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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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Learning To Drive (Again) [20120507|10:22]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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More than a year after passing my theory test and getting a provisional driving licence, I've finally started having UK driving lessons.

"But you already know how to drive," you say. "You've had a US driving licence for over a decade!"

That is not the assumption that the UK Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) makes about a US driving licence. And to be honest, I am in complete agreement with them. The UK practical driving test is much, much harder than any of the US practical driving tests. To get my US licence, I had driving lessons for three weeks (totalling about 12 hours) and practised in the car twice with my father (parallel parking and three-point turns). Then I took my test and passed it.

It may be possible to do this in the UK, but I think it's pretty rare. I'm planning on having several months of driving lessons and lots of private practice with the bloke before I attempt the test. Not only am I driving on the opposite side of the road, I'm in a manual transmission (with the shifter on the other side) and the traffic control methods are completely different, from the signage to the roundabouts. I'm also having to break bad habits, like crossing over my hands on the steering wheel when I turn. This is an unconscious hangover from my first car, a Datsun 280Z that didn't have power steering and handled like a pregnant whale.

I don't particularly want to drive. In fact, one of the reasons I moved to this country in the first place was so that I didn't have to drive. Having a car is pretty pointless when you live in central London and work at an office job. But now I'm moving to the Worcestershire countryside, and sometimes a car will be the only option for getting around, so I have to do it.

A few notes from my driving lessons:

  1. The Vauxhall Corsa, my driving instructor's vehicle, is an incredibly forgiving car. It takes a lot of effort to stall the thing, as its clutch point is about a mile wide. Naturally I've still managed to do it, by dint of stomping on the brakes and forgetting to engage the clutch at all.

  2. Sophie, our Citroën, is a temperamental little tart. She punishes even the slightest mismatch between clutch point and gas pedal with a series of head-snapping jerks.

  3. Me: *smacks right hand into door frame* Andre, my driving instructor: "Are you trying to shift on the other side of the car again?" Me: "No, of course not." Andre: *chuckle*

  4. Me to Andre: "I prefer to pretend as if I haven't driven before." Andre: "Don't worry, you don't have to pretend." AHAHAHA.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: doccy
2012-05-07 09:55 (UTC)
Good luck! I only passed my test when I was 31 (after failing twice when I was 17), so I (kind of) know what you're facing :)

The one thing I'll say is this: On the theory test, get yourself a disk and run through the Hazard Perception test at least a few times before you actually do it. If you go in blind, then the Hazard Perception makes NO SENSE. But, if you run through it and get used to what they're looking for, then it's all fine :)
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2012-05-14 14:08 (UTC)
I did the theory test for the provisional licence, so I know exactly what you're talking about. I ran through the Hazard Perception test several times and I was still convinced I'd fluffed it when I actually did it - but it was fine.

And thanks!
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[User Picture]From: melissa_maples
2012-05-07 10:08 (UTC)
I'm not sure the UK test is harder as much as it's just more fiddly. As David told me when he was trying to convince me to take lessons before my test (he was successful), it's not about having to learn how to drive, it's about having to learn how to jump through the hoops they insist you jump through, answer these riddles three, and so forth. Some of the things they can mark you down for have zero to do with driving ability or safety and are just downright silly. But if you already know how to drive and can memorise the dance routine of when to move which hand where and when not to move it from that position and all that, you'll pass first try no problem.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2012-05-14 14:12 (UTC)
Oh, it's harder. It's definitely harder. I took a test in the US where I had to do one of two manoeuvres: parallel park or a three-point-turn. I chose to parallel park. Here you have to know how to do five manoeuvres. There are a lot more road rules to remember, the streets are much narrower, parking is a nightmare and you have to make more judgment calls. I can drive and park in the US, in the wide-laned streets and the parking spaces designed for SUVs, practically on autopilot. That would be extremely dangerous here.
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[User Picture]From: melissa_maples
2012-05-14 14:38 (UTC)
Wait, where are you from? For some reason I had the idea you were from NYC, but what you're describing above makes me think maybe you're from the other side of the country.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2012-05-14 14:59 (UTC)
Hawai'i, but I learned to drive on the west coast - I've never lived east of the Rockies on the mainland!
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[User Picture]From: cosmiccircus
2012-05-07 14:00 (UTC)
I've driven on the right hand side before and it wasn't too bad. That being said, I can't imagine doing it in a stick shift - that just seems to increase the difficulty factor up!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2012-05-14 14:13 (UTC)
Yes, and most cars in this country are still manual. It's predicted that automatics will become standard at some point in the next decade or so, but I don't see it happening all that quickly. And since we just bought another manual transmission car, I've got to know how to drive it.
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[User Picture]From: becala
2012-05-07 16:40 (UTC)
You were present for the results of the assumption that because one is a licensed driver in the USA, one is qualified to drive manual on the left. And I was already practiced and confident at driving persnickety manual transmissions. I mean, I didn't kill us or anything, but I did ditch the car that one time, and I was not by any means *comfortable* behind the wheel the entire time.

I would say that your education plan is exactly right.

Edited at 2012-05-07 04:40 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2012-05-14 14:14 (UTC)
Yes, I remember. It didn't help that those roads were very narrow and in a questionable state of repair.

I plan to get many hours of practice under my belt before I try the test.
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[User Picture]From: leidan
2012-05-07 18:48 (UTC)
I'm such a fan of trying to change gears with the window winder.

Don't worry, once you get the hang of it, switching sides becomes pretty easy too.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2012-05-14 14:15 (UTC)
Ahaha, you too?!

It's definitely getting easier. I have probably been thinking about it too much, though - I had a dream last night that was all about shifting gears!
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[User Picture]From: flexagain
2012-05-08 08:30 (UTC)
It sounds like your Instructor has a sense of humour, which is a good thing. :)

I didn't bother to take (and pass) my test until I was about 30. Mainly because I was given my Sisters old car. I still cycle far further than I drive, and I think a decade of cycling around in an urban environment didn't do my driving skills any harm, come this test, since it made me very aware of other road vehicles. The cost of getting it wrong on a bike is much higher than with a car, generally, so it teaches you to take more care.

When I go over to the continent and hire a car, it takes me a while to get used to the gear lever being on the left. I have memorably changed into 1, when trying to get into 3. :)
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2012-05-14 14:16 (UTC)
Our car doesn't like going into fifth - the shifter is really pernickety about that. It's a reasonably powerful car, so you can get away with leaving it in fourth a lot of the time, but it's a waste of petrol!
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[User Picture]From: nimoloth
2012-05-08 18:23 (UTC)
*lol*

I guess you just get used to it eventually. Diesels are the way to go if stalling is an issue when learning. I learned on Dad's diesel (Citroen Xantia) eventually because I was terrible for stalling petrols. I'm fine now I've been driving for ages, but as a beginner it was awesome.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2012-05-14 14:17 (UTC)
Yes, I appreciate that the diesel has done wonders for my confidence. Sophie's still a challenge - I stalled her at a traffic signal yesterday - but I'm definitely getting better with her.
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[User Picture]From: nimoloth
2012-05-08 18:25 (UTC)
Also, good advice for the test is to put the rear view mirror just a little bit too high so you have to look up to see out it - that way the tester can see you're looking at it as required, whereas if you only need to glance at it to see it, they may think you're not looking at it at all.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2012-05-14 14:18 (UTC)
Ah, good idea! Advice taken. I now set it so I have to lift my chin slightly to get the best view.
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[User Picture]From: swerve
2012-05-12 04:23 (UTC)
I spent seven summers at the same camp. Many of our counselors and riding instructors were from the UK or other countries where they drive on the left. The poor young women had to drive vanloads of us into town to do laundry on weekends and it was terrifying. "Right!" we'd yell as the van entered an intersection. "Keep right!"

Laughed out loud at your smacking your hand into the door (sorry). I'm sure I'd do the same. The shift pattern is backward as well? That's a recipe for disaster.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2012-05-14 14:21 (UTC)
That reminds me of the scene in L.A. Story where Steve Martin is riding in a hire car with a British woman. "Right side!" he shouts as a white van veers past her, honking wildly. "Get on the right side!"

"I don't think he can hear you," she replies, unruffled.

Edited at 2012-05-14 02:21 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: flexagain
2012-05-14 15:20 (UTC)
... in turn that reminded me of Clockwise, when he's asking which railway station platform he needs, and gets Right and Left confused, right? :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTR33TV9mD4#t=14m00s
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