Nicola Hamilton13 August 2013

Top Gear learns to drive!

TG mag’s editorial assistant is finally taking her test – and we'll be following her journey here…

TG learns to drive

The words you read on these pages are generally written by the car-obsessed, for the car-obsessed. In the TG office the conversation rarely steers away from things with engines. So, as you can imagine, admitting you don't have a licence here is like admitting to a contagious case of BieberFever: mention it and everyone just looks away, slightly embarrassed. I don't actually own a Bieber shrine, but I have a confession to make.

My name is Nicola. I work for Top Gear Magazine. And I can't drive.

I've been the Editorial Assistant on the magazine since August last year and have got on surprisingly well considering I don't actually own a driving licence. I did find it somewhat odd they didn't ask me if I could drive during my interview. Mind you, after a few days on the job I realised the collective mindset at Top Gear means the question is not if you drive, but what you drive. I just kept my head down and mumbled. 

But now the grace period is over and the time has come for me to don a set of L-Plates. And at the grand old age of twenty-six, and with a not-inconsiderable amount of pressure from the office, I would prefer to get my licence fast, and avoid any more accusatory glances from across the desktops.

There's only one problem: condensed driving courses are quite a controversial topic at the moment. There are doubts as to their ability to prepare learners for the risks they may face on unforgiving British roads. In fact, the Government have recently proposed a new minimum learning period of one year, alongside post-test licence restrictions, that aim to tackle the devastating amount of accidents caused by inexperienced drivers on our roads.

I don't want to put anyone off their cornflakes, but the truth is the biggest killer of young people in Britain is road traffic accidents. The statistics relating to road deaths in correlation with young and inexperienced drivers in the UK are, quite literally, shocking. So, it's hardly surprising that the new proposals have many supporters. In fact, a survey by road safety charity Brake and Direct Line Insurance actually found that 88% of drivers think there should be a new minimum learning period. So it's a good time to take a good look at what it means to learn to drive in the UK. And it looks like I'm the guinea pig.

So what about me? Yes, I failed my test (twice) when I was seventeen. Yes, it's been eight long years since I've been in the driving seat. And yes, I'm an extremely nervous passenger. But... I work for Top Gear. I want to drive the shiny cars in the garage. I want the TG writers to stop looking at me funny.

But can I pass my test through an intensive driving course without putting anyone in danger?

Well, we're about to find out. My Theory Test is booked. When (feeling confident) I pass, I'm to be assessed by Mike Frisby, Chief Examiner of the Driving Instructor's Association, to see what eight years as an avid bus hailer has done to my driving skills. I will then be assessed again following a week of ‘intensive learning', and see whether I should be allowed to take my test. Along the way I'll be writing a blog here on TG.com to share how I'm getting on, and look at some of the stuff that goes with learning to drive. 

Intense indeed.

Bear with me. And wish me luck!

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