Live like a local.
If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. And again. And again.
Sorry, this is a long one. How are you supposed to wrap up failure and embarrassment quickly?
A flood of relief washes over me after finally passing the UK’s driver’s test. Yes, you did infer correctly, I failed the first attempt at the Practical driver’s test. Like most Americans, I took and passed my US drivers test when I was first allowed to legally drive, age 16. I had no other reference since I had only driven in the US so I assumed it wouldn’t be that hard to get a license.
In the UK, Foreign residents have one year to get a valid UK Drivers license. (Many people think you can just use your USA license, nobody will be the wiser. But that isn’t true. IF you get into an accident, they won’t cover you and you’ll be financially responsible for everything and everyone) We also heard not to take it lightly because, although anyone with a pulse can get a US license, that was not the case in the UK.
I, sadly, am proof of that.
But let me back up. Let me explain the way it is here in the UK. First, since there is such good public transportation, it is not uncommon for people to never need or want to acquire their driver’s license, so wipe from your mind that all adults can drive. Secondly, it is very expensive. Remember, fewer people own cars and so most students hire a teacher that has a car you can use for the practical test. Again, an average cost from start to finish with all the theory test, licenses, rental car, few hours behind the wheel driving, the practical test etc.… average +/- $900-1500.00. If people don’t need one, they certainly don’t need to pay $900 unnecessarily.
After moving here, our plan was to rent a car multiple times to get use to driving on the left side of the road, and then within 6 months we’d take the theory test and then we’d take the practical test, and BOOM. Done.
Minor complication. Covid. We moved from the states and 2 weeks later we were in a lockdown. It felt more like a permanent lockdown. We believed everything would be fine in a few months. Not. Truthfully, we forgot all about needing a driver’s license in this country because driving was the last thing on our minds. Taking a trip was impossible and we just focused on other things. We had no idea that all the drivers tests that were supposed to be happening were just creating a huge backlog so when they finally did open, the queue to get a test would be enormous. It wasn’t until we needed to rent a car after being here one year, that we realized we were sunk, and in need of a valid license.
Whoa Nelly, let me back up even farther. One needs to pass the theory test so you can apply for a provisional driving permit. We had to hire a instructor now because it was illeagal to drive under our license. So we needed a permit to drive with the instructor. The two main differences between the US and the UK, is the size of the manual, and that you can only miss 7 questions. Statistically, most standard drivers pass within their 5th attempt. (There is no limit for the number of times you can sit for the test, but you pay each time, of course.) We weren’t too worried about this because you can study for it. And boy did we study! We spent so much time laughing at the stupid questions and hours looking up the more complicated ones!! But we did study! Then on the way to the test, David learns of something called the Hazard Perception videos? For all those old timers out there, it is no different than the simulators we had to learn on 40 years ago. You remember the kind; you’re driving down the road and suddenly, a ball bounces out into the street with a child following it and you are to slam on your brakes. You, of course, can’t see that very clearly because it all happens between two cars and there is a glare on the screen, but you wing it and hope you reacted fast enough. They keep scores and you have 14 to pass.
The UK take their theory tests way more seriously too. When I went into the test center, they asked to see the inside of my mask! I asked why and they wanted to make sure there was no cheat sheet writing inside. I also had to spread my fingertips wide so they could see that I didn’t write anything between my fingers! They give you lockers so there is nothing on your person: no purse, no backpack, no jumper, or jacket, just you and the rows of computer screens. This also means I have no cool pictures to share with you. The testing center was full of computers, and each computer stall had a camera set up filming you and they made sure you knew they were watching every move you made. NOW who wouldn’t begin to panic? How hard will this be? Why is there so much security? Do many people try to cheat to pass? Will I be able to pass? And all this worry was for naught. Again, you can study for this test, and both David and I easily passed. But keep in mind, it was more difficult than the US’s written portion. Check out some of these silly questions.... my favorite is the plaid dog coat.
Now comes the practical driving part. There was such a back log (for the last year of not giving tests) that the waitlist was long and unpredictable. We begged and begged and crossed our fingers and toes – when that didn’t work we paid a premium to the instructor who knew how to get us in. I had NEVER driven on the left side of the road until the day of my lesson, hours before my test. Note to self: probably not such a good idea.
So, the Driving Instructor, let’s call him DI, he is thrilled I know HOW to drive because the entire time he is on the phone doing business, booking people into tests, rearranging times, scheduling lessons etc. As I’d drive by something I must have not done correctly, or needed to know, he would finish his call and then tell me, “Remember a few blocks ago, you passed a sign that looked like …… well, when you see that sign you need to do……” I explain that I don’t remember what I ate for breakfast, so I most definitely don’t know what sign he’s talking about. No worries he says, we’ll pass another. Then an ambulance comes from ahead, I pull over immediately. Some things are just engrained in you! Well, that is wrong. Good thing that ambulance came by because he never would never have taught me that otherwise. All day he was full of simple but irritating information. The test giver will be looking to see if I look at my mirrors every 30 seconds. AND I’m taking the test on a manual because if you don’t take the test on a manual then you can’t drive a manual, your license would limit you to only an automatic. And in Europe you might need to drive a manual when you rent cars for vacations. Back to my instructor. He was relatively useless. Unless, of course, I made a mistake while he was off the phone, then I would learn what subtle road sign differences were. Another example is when you cross one lane of traffic to the other side. In the States you would only go out into the middle IF there was a section of the road your car could fit into. Here you can and should just move on out and block oncoming traffic if they come. So, next time I need to cross the two-lane road, I stick out into the road and he says, “what are you doing? you can’t block the traffic? “My head spins and I say, “you told me earlier I needed to go across the lane of traffic and sit and wait until I can go. And you told me to follow that car and if he can go, I can go.” DI says, “oh yes, that is true but only 2 cars can do that, you are the 3rd car and so you must stop. That is an immediate failure” Again, I am only learning by default and by making these mistakes…. Learning this way, I should have hired him for a week, not a few hours. Once again, he is on the phone, and again we pass this triangle looking signpost. Really, I have no idea what he’s talking about “a triangle” because he always points it out after we pass it and it’s long gone. But he says that I need to turn in front of it. That it’ll feel like I should turn around to its left but really it is to the right in front of it. So, I keep wanting to go back and drive by it so I know what he’s talking about, but he says it’s fine, just remember when I see it to turn in front of it. Now comes my test. The test is 40 minutes long, driving around these very narrow streets, doing the normal things like entering and exiting a roundabout, parking, emergency stops, and then … here it comes, the right turn … YES! I turn in front of the triangle post. Was that a triangle? Is that what he meant? IDK. Then she directs me back to the center. Immediate failure. Yup, after 40 years of practical driving experience, I fail a driving test in the UK. At first, I was just plain MAD, no, I was furious. I paid a lot of money to have this clown not clearly show me what he was talking about. After he and the tester talked, the DI went back to show me how that wasn’t a triangle and that I turned into the wrong lane (there were no cars so it was hard to see that since I “drove” on the left side) but regardless, you can see why driving on the wrong lane might be an immediate failure. Once my anger tempered a bit, I was just embarrassed. I also worried was I too old to learn a new trick? What if…..? and my negative thoughts got away from me. But if my child failed, what would I tell them? I’d tell them to try again. Do your best. That’s all you CAN do.
This is too long to really express my humiliation. I didn’t want to try again because what if I failed again? But today was the DAY to attempt to pass my driver’s test for the second time. I have worried myself into a knot. I have asked DI not to take calls while we are driving. I asked him to be critical of my driving so I can drive to pass the test. Once again, I must pay an enormous amount of money to schedule the test and use his car. (I am bitter about this part) The entire time he is telling me to shift into 3rd at 20 MPH. The car is so underpowered it is just strange to drive. As soon as I’d get to 30 he’d be yelling shift shift shift into 4th. (Forget a tachometer, they don’t seem to care about what that says) Then every minute he’d say, side mirror, center mirror, side mirror. You must check your mirrors every 30 seconds. Shift, mirror, mirror, mirror, be aggressive, don’t be aggressive, shift, mirror, mirror, mirror. I sort of liked him better on the phone. We practiced parallel parking, backing up, mini roundabouts, larger roundabouts, squeezing through roads that should be one way etc. I couldn’t wait to be done. Nobody drives with someone barking at you in real life. I was concentrating on so many other things, my eyes weren’t really on the road. But you need to drive like this to pass the test.
The tester gets into the car. She is lovely. A chatty Kathy. I just wish she’d have stopped talking. I just wanted to concentrate and be done. We drive, we turn, we do a zillion roundabouts, we drive some more, then we go back to the testing center. No parallel parking. No emergency stops, No this or that. I must have failed again!?#*!? She sees my complete defeat and says, “What’s wrong?” and I ask, “What did I fail on?” and she smiled, “you passed” I don’t know why I didn’t have to do all the other parts. Maybe because I had on the first test and did well? Maybe they can see that? I don’t know, and I don’t care. I was so relieved, and the best part is I won’t have to take that ever again. I now have a UK license and will only have to send in a payment and a new photo every 10 years! Boom- Done.
Don't take life so seriously.
I'm Jody. I love to travel. I love to take pictures. I love to meet people and find interesting places. I also love to write about and post pix of what I've found. But, I've been told that I write like I talk - in streams of consciousness. So, if proper grammar and well composed sentences are a must for you - my posts will make you crazy. If you want to follow my journey as I learn about really cool places and offer some great tips about living abroad, read on!