not suddenly learn to drive. Learning is a gradual process. You must have patience and realize that once you learn how to steer the auto, stay in the lane and turn corners properly, you will go on to become a capable driver. Many of my slower students have become better drivers than some who learned quickly.
For many a widow the challenge of learning to drive can help her through a trying period. By staying busy, she can ease the pain of her loss. The therapeutic value of learning to drive is immeasurable for a grieving widow. Marge was afraid to drive alone. She knew how to drive and had been driving for twelve years. After fifteen years of marriage, her husband died of cancer. She stayed at his side until he passed away. Five years later she remarried. For seven years she was happy with her new husband.
Unfortunately, one morning, without any warning, her husband suffered a massive heart attack and died almost instantly. This second tragedy in her life had a traumatic effect on her. Her few relatives lived in another city. For months she hardly went out of her apartment. Marge lost her desire to mingle with other people.
Marge had an automobile, but when she decided to drive for the first time since her husband's death, she froze at the wheel. She got out of the car almost in a state of shock. She could feel her heart pounding.
A month later she decided to call a driving school. Marge took six one-hour lessons but her driving was tentative. She stopped taking lessons. In spite of her need for driving her car, she seemed powerless. She would get behind the wheel but could not muster enough courage to move the car. It appeared that the shock of witnessing the demise of her two husbands had made her agoraphobic. For some unknown reason agoraphobia affects women more than men. It is a mental sickness that is sometimes caused by the loss of a loved one. Many women afflicted with this condition are afraid to leave their homes and reluctant to mingle with other people. Recent experiments have proven that agoraphobic people can overcome their problems by doing what they feared in spite of pounding heart beats and sweaty palms.
Marge called me and told me about her problem. I proceeded to give her driving lessons. As long as I sat beside her, she drove beautifully. I tried to convince her to drive alone, but she told me she was not ready. After listening to her excuses for a few weeks, I devised a plan to help her.
She lived in a suburban apartment building which was away from city traffic. The building was surrounded by a quiet circular rural area leading back to the building. Without telling her what I had in mind, I arrived one day wearing my jogging shoes. After driving around the building a few times, I told her what I wanted to do.
My plan was simple. I would jog along her side as she drove slowly. At first she protested, but I finally convinced her to try. As she drove slowly, I jogged near the car and talked to her as if I was sitting beside her. Occasionally, she panicked, and I stopped. After a few minutes, she started out again with me jogging along with words of encouragement.
The next three times I saw her I continued with the same procedure. Each time she showed improvement and appeared more confident. Now I felt she was ready for the next step. Instead of jogging, I stood outside the car and asked her to drive around the building while I waited for her. After much coaxing, she drove slowly around the building to where I was waiting. We repeated this on her next two lessons.
I wanted her to drive by herself into the city streets, but she said she was not ready. I told her that if her progress was halted, she would regress into her previous fear of driving alone. We decided that I would drive first and she would follow me in her car. The first time I drove about one mile while she followed me. I drove slowly and if she got too far behind, I waited for her.
When we returned, she was elated. We went out four more times. Each time I went a little further.
Finally I persuaded her to go out alone. Marge drove around the block carefully. After she came back, she surprised me. She drove off and went to the market place which was a few miles away. When Marge returned, she announced that no matter how frightened she was, she would continue to drive alone until her fear was obliterated. Marge finally drove despite her fear because her desire and determination to drive was stronger than her fear.
Helen K. and Jean R. had similar problems. Both were in their early seventies. Both had ailing husbands and both of them wanted to drive.
Helen's husband had lost most of his eyesight, and Jean's husband had Parkinson's disease. Jean and Helen each had a driver's license which they had obtained when they were young. Neither one knew how to drive very well.
Helen took her driving lessons faithfully until she was able to drive her husband to his doctor and to the supermarket, etc. Jean made excuses and canceled her lessons. They both had equal ability. Helen was determined to learn no matter how long it took. Jean did not have the courage and foresight to continue. Now she sits in her apartment with her sick husband watching him deteriorate, and she has to depend on others for transportation.
There are thousands of women like Jean who must depend on others for help. It doesn't have to be that way. Jean wanted to drive as much as Helen. Her ability was equal to Helen's. Her need was as great as Helen's. Yet she could not conquer her fear. She lacked the will and courage to continue. In my experience, I have come across some women who had good "motor skills" but they never completed their driver training. These women wanted to drive and needed to drive. Yet some characteristic in their personality made them vacillate, and procrastinate until they succumbed to their inner fear.
Excerpted from DRIVE WITHOUT FEAR by Norman Klein Copyright © 2001 by Norman Klein. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted June 27, 2002
I had a driver's license when I got married, however I didn't drive because I was afraid of going through tight spaces. As a result my husband did all the driving. He also drove me to my teaching job.Unfortunately, after twenty-six years of marriage my husband and I seperated. Now I had to travel on three buses to my job and it was wearing me down. Fortunately a friend told me about Norman Klein's book. The explanation in the book on going through tight spaces was easy to understand. At first I drove in my neighborhood. I was very nervous but followed his directions. I started to have confidence reading about other people who overcame their fears and I was encouraged to try driving to my job. I was very apprehensive but took my time and was successful. Now I am driving to work confidently every day and owe it all to this book. I will always be indebted to Norman Klein's help and advice. I am still a little nervous but I have accomplished my goal.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.