17 Again

In early March I passed my U.K. driving test. It was possibly one of the happiest days of my life. Let's take a look at why.

I passed my New York State driving test when I was 17. My parents wouldn't let me do it until I had logged at least a year of driving experience and took driver's education. Because of their insistence on actually knowing how to drive, I passed with flying colors. The evaluator even complimented my driving abilities to my mother afterwards. "She handles the car so well!" this woman had said. (My mother and I both remember this quote, so we think it's probably true.)

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I passed my U.K. driving test by the skin of my teeth. I had 10 "minor" screw ups apparently -- the limit is 15. My reverse parking (parallel parking for the Americans) was a pretty botched job although I did manage to straighten it out enough to pass. The test took about an hour -- since there was some traffic on the main road where we started -- and the whole thing occurred in sweat-inducing silence. It made my U.S. driving test seem like some sort of a joke. My fellow Americans, you have no idea.

Setting out to get my license in 2016 has not helped with a great start to the year. Just ask the Hub -- or anyone else who has had a conversation with me in the past few months. There has been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth, including photocopier conversations with colleagues about my ruined weekends.

My instructor insisted on no less than two-hour lessons every time we met up. That's a long time to get corrected for every little infraction and bad habit you've collected as a long-term adult driver. Not to mention the fact that living in a city and not owning a car for most of my adult life I only really drive when we rent a car on holiday. I hold my hand up: I am sure I'm rusty. Throw that in with driving on the other side of the road in a city with the tiniest roads you have ever experienced where people seem to be able to park on very inch of said tiny roads. It has not been fun.

Also, although I am very careful to not use this blog as a way to complain (I try, really I try), I do have one real gripe about British driving standards. And it's not the fact that you have to look in the mirror before putting your signal on, or the way you have to feed the steering wheel through your hands without ever crossing over (yes, it took me a while to figure out how to do this).

It's that they require you to drive an automatic car like it's a stick shift. I have a message to my fellow British citizens: you don't have to put the handbrake on all the time. That's what park is for. Americans never use the handbrake, apart from when they are parking on a steep hill. My instructor even made me use the handbrake when I was stopped at long red lights so I could rest my foot.

It was really incredibly weird.

I've been thinking about this post since I passed and have struggled with my final conclusion about this whole process. Maybe I went about it all wrong and should have found a teacher who would have allowed one hour lessons over a longer period of time? Or maybe my learning style just didn't click with my particular instructor? He was effective though. The first-try pass rate at my center was only 46%.

Re-learning how to drive in a new country and passing a difficult test just falls under the category of "very painful and annoying things you have to do as an adult to get something that you want" i.e. the only lesson to learn is: sometimes you just have to suck it up.

But if we actually buy a car, it will of course be an automatic, and I plan to rarely use the hand brake, especially not at red lights.

Photo credit: And he marched them down again via photopin (license)

Photo credit: driver woman via photopin (license)


  1. Ah the handbrake! Tim used it on our automatic Clio on the IOW and it got stuck. The AA came out to hammer it loose and told Tim he need not use it. Knowing smile.

    1. I cannot tell you how much satisfaction that story gives me.


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