If you’re a woman in your twenties you’ll probably remember the part in ‘Clueless’ when Tai (Brittany Murphy) brutally takes down Cher (Alicia Silverstone) with the line: “You’re a virgin who can’t drive.
Even now, I find it hard to watch.
By the time most teenagers like Cher and Tai have finished high school, they have crossed both off their list. And if sex hasn’t happened – it’s only a matter of time.
But what happens if you forget to master driving?
When I turned 15, I raced off to a vehicle-testing centre to take my driver’s test after studying the road-code for weeks.
Thirteen years later, I can pretty much say that was about as excited as I ever got about driving.
As soon as I hit the wheel, I knew I wasn’t a natural. The countless things to keep in mind – left mirror, right mirror, rear-view mirror, gears, radio, pedestrians – overwhelmed me, and I was constantly terrified of hitting a child or veering off the road.
Friends told me over and over again that practice was all it took, that they had all struggled at first too, and I held out hope that they were right.
“As soon as I hit the wheel, I knew I wasn’t a natural. The countless things to keep in mind – left mirror, right mirror, rear-view mirror, gears, radio, pedestrians – overwhelmed me, and I was constantly terrified of hitting a child or veering off the road.”
It probably didn’t help that my parents refused to take me driving, and on the few times my mum did she would abruptly stop giving instructions (“and now, a right turn here…”) to slam her foot onto an imaginary brake and brace herself for death.
And maybe my mum’s fear was warranted. On one rare occasion when she did take me out I remember speeding up around the seaside roads where we lived to get away from a car that was driving dangerously close behind me.
“Pull over! Pull over!” mum yelled, plunging her foot down onto the ghost brake.
In a panic I turned heavily into the side of the road and felt one of the front tyres pierce and exhale as deeply as my own breath.
We were nearly home so I pulled out onto the road and started driving again, but the car could not cope and made deep wheezing sounds as we inched along the road
Some kids at a nearby beach soon spotted us and started running up alongside the car yelling “you’ve got a flat tyre, you’ve got a flat tyre,” their big smiling faces beaming through my side window.
I was banned from ever driving mum’s car again.
Between now and then I have somehow managed to get my full licence, but I’m still afraid of driving and avoid getting behind the wheel at all costs.
Traumatic incidents in that time range from the terrifying – almost killing my brothers by drifting over lanes on the motorway – to the funny – having a neighbour who I had never met offer to park my car for me, which I accepted.
“In a panic I turned heavily into the side of the road and felt one of the front tyres pierce and exhale as deeply as my own breath.”
Perhaps worst of all, though, has been the social stigma attached.
A friend of mine who I told about this piece confessed she looked down on men who couldn’t drive and found them less attractive, adding that she had been horrified when her partner bought his first car at 30.
The subtext: If you can’t drive, you haven’t got your shit together.
Celebrity non-drivers include US actress Anne Hathaway – who famously said she couldn’t live in LA because she was “too pale and didn’t drive” – and GIRLS star Lena Dunham, who was quoted as saying: “I don’t drive. It’s not going to happen. Some people are not meant to be mothers, and some people are not meant to drive.”
But they’ve done little to sex up the cause because everyone knows they can probably afford personal drivers, while the average person is destined to a life of crowded buses and delays caused by track works.
Last year, feeling close to giving up, I went to a hypnotist to try and resolve my problem once and for all.
He turned out to be a small, serious man who looked at me firmly over a pair of round spectacles and said without hesitation that he could help.
“Although you know,” he said gravely. “A fear of driving is never really a fear…of…driving”.
I went away wondering whether to spend $650 unlocking some trauma from my childhood that might also unlock my white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel.
So far I haven’t been back.
But after years of sleepless nights and nagging worries about how I’m going to cope when I have kids, or in emergency situations, I had a thought recently that made me relax.
What if it’s OK to be a non driver, and to stop trying?