driving on the wrong side of the road

Last week I finally completed my driving test here in England.  Wow, it seems like a long road that I went down to get my full license.  The irony of it was that I have been a licensed driver since I was 16 years old, but that only counted for something in the good old US of A.  American licenses do not translate to UK (or European) license standards so you are forced to reapply if you want to drive legally here.  And let me tell you, it is not as easy peasy as the American standard of licensing.

It took me several years to finally get my act together to get the full license.  Now this time wasn’t spent because it was so difficult, but more out of laziness…

What did it all entail?

First off you have to get a provisional license.  This requires that you send your passport or other valid form of identification off to the DVLA for a few weeks.  You get back a plastic card + a piece of paper (called your counterpart license).  The card has a giant L (not for loser but for learner) that now means you can practise drive with a licensed driver.  You are now able to take your theory exam.

When you are a learner driver there are certain restrictions placed on your driving such as not being able to go over 40 (or something) and you have to put a giant L on your car to denote your loser status.  I never did these things because I was still driving (probably illegally) on my American license.

The theory exam consists of 50 multiple choice questions and a hazard perception test.  The entire test is computerised and you have to make an appointment at a test center.  I bought a DVD on Amazon that has the exact interface for the test and all of the questions and ran through a million mock tests until I was passing at a reasonable rate.  Thankfully the DVLA gives out all the test questions so you know what you will be asked and the DVD tells you the correct answer if you get it wrong so you can learn.  The hazard perception test is a bit stranger.  It is basically videos of someone driving and you have to click when you think that a hazard is presenting itself.  You get points based on your timing of the click.  Weird.

Anyhoo – I passed the theory with flying colours last January.  They give you a pass certificate which then allows you to book your practical (hands on) driving test.

This was the part that I was most worried about.  My car is a left hand drive so I am not at all used to driving on the right side or with a right hand drive.  I also had it in my head that I could just show up at the test and sort of wing it.  This was a pretty stupid idea which, thankfully, I didn’t actually attempt to pull off in the end.

I ended up having to get an instructor who took me through the test.  Basically you have a 40 minute test where you can get up to 15 faults before failure + you have to complete a few manouveurs like reversing around the corner (the dumbest thing ever) or parallel parking.  If you fail on any of the manouvers then you fail the test.  Likewise if at any time during the test you make another car slow down or change lanes because of something you have done, you fail.  It is all very nerveracking.  In order to feel confident enough for the test I did 10 hours of lessons with my instructor.  You also have to book your instructors car to take the test in – rather than showing up in your own car which is frowned upon.  So many rules!!!

In the end, I passed on my first try with only 1 fault for not looking in a mirror when changing lanes.  Whoop whoop.

But then I found out that my insurance has actually gone up – double to be precise – since getting a full license.  This is because I am considered a new driver.  Yes.  16 years of experience, but new in this country.  Annoying.

Costs for getting licensed in the UK:

  • 10 hours of private instruction                £240
  • Driving instruction DVD from Amazon £4.99
  • Theory test booking fee                           £30
  • Practical test car + instructor                   £75
  • Practical test booking fee                         £56 (on weekdays)

Total to get licensed: £405.99