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Not only cars get rusty
Cologne (dpa) - When Claudia Sharif has to join a motorway, she still gets a bit nervous. "Merging is tricky," says the 42-year-old. "Other than that, though, I find driving to be a lot of fun." But that certainly hasn't always been the case.
While Sharif got her driver's license at the age of 19, she didn't sit behind the wheel for years afterwards. In fact, so much time passed that it came to the point where she didn't dare drive any more - that is, until she finally decided to sign up for driving lessons again.
"Neither of my parents has a driver's license, so I'd never had access to a car before," says Sharif. When she moved from her small hometown to Cologne, there was a tram stop a few steps from her front door, so she had no reason to drive. And later on, it was her husband who always drove, while she sat in the passenger seat.
"I no longer trusted myself to drive," she says. "But it was starting to annoy me." Just before her 40th birthday, Sharif thought to herself, "Either I can get back into driving now, or it will never happen." So she signed up at a driving school and booked some lessons.
"While this isn't something that happens every day, it's also not that uncommon," says Kurt Bartels, chairman of German driving school association Fahrlehrerverband Nordrhein. While there are no statistics on returning drivers, they are often older women who come from families where it was common for the man to drive.
"If the man passes away or can no longer drive, the woman sometimes has no choice but to take action." In other cases, like in Claudia Sharif's, they simply didn't have a car for a long time and thus rarely, if ever, got behind the wheel.
This was also the case for Gaby Huerter-Krahl. After getting her license 25 years ago, she was able to drive a relative's car for a few months. After that, however, she did not drive at all. "I never had my own car and simply adjusted to that," says the 48-year-old.
"I get around by bus, train or bicycle, or my husband drives." A few years ago, she seriously considered taking driving lessons again. "But, in the end, I didn't do it out of fear," she says, adding that it will probably stay that way. "I get along just fine without a car."
Germany's largest automobile club, the ADAC, reports that many people with little driving experience register with the club because they hope to refresh their skills through driver safety training. However, if you haven't driven in the last decade, you will usually need more personalised guidance from a driving instructor.
"Traffic these days is much denser and more stressful than it was years ago," says Bartels. "If someone hasn't driven for a long time, they can't simply jump back into it, especially if they're in a big city."
Sharif recalls feeling rather nauseous before her first private lesson. "I was sweating and wanted more than anything to just cancel and leave right before we got started."
Luckily, the driving instructor was very understanding. "It all started quite slowly. At first, I only needed to steer, and she controlled the pedals from the passenger seat." Little by little, Sharif began to feel safer.
"You never really forget how to drive a car," says Bartels. "The skills are lying dormant somewhere - you just have to bring them out again."
After five double lessons, most customers feel ready to drive alone again – and so it was with Sharif. "The driving instructor still said that I had better drive a few times with my husband," she remembers with a smile. "But I only did it once."
Since then, she has been driving regularly. "I'm glad I can do it now," she says, especially since she will soon be moving and will depend on a car to get to work. Between now and then, though, the schoolteacher still has one last goal to achieve: "Drive on the motorway without getting nervous."