The Highway Code: the pressure and pain of passing a driving test during the 80s

The big fail

IF I were to take a driving test today, I would fail! My knowledge of road signs are sometimes dodgy. I control the steering wheel with one hand (gangster style) and last week I drove an entire seven mile journey with the passenger wing mirror folded in – I realised that it was folded-in when I parked up at home. Also, in the last few months, I’ve had a serious problem parking straight: most car parks have bold white lines to guide us into the spaces but they might as well not exist in my case. I’ve found myself having to climb over the to the passenger seat to get out the car on two occasions in the last couple of weeks. I wonder why this sudden slackness has set in. I’ve been driving for 31 years. I passed my driving test on the mean streets of London. If you can drive in London, then you can drive anywhere, right?

I was close to wiping out an old man crossing the road after almost going through a red light at the crossing

The teachers

Earlier in the week, whilst going through some old books on the bookshelf, I came across the Highway Code from 1989, the year I passed my driving test. After reminiscing about excitedly dashing home after passing my driving test, the tone of my thoughts dipped as I considered the lead-up to the test. It began early in 1989 with lessons that cost £9. I actually began taking lessons in 1988 with Anne (a softly spoken lady from the south of Ireland) but then stopped when my work schedule became manic. At the start of 1989 I contacted Anne to see if she was available so I could pick up where I’d left off. Sadly, she was not available but mentioned that her colleague, Hazel, was able to give me lessons. I agreed and booked-up with Hazel. This was the start of my painful driving experience.

Lucky pass?

Hazel was the complete opposite to Anne. I was equal in height with Anne but Hazel towered over me. When she rang the doorbell, her outline through the front door glass would send me into a nervous wreck. She made me feel like a wimp and loser even before I began driving. During the lessons she yelled at me for driving too slow and braking too early. I remember her screaming at me for staying in second gear whilst on the 50mph duel carriageway. Then there was the day I really thought Hazel was going to chop my head off: I was close to wiping out an old man crossing the road after almost going through a red light at the crossing (thank goodness for duel controls in the car). I endured Hazel until the summer 1989 when she told me I’ll soon be ready for my test. My test took place November of that year. I’ll never forget what Hazel said to me as I drove to the test centre – “Yikes you’re driving in the gutter! What are you doing? If you’re gonna drive like this in the test, you might as well just turn round and go back home!” I arrived at the test centre shaking like I’d just come out of a walk-in freezer. Luckily, I didn’t have much time think too much as my name was called almost immediately. After the verbal beating from Hazel, I was sure to fail the test and I really didn’t care. After getting over a few issues of stalling the car, I managed to competently navigate the Volvo around Greenford with no major issues. I completed the test and the examiner calmly told me that I’d passed. It was a relief having Hazel back at the wheel on the journey home: no more lessons, no more being screamed at and I’ll live to see my 20th birthday!


So now, since passing my test in 1989, and with my inability to park and use my mirrors, maybe Hazel is needed to get me back up to scratch. Sometimes non-sugar coated words and barefaced bluntness is needed to get the job done. Hazel, if you’re reading this, I need you now! There’s sometimes a six inch gap between the kerb and wheels when I park – I find parking in diagonal car park spaces impossible and my gear selection has become snail-like. It’s becoming more noticeable to see fellow motorists shaking their heads and making frustrating hand gestures when I look in my rear view mirror. I need you Hazel!

Enjoyed the post? A nostalgic collection of stories featuring a fun and factual look back at British advertising, leisure and entertainment from the 70s and 80s are featured in the new hardback book, Section N Underpass. Get the rundown by clicking the front cover below: 

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