This month we chatted with the wonderful Kathleen Comerford about her experience as a driving instructor, her top tips for your driving test and all about her new book Pass Your Driving Test in Ireland!
What made you want to be a driving instructor?
I really love driving and teaching so, it’s a perfect match. My father and my grandfather also taught people to drive, so it must be in my blood.
Could you tell us 5 things to think about or focus on during your test?
1. It may sound obvious, but remember to breathe! Almost all my students forget to breath once I sit into the car, so I’m sure it happens more so when the Tester sits in.
2. Focus on the road in front of you and avoid thinking too much about what the Tester is thinking or wanting you to do. They just want you to drive safely.
3. Keep your driving as close to your natural everyday drive as possible, so you keep it automatic and natural and honest.
4. Avoid exaggerating anything like observation or mirrors in order to impress the Tester. Your checks should be timely and relevant, remember you are on your driving test, not looking for an OSCAR!
5. I teach my drivers to talk about the road ahead, which helps them greatly to keep focused and present, and reduces their anxiety levels.
What is the one thing people should say to themselves before they begin their driving test?
I CAN DO THIS! I’ve put in the time and practice. I’ve read Kathleen’s book so I know what to do!! It’s not rocket science. I’ll keep it safe and simple.
Have you any funny tales from your adventures as a driving instructor?
As a driving instructor, I need to be so careful what I say and how it may be interpreted by my driver. If they are a very new driver they will literally take me at my word so, for example, if I say, ‘Turn left at the traffic lights,’ they may try to do that even if the lights are RED! I can always tell when they are looking at parked cars because we are heading straight for them! Learning to drive and making mistakes is a vulnerable time for the person learning, so I use humour as much as I can to keep the mood light while at the same time teaching the seriousness of the driving. It’s a tricky balance.
What advice would you give a nervous driver?
Firstly, I tell them it’s ok to be nervous if you are a beginner and you don’t know what to do with the car and you’re working that out at slow speeds on quiet roads. Then when you get used to the car it’s ok to be nervous as you negotiate traffic and cyclists and roundabouts, as all of these are quite a challenge when they are new to you. The majority of the time, after lots of practice and as confidence increases, usually the nerves decrease. Of course there are exceptions and that’s why I trained in NLP (neuro linguistic programming) to help drivers who may have bigger fears or phobias around driving.
When did you learn to drive and when did you pass your driving test?
I started driving when I turned 17. My father considered driving an important life skill so he made sure I was insured on the family car and I got lots of practice. Firstly in quiet areas around my home town of Callan and then on bigger roads to Kilkenny. I never drove unaccompanied on my first learner permit for 2 years. On the second permit I could drive unaccompanied. I was out of the country for a while, so waited until I got my skills up again before I applied for my Test. I passed my Test on my first attempt on a foggy winter morning in Kilkenny when I was 20.
What was your driving test like? How nervous were you on a scale of 1-10?
I was nervous at the start as that’s normal for me (about a 5), but once I got going I was fine. The Tester gave me the option of postponing due to the fog, but I felt confident enough to drive as I had put in the practice and had driven 15 miles in the fog to get to the Test Centre. I remember my left leg shaking a little during the reverse around the corner, but a big deep breath sorted that out.
What is your favourite thing about being a driving instructor?
I love the magical moments when it all clicks together for the student driver and things just fall into place and they get it after a struggle of not getting it. I love searching in my head for the correct information that their brain needs in order to fully understand how the clutch works or what to do at filter traffic lights. I love seeing them grow in confidence and finding their place on the road and stop thinking that they are in other drivers’ way. Of course, nothing beats the feeling of them passing their test and knowing what a difference that will make to their lives for years to come. That’s a real high point!
Why did you decide to put all your knowledge into book form?
I started teaching driving in 1999 and from the start students were asking me to write things down at the end of lessons. In 2007 I self-published a little book of advanced tips to help my students have the information they needed in one place. Even then I knew a book with images and more detailed information on what to do and when to do it and why you do it would be of huge benefit to learner drivers, based on my daily experience.
What was it like to write Pass Your Driving Test in Ireland?
It was a dream come true to finally have an outlet for how I teach every day and to bring advanced driving skills into the mainstream. I’m very visual so I was thrilled to have so many images and illustrations explaining clearly and simply the steps needed to take left and right turns. I wrote to the New Zealand government for permission to use their images of roundabouts as they are more visual and easier to understand. Some of my students who have bought the book have told me it reinforces their learning.
What is the most common error that drivers preparing for the driving test make?
Some people think driving is academic and they can cram in some driving and pre-test lessons before the test and it will all magically come together. It seldom does. Driving is more like a sport or playing an instrument it needs to be practised regularly so that it becomes automatic, so that you can do it without thinking. Then you need to be ready to do it while being watched by a complete stranger, ie. the Tester. That part alone can affect drivers who have loads of experience. You also need to be used to driving places you don’t know so a common error is not fully preparing for the Driving Test on all of these levels.
How do feel when a student passes their test and how do you feel when a student doesn’t pass? How invested do you get in their driving success?
I am 110% invested in my students’ success! I work very closely with them when they get the 4-week lead in to the test date. If I feel they are not at test standard I will recommend postponing until they work on these areas and then apply for a cancellation.
Occasionally they want to go ahead with the test even if they know they are going to fail… just for the experience. Personally, I don’t agree with this approach, but at the end of the day, it’s their decision.
The majority usually take my advice and a few weeks later enjoy the feeling of passing. There is a lot of talk about driving test backlog at the moment, but very little talk about what is causing it. I encourage my students to do their driving test when they are ready to pass and not create a backlog in the system.
Kathleen Comerford, May 2018
Pass Your Driving Test in Ireland is available here and in all good bookshops!