Drive? In London?! You must be mad. Of course, if you live here and want to learn to drive, London’s probably where you’re going to do it. Here are some things we recently learned while getting behind the wheel.
1. You’ll need a zen instructor
Navigating London by car takes the patience of a saint. Teaching someone to do it takes the patience of a Spurs fan. Ask for personal recommendations from friends, and shop around online for instructors with reviews that include keywords like: ‘calm’, ‘understanding’, ‘relaxed’ and ‘didn’t swear at me for going round the Chiswick Roundabout anti-clockwise’. We used Learn Driving (#notanad), but there are lots of reputable schools/instructors out there.
2. Don’t take beeping personally
It’s simply the car equivalent of being tutted at — and as a Londoner, you tut on average at, what, 43 people a day? As a motorist, you’ll get beeped for pausing three seconds to let an endangered animal cross the road — just relax into that. In plenty of situations, your fellow motorist will helpfully second guess what you’re about to do wrong and honk you before you’ve even done it.
3. Automatic is the way to go
We can already hear the Clarksonites making some smug remark about driving dodgems. The fact is, if you manage to travel for more than 60 continuous seconds in central London, you’re probably in the bus lane. So if you don’t fancy changing gear more times than the government changes Covid advice, automatic transmission is for you. Even if you’re going for a manual licence, ask your instructor for a few goes in an automatic. Then, when you get a Zipcar, you’ll know the setup. Which brings us to…
4. Use Zipcars to practice
Or hiyacar, GetAround, etc. The trouble with learning to drive if you don’t have your own car is staying well-versed. In between lessons (and once in a while after you’ve passed), it makes sense to go for a quick spin. While Zipcar et al aren’t thrifty, they’re still far cheaper than lessons by the hour and there’s no faffy paperwork/credit card nonsense that comes with many car hire companies. They have plenty of automatics too.
5. You’ll suddenly feel an affinity for drivers
As a dyed-in-the-wool pedestrian, it’s easy to badmouth cars for little things like blocking zebra crossings and giving off a general air of wanting to mow you down. With your sudden transformation into a driver, prepare to experience the other side of the story: Low Traffic Neighbourhoods tougher to escape than the Crystal Maze. Bus lanes that fine you 80 quid for thinking about them. Pedestrians idly strolling out in front of you like they’re at the Chelsea Flower Show. E-scooters falling out of the sky. By the end of a two-hour lesson, you’ll want to hug an Uber driver.
6. If you can drive in London, you can drive anywhere
Except maybe Rome. And Mumbai. And Hanoi… hang on, let us rephrase that. If you can drive in London, you shouldn’t have any problems in Guildford.
7. There are one or two ‘magical moments’
Driving’s often a chore, and in London rush hour it can resemble a Hieronymus Bosch painting. But being behind the wheel does bless you with one or two magical moments. Like driving over the Albert Bridge at night, finding a free parking space, or discovering the magical motorists’ kingdom of affordable bookcases and hotdogs known only as… Ikea.
8. You don’t really need to drive in London
Being able to drive is a life skill, doubly so being able to drive in London. But the latter should be used sparingly e.g. picking up a BILLY bookcase or driving a pregnant woman to the hospital. Otherwise, London has one of the best transport networks anywhere, so as soon as you pass your test, reserve a car for your next countryside getaway, then celebrate by taking the tube to the nearest mezcal bar.