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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 January 2007, 19:55 GMT
Lady driver who had 'L' of a wait
By Lynne French
BBC News Devon

Maria McCarthy: Picture Simon & Schuster
Ms McCarthy believes her instructor was glad to see the back of her

A woman from Devon who finally passed her driving test after 23 years is now hoping to use her wealth of experience to help others.

Maria McCarthy from Sidmouth ripped up her L-plates after taking about 250 lessons, which cost her between 2,000 and 3,000.

The 42-year-old said getting her licence has given her a "badge of adulthood" and changed her life.

She has now written a book aimed at helping other women succeed.

'Terrifying' ordeal

"When I started learning to drive, I absolutely hated it," she told BBC News.

"I was quite good academically, but I knew immediately I wasn't going to be a natural. I was so clumsy.

"It was taking all the things I'm bad at and putting them all together.

"I was an aid worker in Romania, working in dodgy areas and seeing some really awful things, but I didn't bat an eyelid. Driving was something else entirely."

Her saving grace was a stubborn streak which would not let her give up, but she said her two driving tests were the "most nerve-racking experiences" of her life.

"I was a bit like Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind - shaking my hands at the heavens," she said.

If I'd asked my instructor if I could put in for my test, he would just have laughed at me
Maria McCarthy

When she finally passed her test two years ago, she set out to write her book - The Girls' Guide to Losing Your L-Plates - because of an "evangelical desire to spread the word".

The book has information, advice and some humorous anecdotes.

"I wrote about a woman who booked five tests, but failed to get out the test centre for three of them because of nerves."

Ms McCarthy said the reason it took her so many years to pass her test was simple.

Automatic success

"I just wasn't prepared. If I'd asked my instructor if I could put in for my test, he would just have laughed at me."

She finally passed her test at the second attempt after swapping to an automatic and taking a period of intensive lessons.

Ms McCarthy has presented her long-suffering driving instructor with a copy of her new book.

"He was quite pleased when I passed my test, but I think he was glad to see the back of me."

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