We are lucky to be living in this beautiful county of Gloucestershire, from its untouched rural landscapes, rivers and forests, to the buzz of it towns and cities.  However, if you really want to enjoy the delights of Gloucestershire, for work and play, then you need to be able to drive a car.

Anyone who can’t drive knows the feeling of being isolated and trapped, especially in more rural areas with dwindling bus services.

Modern living sees ’passing your driving test’ almost as a rite of passage, propelling the ‘youngster’ into an independent adult world!  It can be a real pain being dependent on others, just as others can hate being a ‘taxi’ service.

Learning to drive and passing your test will give you freedom, not just socially but in terms of work and study opportunities.  In the current economic climate, being able to drive is a must have for your CV or career choice.

So, you decide to strike out for independence and apply for a provisional licence.  You can apply for your provisional three months before your seventeenth birthday, although it only becomes valid when you turn seventeen.  Currently, your licence should be with you in about fifteen working days after application.  You cannot legally drive on the road without your provisional licence.

Next step is to start having lessons!

This can be with relatives or friends, but they do have to be over twenty-one and have held a full licence for at least three years.   However, this type of driver will undoubtedly have picked up bad habits, and most certainly not be familiar with the demands of the new practical test or the numerous Highway Code amendments.  They can be very useful for accompanied driver practice once you are more confident and less likely to need the safety of dual controls.

That brings us on to driving instructors, the only people legally allowed to charge for a driving lesson and the best way of learning to drive safely for life, not just to pass your test.  A good instructor will enable and tutor you according to your learning style, at a speed where you feel comfortable, yet challenged enough to get good value from your lessons. They should give you the right skills, habits, and the latest up-to-date techniques.   Learning should be fun too!

Your instructor should be able to support you with learning for your theory, something most people find easier to learn when put into practice in a professional lesson.  Of course, you will need a copy of the Highway Code, but there are several good books, DVDs and CD-ROMs on the market to aid you too!  The theory and hazard perception tests have to be passed before you can apply for your practical driving test.

The theory test is a fifty question multiple choice test answered via a computer touch screen, randomly picked from a bank of one thousand questions.  You will have to answer forty-three or more questions correctly to pass.  If the Driving Standards Agency is informed prior to the test, they can make allowances for difficulties such as dyslexia and so on.

After completing the theory test there will be a hazard perception test made up of fourteen one-minute video clips where you need to identify various potential hazards.  You will have to score forty-four points out of a possible seventy-five to pass.

Now, the DSA statistics state that the average learner driver in the UK takes about forty-five hours of professional lessons, with twenty-two hours of private practice, before they pass their driving test.  This is only an average, and a lot depends on age, confidence, hand-eye coordination and so on.  We have had people go through much quicker, and occasionally longer.  Experience off-road, or on a moped usually helps.

The key is not to just rush to pass your driving test, but to gain as much experience on the road before your test so that you are skilled in the many different situations that may confront you.  Learning to drive can be broken down in to steps, but it is your experience in applying those skills that will make you safe on the road.

In October 2010, a new section was introduced into the practical test which means that you now have to prove you can drive independently for ten minutes and show an understanding of the route ahead without any guidance.  Feedback so far has been really good, and most learners find it useful.  At the same time the DSA did away with published test routes, so good instructors will have you driving in all sorts of situations as your confidence progresses.

A final point for this week from JSF Driving School could be a big one in cost terms.  Conveniently, you can book and pay for your theory and practical tests online if you wish, but beware if you Google!  Go directly to the DirectGov website, rather than click on any agency sites that may be above it, or you will end up being charged an extra booking fee.  It is all perfectly legal, so forewarned is forearmed!