First driving lesson anxiety: 30 tips to feel less nervous

Feeling nervous or anxious about your first driving lesson? Most drivers will tell you the same thing; there isn’t anything to worry about. This may sound like a generic, throwaway comment, but just remember that you’re in safe hands. We’ve put together a list of 30 tips for your first driving lessons to help you get through it.

Contents:

How would your first driving lesson go? 

Planning for your first lesson

  1. Invest your time in finding the right instructor
  2. Make sure that you can change your instructor anytime
  3. Sort out your finances
  4. Let go of the society pressure
  5. Set yourself small goals
  6. Get in the right mindset

Preparing for your first driving lesson

  1. Book a lesson time that suits you
  2. Read the Highway Code before your first driving lesson
  3. Look it up on YouTube
  4. Get your provisional license before your first lesson
  5. Choose appropriate clothes and footwear for your first driving lesson
  6. Don’t forget your glasses or contact lenses
  7. Make sure you’re physically prepared to drive 
  8. Bring a bottle of water 

On the day of your first driving lesson 

  1. It might take one or two hours
  2. Don’t worry, you won’t be driving on a motorway
  3. Connect with your driving instructor
  4. Choose your pace
  5. Start with the cockpit drill 
  6. Learn about car controls
  7. Try to move off
  8. Don’t forget to breathe?
  9. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions
  10. Don’t get ahead of yourself 
  11. Ask for feedback at the end of your lesson

If your anxiety doesn’t go away after your first lesson

  1. Spend time in the car
  2. Speak to friends or family
  3. Don’t worry if you forget things
  4. Arrange to get additional practice 
  5. Get the most out of your lessons with the Otimo app

How is your first driving lesson likely to go? 

First things first, let us give you a broad idea of what your first lesson will look like. It is extremely unlikely you’ll be tackling any sort of manoeuvres such as a three-point turn, parallel park and bay parking or driving on motorways. Unless of course, it turns out you’re some sort of superstar driver.
Your first lesson will mostly consist of you getting a feel for the car such as working on stopping and starting with some clutch control. You will learn about the cockpit drill and car controls as well as get an opportunity to connect with your instructor and ask them any questions.

Finally, stalling the car is a natural part of learning to drive and it’s nothing to worry about. Just try not to do it too many times for the sake of your driving instructor’s neck!

Scroll down to the points 15–25 to see a more detailed description of your first driving lesson.

Before your driving lessons start 

Here’s how you can be proactive and make sure that your driving journey starts as smoothly as possible.

1. Invest your time in finding the right instructor

Most learners in the UK still tend to go with their relatives’ or friends’ advice and start driving with the first person they were referred to. We wouldn’t recommend that you follow such advice blindly for multiple reasons, the most obvious being that you have no one to compare them to. 

Even if the instructor is qualified, they might not be the best choice for you specifically. We all have different preferences and learning styles, so something that might be good for your extrovert friend might not work as well for yourself if you’re more of an introvert.

  • Read reviews online even if the instructor has been recommended to you. Notice how they communicate with you – do you like their responses to your texts or calls?
  • Put together a list of requirements that are critical for you. Would you prefer a female instructor? Do you want to study with someone young and cheerful or more experienced and confident?

Browse a few driving schools nearby and see if there’s a specific instructor that you like. Use Otimo’s database to find the best driving instructors in your area.

2. Make sure that you can change your instructor anytime

During your first driving lesson, you will connect with your instructor (we’ll talk more about this further in the article). However, on the rare occasion that it doesn’t happen for you, the driving school should be able to switch your instructor without asking any questions. You shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about asking for a different person if you simply aren’t a good match. 

This would also help you feel less nervous about your first driving lesson since you’ll know you can change your instructor if things don’t work out as you expected.

3. Sort out your finances

Another common reason for driving nerves is a limited budget. If you don’t know how many lessons you can afford or you’re forced to take your test after just very few hours, it might result in additional pressure and costs.

The main rule is just to do your homework. NimbleFins has calculated the average price of a driving lesson depending on where you are in the country, if you buy in bulk:

the average price of a driving lesson in different parts of the uk

Keep in mind that you might need to pay 20-30% on top of that to beat the waiting times as there’s still a shortage of driving instructors post-pandemic. To start learning as soon as possible, look for intensive or ‘crash’ courses.

If you discover that you’re really worried about the price of your lessons, there are instructors who you can pay on a week by week basis for lessons depending on their availability.

 

4. Let go of the society pressure

Many 20- and 30-something year olds worry that they are the last ones to start driving amongst their peers. People feel the need to drive at different stages of their lives so there’s absolutely no shame in doing so no matter what your age (or gender, for that matter!). Chat to your friends or have a browse through different forums to see how many supportive users are out there.

Here’s an example of a discussion online to help you let go of that pressure:

“I am 22 male and still can’t drive which I am ashamed of. All my friends could drive straight at 16 but I was too scared.”a user on Reddit

“Hey, I’m 29 and only just beginning learning to drive now. Everyone has their own timeline so don’t worry about who can and cannot drive around you. Focus on your learning and you will nail it!”another user’s response in the same subreddit. 

5. Set yourself small goals

It’s one thing to manage your expectations of your first driving lesson, and it’s a whole other thing to manage your expectations of yourself. Focus on making smaller achievements like starting the car, being on the road for the first time, making your first turn and so on.

It’s not just the first lesson but the entire process. Getting your licence might be a big milestone ahead of you but it’s not the ultimate goal, the idea is to gain confidence and continue driving after your practical test. Breaking it down into smaller steps to help you feel like you achieve something every single lesson.

If you want an even better way to track your progress, try the free Otimo app that tracks your routes and gives you a score at the end of each drive which you can then compare to your previous lessons.

6. Get in the right mindset

If the above advice doesn’t help, try to identify the reasons you’re anxious about your first lesson or towards driving in general. It could be simply that your life is overwhelming right now and you can’t imagine having to deal with the extra stress of starting to drive, which is totally okay! If you don’t need to pass a test urgently (for example, for a job), take your time and schedule your lessons for when you are mentally ready. It will make the process a lot more enjoyable.

Prepare for your first driving lesson

7. Book a lesson time that suits you

If you’re not a morning person (I definitely am not) then don’t book your driving lesson for 7 am when you know you could be feeling groggy or tired – book it when you feel you know you’ll be at your peak performance both mentally and physically. Arrive to your lesson having had a good clear nights sleep and under no circumstances consume alcohol the night before.

8. Read the Highway Code before your first driving lesson

You may think that The Highway Code is quite old fashioned, and may be overlooked in this digital age, but for those looking (Not to worry you can get it on your kindle) the guide is always a great starting point for first-time drivers. Familiarise yourself with this and pay attention to the various road signs within the book – not only will this help you for your first lesson but it will also put you in good stead for your provisional test.

9. Look it up on YouTube

“What really helped me was to understand how it works if you can visualize it or look it up on YouTube.”a user on Reddit.

10. Get your provisional license before your first lesson

This might seem like an easy one but you need to remember to bring your provisional license for your first lesson so that your instructor knows you can legally get on the road. You can apply for your provisional license here or at your local post office, make sure you do it in advance so it has time to arrive.

“Make sure you know where your counterpart licence is (the paper bit). Turns out because I waited so long after getting my provisional, I didn’t know where it was and had to pay £20 for a replacement.”a user in The Student Room

11. Choose appropriate clothes and footwear for your first driving lesson

There’s no need to dress to impress on your first driving lesson – our advice would be always dressed in something comfortable (Unless you’re comfortable in a tuxedo or heels, then go for it!). You want to wear something that doesn’t restrict your movement as you need to move your feet and arms around a lot. Wear comfortable trainers with thin soles so that you can control the clutch, brake and accelerator easier.

12. Don’t forget your glasses or contact lenses

There’s no need to dress to impress on your first driving lesson – our advice would be always dressed in something comfortable (Unless you’re comfortable in a tuxedo or heels, then go for it!). You want to wear something that doesn’t restrict your movement as you need to move your feet and arms around a lot. Wear comfortable trainers with thin soles so that you can control the clutch, brake and accelerator easier.

13. Make sure you’re physically prepared to drive

Remember to bring your glasses or put your contact lenses on, your instructor will make you read a number plate 20 meters in front of you. If you haven’t had an eye test in a while then it is probably a good idea to get your prescription up to date. It’s really important to ensure you have a clear vision so you can see your surroundings and any road signs. If you need to double-check then you can always book an appointment at Specsavers.

14. Bring a bottle of water

You might be in the car for a couple of hours, so you might want to stay hydrated.

On the day of your first driving lesson

15. It might take one or two hours

Depending on your instructor’s or the driving school’s approach, your first lesson could be a standard hour or an extended one for two hours.

“On my first lesson I had two hours, and all I really did was learn what everything in the car did, and then practice starting the car, moving off safely and pulling over safely. I think I got into a couple of left-hand turns and just general steering practice, getting a feel for how far to turn the wheel and stuff.”a user in The Student Room.

16. You won’t be driving on a motorway

It might be scary to even imagine your first lesson as many learners would immediately think of busy roads and heavy traffic. Good news: this is very far from what normally happens in the first lesson. Your instructor will choose a quiet and wide road. Don’t worry you won’t be expected to drive there from your pickup location and the instructors will take you there – at Otimo, we find local instructors for you that know the perfect places to start driving in your area. 

Your first lesson is very likely to start by simply learning where everything is in the car. Your instructor will also determine your skill level and learning style. If for any reason you feel like the pressure is too high, you can always talk to your instructor about it and ask for a little pause. 

“Totally no need to be nervous! My instructor took me to a quiet estate. Went through safety checks etc and then he had me start the engine and try to move off, by the end of the lesson I was just driving this circuit around the estate and stuff. They’ll ease you into it at the rate you can do things.”a user in The Student Room

17. Connect with your driving instructor

It could be quite uncomfortable to meet someone for the very first time and then be locked in a car with them for a full hour. Some learners are afraid of being too scared to listen to what the instructor has to say. To calm yourself down, keep in mind that:

  • Your driving instructor has at least one of your kind every single day. Most people get somewhat nervous, and your instructor is likely to be an expert in helping people handle their nerves.
  • Your driving instructor is a certified professional and knows a few techniques for teaching learners like you. Even at your first lesson, you will definitely learn something from them no matter how anxious you are.
  • All professional driving schools have dual control cars. This means, especially during the early stages of learning, you can be assured the instructor will keep you safe even if something goes wrong and assist you with your clutch control.

If you want to find an instructor who is perfectly compatible with you and has an appropriate teaching style, search through our database.

18. Choose your pace

Your lessons will be an enjoyable journey if paced well. Don’t be afraid to tell them how you are feeling, if things are going too fast, or if there is something you don’t understand – your instructor will teach you most effectively when they understand your needs so communication really is key!

19. Start with the cockpit drill

It’s finally here, the moment you’ve been waiting for – you’re in the driving seat and you’re ready to start driving! Your instructor will talk you through the cockpit drill or the DSSSM:

  • Are the doors closed?
  • Seat in a comfortable position?
  • Steering position established?
  • Seatbelts on?
  • Mirrors adjusted?

Get used to this and remember it because you’re going to need to do this every time you drive. If you feel anxious about the instruments in a car, it’s a good idea to read up on them in advance so you spend less time learning this routine during the lesson.   

20. Learn about car controls

Next, you’re likely to move onto car controls. If you start with the foot pedals, there’s an easy way to remember which is which – simply keep in mind the acronym CBA for Clutch, Brake and Accelerator.

Your instructor will briefly explain the uses of each pedal to you. The gear stick will likely come next, along with the handbrake. For some hands-on experience with the clutch, your instructor will give control over to you so you can find the biting point again and again. We’ve listed more tips for clutch control here.

aerial view driving

21. Try to move off

If you feel ready for it in your first lesson, you might get the opportunity to take control of the car. You’ll have to move the car off and show that you can safely do the ‘Prepare, Observe, Move’ routine:

Prepare – getting the cr ready to pull away when the road is clear. Start by pressing and holding the clutch down with your left foot, then select first gear if you’re driving manual. Press the gas pedal down with your right foot until you can feel the car gently revving at about 1500-2000 rpm. Then bring the clutch up slowly until you find the biting point. You’ll learn to release the handbrake at the correct time.

Observe – making sure that you’re aware of your surroundings. Check all around the car looking for anything that might affect your driving plan – simply look over both shoulders.

Move – moving the car off when you’re safe to go. Release the handbrake, then release the clutch slowly while gently putting your foot down on the gas pedal. If you find you start to move off too fast, ease up on the gas and control the speed of the vehicle using the clutch pedal. Re-check your mirrors and blind spots and move your car to the normal driving position.

22. Don’t forget to breathe

When we go into stress-response mode, our bodies can start breathing lighter and at the very top of the lungs. To calm your nerves, try taking a few deep breaths. Just like in meditation, you can follow the out-breath to release the stress from your body.

23. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions

Your driving instructor is your friend and your coach, they are definitely not here to judge you and will most likely prefer if you ask questions. If there is something you are unsure of such as the clutch or how your mirrors should be positioned or how to hold the steering wheel, then ask ask ask ask ask! It will spark a beneficial discussion between the two of you which will most likely result in you learning something new. 

24. Don’t get ahead of yourself

At some point in the lesson, you might feel like you’re ready to get out on the road and nothing can stop you. However, it’s important not to rush things. Your instructor isn’t repeating things again and again just to annoy you, they’re making sure you know the basics by heart. After all, they wouldn’t want to explain car controls at the beginning of every single lesson!

25. Ask for feedback at the end of your lesson

This is one of the most important tips – always ask your instructor for feedback on how they think the lesson went. This will be a great opportunity for the instructor to tell you what went well and what you need to improve on which gives you time to prepare for your next lesson.

If your anxiety doesn’t go away after your first lesson

It’s most likely that you start feeling much more comfortable after your first lesson when you already know how it goes. If you are still feeling anxious, there are a couple of things that could help you.

26. Spend time in the car

If you are nervous about driving in general, that is what driving instructor recommend. Ask your friends or parents to give you access to a car (even if they are not eager for you to drive it just yet!) and spend time sitting in the driver’s seat, watching TV shows or calling friends or browsing social media.

27. Speak to friends or family

Tell them that you’ve booked your first lesson and see what problems they had with their first lesson, they can give you some extra pointers. Also they can give useful information that will give you a head start before you even get into the car. They also would have looked for tips for their first driving lesson. Or if one of them crashed on their first lesson – it might give you confidence knowing that your lesson won’t be as bad as theirs!

28. Don’t worry if you forget things

If you come out of your first driving lesson and realise you’ve forgotten everything you covered, don’t panic. It is most likely to take you a couple of lessons to get used to doing the cockpit drill, or even finding the biting point without any help from your instructor. Some people only need one lesson to master a skill and others need longer to build up their muscle memory. Either way, there’s no need to worry as you will undoubtedly remember everything in the end.

29. Arrange to get additional practice

If you ever feel like you’re not making enough progress, you can always get some additional practice between lessons with an experienced driver over the age of 25 – you just need provisional driver insurance and someone’s car. You can use Otimo’s app for that too, so you always have up-to-date scores and additional feedback. You can even bring the lesson reports to your instructor to keep them up to date with the additional progress you’ve been making. Afterall, the DVSA recommend that learners get an additional 22 hours of private practice.

30. Get the most out of your lessons with the Otimo app

routes UI background

Just like many other learners, you might feel the pressure of having to do your very best at all times, even at your first lesson. It might be because your budget is limited (and so is the number of lessons you can afford to take) or simply because that’s what you always expect from yourself. With Otimo’s mobile app, you can:

  • Track your routes during lessons. The app runs in the background and doesn’t require any manual input from you or the instructor.
  • Get your end-of-lesson score. It will help you notice your progress and make the most out of every lesson.
  • See your learning opportunities. By making feedback visual, the app helps you constantly improve your driving skills and pass your test quicker.

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