How I learnt to drive

Abstract available shortly

Duffen, S. (2003) How I learnt to drive. Down Syndrome News and Update, 3(1), 23-23. doi:10.3104/dsupdate.214

I started to learn to drive on the lawn at home. I wanted to learn to drive because I wanted to go out on my own and we live in a place where there are no buses. We have got a lot of space on our lawn and it is big enough to drive around a little bit. My Daddy taught me to switch on the engine and to change gear and use the clutch and the brake. We could only get up to second gear because the lawn wasn't big enough for any more. We practiced driving round the lawn, changing gear, reversing and parking alongside a hose on the lawn. After a few weeks I started driving round the lawn on my own.

The next thing we did was to get a provisional license and some "L" plates and to go out on the road. We live on Dartmoor so there lots of roads with no traffic on. We have to drive down a narrow lane to get to the road and there is a sharp right hand turn to get on the road. The first time I drove out there was a car parked so that I could not get out easily and my left front bumper went into the bank. Daddy was cross but said it wasn't my fault.

For the next year I went out practicing a lot with my Daddy. After I had got used to the gears we drove all over the moor and then into Newton Abbot to get used to traffic. I was learning the Highway Code at the same time. Daddy wrote a program for me on the computer so that I could practice answering questions on the Highway Code.

After about a year Daddy said that I had better start going to a driving school because he was not a very good driving instructor and he got very cross with me sometimes. I went to Exeter and did a little test with Mr. Wrightson, a director at the B.S.M. driving school there. I did very badly because I was nervous and I did not know the roads there but he said that I could start learning with them.


The first instructor I had with B.S.M. was Dave Bicknell and he was very good. He had a car with automatic gear change so I had to learn that to begin with because our car had manual gear change. I had a lesson every week with Dave for about six months. Then I had to change to another instructor because Dave sold his automatic gear change car. The new instructor was called Tim Warren and he was very good too. I had lessons with him every week for about another six months and then applied for my driving test.

I took my driving test on an automatic gear change car in Newton Abbot when I was 21 years old. Tim took me to the test and I passed first time. I did something wrong at a big roundabout but I still passed. Tim and Mummy and Daddy were very pleased with me the next day and I had lots of cards and telephone calls. T.S.W. were at the test and I was on the local news that night.

After that I still couldn't go out on my own because I hadn't passed a test on a manual gear change car and our car has got a manual gear change. Daddy and I practiced some more on our car and I applied for the manual test and passed it first time. Daddy went with me. The BBC national television were there and they filmed it.

Soon after I passed the second test Daddy and I drove on to the moor near Haytor Rocks. Daddy got out then and I drove by myself to my home and back again which was about four miles. Since then I have driven a lot by myself, the furthest was 17 miles to pick up Daddy from school at Teignmouth. I often drive to Newton Abbot and back by myself for gymnastics or trampolining during the day or night. This is ten miles there and ten miles back. I often go shopping in Bovey or Ilsington by myself. I have started practicing driving on the motorway but I haven't been on the motorway by myself yet. We have a CB radio fitted in the car and one at home so that I can call up home from the car if anything goes wrong but, touch wood, nothing has gone wrong yet!

Driving update, April 2003

I like driving because I can go to all the shops that are too far to walk. There are no buses. I used to drive a lot on my own but Dad worries when I am out on my own because there are a lot of bad people around. I usually drive when Mum or Dad are in the car because I need the practice and I am a better driver than my Dad, he thinks I drive too fast. I used to take our neighbor Mary to collect her pension every week because she couldn't drive. I enjoy driving most in country lanes because it is quieter. Sometimes I like driving on the motorway because I like driving fast.

I had my first accident about four weeks ago when I was driving. Someone hit us in the side but he said it was his fault because he hit the accelerator instead of the brake. Nobody was hurt, but the car was badly damaged. When I go to see friends and we have a drink Dad comes to get me because I do not want to lose my license. I liked being famous for passing the test.

Based on a talk given by Sarah in 1988

A photograph of a child with Down syndrome

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