...it’s a testing time for Mail reporter Felicity

Hartlepool Mail reporter Felicity Hunter
Hartlepool Mail reporter Felicity Hunter

IT was 13 long years ago when the spotlight shone on my good self and I sat the exam that most people dread – my driving test.

So when my boss kindly suggested I re-sat this dreaded examination following the release of learner drivers pass rate figures, I have to say I wasn’t looking forward to it.

Hartlepool Mail reporter Felicity Hunter with driving instructor Ian Dunn.

Hartlepool Mail reporter Felicity Hunter with driving instructor Ian Dunn.

After all, I’d picked up over a decade’s worth of bad habits, such as crossing my hands over the steering wheel when turning a corner, not indicating when I leave a roundabout, and not to mention reverse parking which has always been one of my weakest manoeuvres.

These little practices become routine and normal, despite remaining unacceptable in the beady eyes of the driving examiner.

However, I came to the conclusion that ‘proper’ driving must be like riding a bike and I’d easily right any of my wrongs on a mock test I had arranged with my former instructor, the very talented Ian Dunn, who has taught thousands of town people to drive in his 35-year career.

He had the (mis)fortune of teaching me to drive back in 1998, and agreed to put me through my paces to see how I’d fair all these years on.

I met Ian, 67, at the test centre, in the Sandgate Industrial Estate, off Mainsforth Terrace, in Hartlepool, where he was to put me through a 40-minute test route like dozens of budding drivers do each week.

“The tests have changed over the years but not a great deal,” he told me as I got into his car and prepared myself for humiliation.

“I always tell my drivers not to feel nervous because I wouldn’t have put them in for their test if I didn’t feel they were ready.”

It didn’t start too well as I got the first question wrong.

“What would a blue light in your dashboard mean?”, asked Ian.

I racked my brain, thinking...‘the reflection of a police light flashing...?’

I took a guess at “the lights”, and I was close but not close enough to avoid a minor mark on my scoresheet, with the correct answer being “full beam”.

I put that little mishap to one side, and as we pulled away it felt strange to have Ian sitting next to me with his clipboard watching every move I made, and I felt under pressure and slightly nervous even though I know I can drive!

We went out onto Mainsforth Terrace and onto Seaton Front where I was asked to pull over and start on a section of “independent driving” which is a new section of driving tests.

I had to look at a map and from memory drive through a section of roads and roundabouts – which is more difficult than I thought when you’ve got someone scrutinising every move you make.

It’s weird how when you’re in your own car driving is like second nature, but when you’re being tested on it, every ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ feels forced.

I completed the independent driving section which took me to the Foggy Furze area – despite noticing Ian scribbling down some notes as I did so – and then came the dreaded reverse-park manoeuvre in Oakland Avenue.

These were the bane of my life 13 years ago, and thankfully I didn’t get one to complete on my real test or I may not have been writing this feature today.

The nerves must have helped me on this occasion as I managed to get the car about a foot from the kerb, which Ian said was “okay”.

I relaxed half-way through the test and actually quite enjoyed brushing up on my long-standing skills as we went down Oxford Road, York Road, Park Road, right into Bright Street, Burbank Street, Mainsforth Terrace and back to the test centre.

Then came the moment of truth. Had I passed? Thankfully yes. Unfortunately with nine faults!

My catalogue of errors were:

l The wrong answer to the ‘full beam’ question;

l Forgetting to turn off my left indicator three times (which Ian said I should be failed for but he let me off because I didn’t know the car);

l I was too fast leaving Seaton Carew;

l Too slow on the 60mph Brenda Road;

l I failed to check my mirror and signal when leaving a small roundabout in Brenda Road;

l I didn’t look over my shoulder when I pulled away after completing a manoeuvre.

The mock test was really useful and has acted as a bit of a refresher lesson, which after so many years has definitely helped me and will make me a safer driver – touch wood.

Ian, who is also a qualified examiner and boasts an 80 per cent pass rate as an instructor, agreed. He said: “I think it would help everyone brush up on their skills and remember what they had to do in their tests, because over the years people naturally forget to do things and become a bit more complacent.”