Most people that I know in the US have a drivers license, it’s kind of like a right of passage as a teenager. Compared to other parts of the world, the average American spends much more time behind the wheel. The public transportation is not that good in most places and it really isn’t that accessible either (sorry Dad and Septa). It is almost a necessity to obtain a drivers license which can be done by passing a written and practical test. Every state has different laws regarding when someone can learn and take their drivers permit test. You can obtain your drivers permit at 16 in most states. Usually drivers have these permits for 6 months to learn the rules of the road and get some experience behind the wheel before obtaining their license.
I obtained my US drivers license as a teenager, passing the written part of the test with ease and the driving portion of the test with even more ease. I glanced over the book for the written part, most of the test questions were common sense from what I remembered. During the actual driving part, my instructor made me pull up to a stop sign, drive around the block and then parallel park in a spot that was 3 times the size of what I really needed. Needless to say, I passed with flying colors.
When I moved to the UK, the first thing I noticed after leaving the airport was that cars were driving on the “other” side of the road. In the US and in most countries, drivers drive on the right side of the road. In some countries that were colonized by the British, they drive on the left side of the road. Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Thailand, and even places like Hong Kong are all left side of the road places.
You are allowed to drive in the UK with an American License for up to a year before you need to pass the UK test. That still boggles my mind with the cars on the left side of the road, the number of roundabouts, and the much smaller roads. Where I lived, driving would make things easier, so I bought a car and wanted to learn to drive on the left side of the road. Spoiler, it’s not that hard and its all depth perception honestly. I wanted to take and pass the drivers test in England, figuring it could be useful. My co-workers suggested I take a few lessons before I take the test, so I know what the examiners look for. The first step though was taking and passing the written part of the driver’s test.
Since I already had a US license, I did not need to obtain a drivers permit in England, I could just take the written test. I registered and took the test in Staines, home of UK legend Ali G. I walked into that test the first time extremely confident because I had been driving for years up until that point. I walked out of that test, defeated and embarrassed. I received a 35 percent when you needed an 80 percent to pass. Not studying and relying on my cocky attitude completed backfired on me. There were some questions on that test that I had no idea what they were asking. At the time I did not know people in England referred to 18 wheel trucks as “Lorries”. The whole time taking the test I was asking myself, “who is Lorry?” Other questions asked, “What distance should you be behind the car in front of you in rainy conditions?” Everything was in meters, so I did a lot of converting in my head that didn’t pay off.
I learned my lesson and I needed to study, so I bought the book and studied hard for the next test. I passed the next time and in that time span, I took some driving lessons. These were extremely helpful because the driving part was going to be nothing like back home. I could basically have 15 minor faults, which could be anything from not checking my mirrors properly to not stopping before a line. If I had one major fault like running a red light, that would automatically fail me. My instructor during the lessons basically taught me how to take the test, navigate roundabouts, and use my mirrors the way examiners will check me. I had to check, double check, and use all my mirrors which was something that I was not used to. Roundabouts were also a challenge that I really still don’t understand, but I knew enough to take the test.
I scheduled my driver’s test and felt confident going into the test. I had heard of some horror stories with ex-pats taking the test, failing the driving part up to 5 different times and what not. When I met my examiner I don’t think he could have been anymore British. His name was Nigel, he was from Kent, and he was sharply dressed with such a south England accent. Nigel was excited that he had an American student, I feel like the entire test he just wanted to get to know America. Nigel did not do much driving critiquing, probably because my driving was flawless that day. I had to conduct a few different maneuvers like parallel parking and a three-point turn. Navigating the roundabouts were fine because no one else was on the road, luck was on my side. The entire driving portion of the test was about 40 minutes. I passed the first time with only 3 faults, tapping the curb parking, not yielding soon enough entering a roundabout, and overuse of my mirrors. Nigel said I was exaggerating too much on my mirror use which was true.
It was refreshing completing the driver’s test in England, reviewing and relearning different driving skills is always good. I really like how the test is much more difficult in England because the conditions are much different. If you ever live abroad and have the opportunity to get a drivers license in another country, I suggest you try. You can learn a lot and sharpen those rusty driving skills. Road trips are an excellent way to see another country, Guying Around on wheels. I always love and appreciate a good road trip anywhere I go.