22 October 2014

The UK driving test experience

The dreaded L plates

Another expat rite of passage is done and dusted finally--I am now in possession of a UK driving licence!  It's been a very stressful (and expensive) process because Great Britain has one of the most difficult tests and I had nearly 3 decades of US driving habits to overcome.  The theory and hazard perception exams required as much studying as the written portions of the CDL and the practical (driving) section was far and above more intensive than my car, truck, and motorcycle tests combined.  

The US doesn't have a reciprocal agreement with the UK but you do have one year to drive on your state issued driver's licence without having to display L plates (magnetic or sticky emblems that are placed on the front and rear of the vehicle), being restricted from the Motorways (interstates), and having to have a licensed driver with you.  True to form I procrastinated and didn't apply for my provisional until right before my year was up which made the process slightly more rushed than it should have been (don't do what I did!).  On the plus side, my partner trained as an ADI (approved driving instructor) so I didn't have to pay for lessons--I highly recommend at least taking a couple of lessons so that you know what is expected for the test.  

I would like to say that I passed my first time but alas that wasn't the case...A bad case of test nerves that wasn't helped by a cranky partner resulted in me pulling out of the centre and going on the wrong side of the road, something I hadn't done since the first month of moving here. Yes, that's right I failed my test in the first minute of driving! Muscle memory is a hard thing to overcome.  The most frustrating thing? Knowing I'd failed yet still having to continue on with the test for the remaining 37 minutes and only garnering 2 minor faults after that.  

As soon as I got home from the first practical test I logged onto the DVLA site to schedule another appointment--the time span that you have to wait has changed from 6 weeks to 10 business days--but the earliest date I could get was the first week of November from all the test sites within a 20 mile radius of our location.  Not ideal since that meant I couldn't drive anywhere without a licensed driver with me during that time and my partner is most definitely not a morning person! A trick most people aren't aware of is that you can reschedule free of charge and there are almost always last minute cancellations.  By checking the site 2-3x per day I was able to change my date from November to the 29th, the 24th, and then finally the 22nd which was the 11th day after my first test! I also made sure it was later than my partner's normal wake-up time in order to avoid the 'not enough coffee' grouchiness, lol.  

So that brings us to today...the 22nd, and I'm sure you're asking yourself "Come on, how did it go????" No? Well, I managed to pass this time around and again only garnered two minor faults (minus the one big major that failed me the first time). Whew!!!!!!!! The average pass rate at the centre I tested at is 12 minors so I'm well pleased.  One of the minors was related to my truck driving days--while performing the reverse around the corner maneuver I didn't use the back window as much as I should have.  Fortunately the examiner and I had been having a good chat and he knew that I'd driven a big truck for over a decade and he'd driven lorry in the military so he realized why.  It was a gorgeous reverse other than that--perfectly positioned and smoothly executed--I hadn't done that well on all of my weeks of practice! The second fault came in when I became confused by one sign and markings on the road that offered slightly contradictory (in my opinion) information and positioned myself in the incorrect lane for going straight across the junction.  According to the examiner that sort of mistake happens at least twice per day during their tests so it's no big deal unless you panic.  

There's my UK driving test experience, please feel free to comment if you would like any more information or clarification--hope this has been informative and not too terribly boring :-).  

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