OPINION - Is it socially unacceptable not to be able to drive at age 25?

[object Object] ( Daniel Hambury )
[object Object] ( Daniel Hambury )

In my first week as a journalist, I asked one of my editors for the most valuable piece of advice he would give to budding reporters. “Make sure you have a driving licence,” came the immediate response. “If you’re sent on an assignment to the back end of beyond, you don’t want to be relying on trains.”

At the time, I thought nothing of it. I had just turned 21, after all. I would get settled into my job and then focus on getting my licence. No big deal. Lots of people my age can’t drive.

I am now approaching four years in the job and I still have not made the switch from L to P plates. I am also turning 25 in a couple of weeks, an age at which it feels deeply socially unacceptable still to have a provisional licence. Each time I go to a club I feel the silent judgement when the bouncer realises that my birth year starts with a 19, and somehow my ID is still green.

It is not for lack of trying, though. Like a lot of teenagers, I couldn’t wait to turn 17 and get behind the wheel. My parents gifted me a batch of lessons for my birthday, and I passed my theory test as soon as I could. But something always seemed to get in the way... and then, of course, Covid happened.

I have probably accrued 50 hours of lessons and still the thought of a roundabout sends me into a mild panic

It didn’t help that there was never much impetus for me to learn. Having lived in London my whole life — save for a brief stint in Cambridge, where everything is within walking distance — most of the journeys I made were easiest by public transport anyway.

While all of these excuses are valid, I think, deep down, what has put me off is something simpler: embarrassment. Because, what I have learned in my almost eight years on the road with my L plates is that I am a truly terrible driver. How has this skill managed to get the better of me? I have probably accrued 50 hours of lessons and still the thought of approaching a roundabout sends me into a mild panic attack.

The only small comfort to my monumental failure is that I seem to be part of a trend. I am surrounded by non-drivers my age — only around half of my school friends can drive. It has become something of a running joke that we might as well hold out for driverless cars. The stats bear it out too; half as many people aged between 17 and 20 have a full driving licence compared with the same age group 35 years ago.

To be fair to us, the circumstances haven’t exactly been kind. The various Covid lockdowns created a seemingly interminable backlog in learner drivers seeking lessons and tests across the UK, which has put some people off completely. The average car driving test waiting time is currently over 18 weeks. All that demand coupled with cost of living has pushed prices for lessons up too; learners in London are now regularly paying £50 an hour. It has also provided fertile breeding ground for fraudsters — reports of driving test fraud through impersonations have more than trebled in the past five years. Last year, the BBC found more than 600 social media pages with thousands of followers promising illegal licences without taking tests.

I have, many a time, contemplated just giving up. But I’m in too deep — in terms of both time and money. So, to hold myself accountable, I am committing it to the permanent ink of this paper that I am giving myself to the end of the year to turn my licence pink. In the mean time, to my editors, please don’t send me on any far-flung excursions.

Kylie Jenner (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Kylie Jenner (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Why I have little sympathy for Kylie Jenner

“It’s a miracle that I still have confidence and I can still look in the mirror and think that I am pretty. I went on a journey last year dissolving half my lip filler. Why do people think it’s OK to talk about me?” Kylie Jenner confided to her sister Kendall in the latest episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. “We’re dehumanised in our family,” Kendall agrees.

This conversation — about the cruel scrutiny of women’s appearances by the media — might be fair if Jenner hadn’t spent the past 10 years selling teenagers a distorted view of reality with her lip kits, and stealthy plastic surgery and fillers.

As someone who came of age during the Kardashians’ heyday as the kingmakers of Instagram, it is impossible to overstate the damage they did to a generation of young girls’ self-esteem.

Jenner and her family have traded on people talking about them for their entire career.

Until she takes some accountability, my sympathy is limited.

Emma Loffhagen is an Evening Standard columnist