Tom is one of our volunteer mentors here at Lollipop and he’s mad about cars. We interviewed him about his experience of learning to drive so we could share his story…

Why do you love cars so much?

I’ve been interested in them for as long as I can remember, growing up fixing cars with my dad and driving off-road in my mum’s car. I’m a really fast learner when it comes to cars. I studied advanced mechanics at York College for two years straight from school and worked as a mechanic for a while.

When did you have your first lesson?

I was 17 when I started learning to drive. I lived rurally so needed a car to get to work. I was the first among the friends in my village to have driving lessons.

How did you find an instructor?

I didn’t know any deaf aware driving instructors at the time so just picked a local driving school that was reasonably priced and (with mum’s help) called to book my first lesson. I was bouncing with excitement!

How did you communicate with your instructor?

I was very upfront about being deaf. On the first lesson we introduced ourselves, talked through the basics of driving and agreed ways that we would communicate. We came up with simple signals and gestures for turning left, right and stopping and he asked me to pull over if we needed to have a face-to-face chat about anything. I had one lesson a week and between lessons we kept in touch by text.

What was the hardest thing about learning to drive?

The theory part was the most difficult bit – it took me three attempts (the transcript wasn’t working the first time) but I got there in the end! Emergency stops and remembering to signal were also quite tricky but I’ve mastered both now! 🙂

How did your test go?

I passed my practical test first time after just 17 lessons! I was petrified beforehand though, literally shaking, despite all my confidence with cars. The examiner knew I was deaf and used clear signals and gestures to communicate instructions. Halfway through I stalled the car and was convinced I’d failed but I got away with it because I dealt with it safely. The trick is not to panic!

What was your first car?

From the age of 16 I worked to pay for my own lessons, car and driving insurance. I bought my first car (a Vauxhall Corsa B) in 1987 for just £50! It was so knackered I had to take a hammer, two bottles of water and a bottle of oil out with me every time in case it broke down! My friends ended up pushing it further than I drove it but it was good fun. I’ve had another 5 cars since then and I’m currently driving a white Seat Ibiza. My dream car would be a 1998 Land Rover Discovery or Range Rover Evoque.

Have you had any accidents?

Since passing I’ve had three bumps (2 of which were not my fault!) There are lots of idiots on the road so you always need to keep your wits about you – keep looking around and checking your mirrors. I think being deaf makes me a better driver because I’m less distracted by what’s going on in the car and am more visually aware.

What do you enjoy most about driving?

I love getting behind the wheel and the independence it gives me – I gained more and more confidence with every lesson and since passing I’ve never looked back – driving is great! 🙂

What advice would you give to other deaf people?

Be upfront with your driving instructor about being deaf so they can work with you. My instructor had never had a deaf student before but it didn’t faze him and we found ways to work around it easily. Apart from communication with your instructor, there’s not much your deafness will affect – driving relies more on good coordination of your hands, feet and eyes – you don’t really need to listen so long as you are very visually aware of your surroundings and make good use of your mirrors (like any good driver should!)