Express & Star

I learned to drive at the grand age of 61 – what it's like to pass your test after a 44-year wait

Last week, at the grand old age of 61 years and 4 months, I did something that I have wanted to do since I was 17 years old. I passed my driving test, writes Alison Norton who has worked for the Star for 37 years.

Alison Norton learned to drive at 61

It is just something that has always been in the back of my mind, but I was too scared to try. Now I know what you must be thinking. What? Why has she waited all this time? Has she taken hundreds of lessons and tests? Is she really safe to be on the road? But honestly, I now have a shiny new licence that says I am.

Yes, I did try driving back in my twenties, but never really enjoyed it and because the rest of my family could all drive, I just relied upon them to ferry me around for essential journeys and a fleet of wonderful friends who would pick me up when we went out and about having fun. I’ve been incredibly lucky.

That said, it has held me back, both socially and in my career. Driving would have given me the freedom to do so much more in life, I just didn’t realise it.

But then one day, it was like someone flicked a switch. With an elderly mom and a husband with Parkinson’s Disease, the realisation that I needed to be mobile for them hit me hard. Having said that, my mom still drives at the age of nearly 88 and is perfectly safe. Hopefully, I will be the same!

I hunted around for the right driving instructor. I wanted a lady who would understand my fears and build my confidence. Then I met Az from Ladyship Driving School at Pendeford and everything just fell into place.

Az only teaches ladies and is one of the most patient, calm, and accommodating women I know. She has not only taught me to drive but has given me the confidence to be able to do anything I want to.

On paper, we are two completely different people. Az is small and dark; I am tall and blonde. We come from different cultural backgrounds, our careers are completely different too and of course she drives and I didn’t; that was until Az got hold of me!

During our hours on the road, we have talked about everything from childbirth to arranged marriages, from parenting and schools our favourite TV programmes, food and drink and I have learnt so much about her Muslin faith, all while tackling motorway islands, different speed limits and overtaking on the Stafford Road.

Alison Norton learned to drive at 61 - pictured, her driving instructor Az

We both love clothes, make-up, handbags, and perfume and of course the ultimate thing that all females bond over – shoes!

It may sound as if we spent more time enjoying ourselves than concentrating on the driving, but actually, no we didn’t. Az has that rare quality of making you feel so at ease that you learn without even realising it.

Of course, I found some aspects of the preparation for my test difficult and others easy. It took me forever to master bay parking and yet parallel parking was a breeze. Overtaking was terrifying at first and so was driving faster than 30 miles per hour and yet now, well it’s not so bad. I sailed through my theory test, despite having not sat an exam of any sort for over forty years. Boy was I nervous, but again, Az supported me every step of the way.

Test days, (yes, I did take more than one!) were hard. It’s daunting getting into a car with a stranger who is watching your every move. Every time they touch their I-Pad, you are thinking, “What did I do wrong? Have I failed already?” Every time they ask you to pull over, you are thinking “Oh no, what now?” Add to that the fact that it was a windy, wet day in early February with the car being blown around and the rain pelting down and it’s a miracle I passed at all!

Arriving back at the test centre is the worst though because this is it, the final decision. But when you hear those words, “I’m pleased to tell you that you have passed your practical driving test,” the relief is incredible and then it sinks in. You are qualified and free to go wherever you like! Learning to drive has been one of the hardest things I have ever done, but thanks to Az, one of the most enjoyable too.

I am still negotiating the different obstacles on the road. As they say, “You don’t learn to drive until after you have passed your test.” Never a truer word was spoken. I know I am going to experience all sorts of calamities over the coming weeks!

But to sum up, it’s never too hard to learn something new. If you ever think it is too late in life, it really isn’t and that doesn’t just apply to driving. Don’t give up. If I can do it anyone can.

Alison, who lives in Tettenhall, passed her test at Featherstone Test Centre. She works as a PA at the Express & Star and Shropshire Star.