Learning to Drive When You’re Older

I originally wrote this article as the result of the most ridiculous editorial written by a female journalist in one of the usual newspapers which prints crap like that. She was trying to justify why she couldn’t drive. She was only 30, for God’s sake!Fry observes bad driving

The news story was badly written and full of inaccuracies and untruths. In fact, it was typical “femail” fodder, if you get my drift. It didn’t stay available for more than a month or so, and the exact things it said are long since gone. I’ve summarised the important details of my response to that article in the bullet points below:

  • Just because your brother or sister passed when they were 17 has no bearing on how quickly you will learn, no matter what your current age.
  • It is a general truth that the older you get the harder it is to learn new things, but that is not carved in stone.
  • I’ve had many 40+ drivers who are far better learners than many 17-25 year olds.
  • Dreading your lessons will not make learning any easier.
  • It DOES NOT take 1½ hours training for every year of your life to learn to drive.
  • On average, those who pass have had 47 hours of professional instruction and 20 hours of private practice
  • My own pupils have taken anywhere between 14½ hours and 160 hours (both extremes were 17-19 year olds)
  • Two of my quickest learners were around 50 years of age.
  • The longest I know of took 100 hours with me, 100 hours with an automatic instructor, and seven attempts to pass her test (and that was still impressive). She was in her late 40s, but I can guarantee she’d have had the same issues if she’d have been 20.
  • As people get older they branch off mentally in all kinds of directions. Some are mentally 60 years old at 30, whereas others are 20 years old at 80! Although other factors might creep in with very old people, the latter attitude will make you learn quicker.
  • Some people are already branched off as they leave the womb! They will find driving difficult no matter what – and this is often why they put off learning until they’re older and desperately need a licence, and then start blaming it on age.
  • Your likelihood of passing your test is based on how well you can drive, not on historical statistics suggesting the pass rate is falling.
  • Historical pass rates are actually quite stable.
  • Just because a teenager can run faster and for longer, play football better than you, understand technology, etc., does not have any direct bearing on how quickly YOU can learn to drive.
  • Experience comes with age, and that gives older drivers a huge advantage – if they’d shut up about the other stuff.
  • Your nervous system and muscles do not shrivel and die the day after your 25th birthday.

Can I learn to drive when I’m 50?

Someone found the blog on that term. Yes, you can! Two of my best-ever pupils were 50+. However, not everyone is the same. I can get one 17-year old who picks up everything first time, and another who should (in my opinion) give up the idea of driving for the sake of humanity and get a bus pass instead! And it’s exactly the same for older learners. Age isn’t an automatic barrier. But it can be a bigger barrier if you let it become one by thinking old in the first place.

People can pass at any age. The real question is “should they?”. You can only find out by trying.

Is learning to drive difficult for a 60-year old?

Another search term used to find the blog. It depends on what kind of 60-year old you are. If you’re 60 but think like you’re still 20 (or 30, or 40) then you can probably learn as easily as you would have done if you were still that age. But if you think like you’re 60, going on 70, it might well be a challenge for you. Then again, it might not.

You won’t know unless you try. Don’t use your age as either a weapon or an excuse.

Can you be too old?

My personal opinion on this is yes, you can. But it’s not as simple as just your age, it’s also down to how you, your mind, and your body have handled it. I had one lady some years ago who was “around” 70 – she wouldn’t admit how old, but she’d hinted that it was 70+. She was disabled through arthritis and her lessons were being paid for through Motability. She was absolutely lovely – she was learning guitar, wrote poetry, and liked music (especially rock). She’d decided to learn to drive because her husband had died and she wanted to get around.

I don’t know how long it would have taken her, but the signs from the lessons she did were not good. I had to buy extra mirrors because her arthritis prevented her turning her head, and every lesson was like a beginner’s session – she forgot everything we’d covered before. Her Motability funding ran out until she’d passed her theory. She did phone me to say she’d be back once she’d passed, but I never heard from her again.

Some older people have serious age-related coordination and cognitive issues, and these are bound to affect how easily they can learn to drive. Other older people have very “young” minds and have fewer – if any – issues in this area.

I once knew someone who was mentally in his 50s or 60s by the time he reached 25. All he wanted was a wife and kids, and a pipe and slippers by the fire. Someone with that sort of outlook is likely to have serious issues learning something new by the time they really do get older (and believe me, he did).

Eventually, virtually everyone is “too old” to drive. For some, it might be in their 40s or 50s, while others may still have what it takes in their 80s. As an aside, I recently did an assessment on a near-90-year old woman who’d had an accident and had lost her confidence. She wanted an honest opinion to help her decide whether to hang up her keys or not. She was a good driver – very alert – so I told her she was fine, but to have an assessment with someone regularly or if she felt her reactions had changed in any way.

But anyway, it is logical that there may be a point at which some people shouldn’t waste time and money trying to learn. It’s just different for everyone.

You won’t know if any of this applies to you unless you try it.

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