WHENEVER I want to shock people, I utter three little words that are guaranteed conversation-stoppers. I whispered them in someone's ear last week and he appeared stunned - I really don't think he believed me.

So, what do I say that causes such consternation, such startled reactions?

Quite simply I admit: "I can't drive." Admittedly 'can't drive' is a bit of an exaggeration. It's more a case of won't drive. I actually passed my driving test in 1969, third attempt. It was just before Christmas and I still remember the examiner saying: "Congratulations! If you're thinking of driving over the holidays I'm very glad I won't be."

This had a devastating effect on my poor ego, leaving me wondering why he'd passed me if my motoring skills were that appalling. I told myself that as mine had been his final test of the afternoon, he'd probably wanted to get rid of me quickly so he could knock off early and get home for his tea.

Later, however, I realised it was far more likely he'd needed a good, stiff drink or two to recover from our shared experience of three-point turns, reversing round corners and parking on a sixpence.

But his comments on my performance were obviously an omen because a few days later, when I borrowed my parents' car and made my first solo drive, I crashed into the back of a stationary taxi at traffic lights. Why? I put my foot on the accelerator instead of the brake, that's why.

There was much wailing and teeth gnashing by The Mother - yes, even then I caused her grief - while my father insisted I should get, "straight back in the saddle", (he loved his John Wayne movies) before I lost my nerve.

I declined, however, and decided there and then that this driving lark was not for me. And from that day I have either used public transport - or begged lifts from friends.

But always the passenger, never the driver, doesn't make for an easy ride.

Knowing that I still carry a perfectly valid driving licence in my handbag, friends who like a few drinks on social occasions, become very resentful when I adamantly refuse to take the wheel so they can have another half.

They would not be so keen if I told them of the day some years ago when my latent driving skills were put to the test by the police.

A friend of a friend was a police driving instructor. He offered to sit in the passenger seat while I drove his car.

The instructor was a nice man, a very nice man, brave but unimaginative - I often think the two go hand in hand. He told me I would not be as bad as I imagined, that all I lacked was confidence, not skill.

Reassured, I got behind the wheel and drove. And for the following 20 or so minutes there was complete silence. When I finally and jerkily pulled to a halt, the nice police officer looked across and said quietly: "Strewth! You're lethal!"

Some weeks ago I read a report that said that most men would rather admit to being impotent than being lousy drivers.

If that's true, just imagine how many thousands of other 'lethal' drivers, just as bad as me, are out there, on our roads, every day of the week.

Shocking, isn't it?

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.