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May 4, 2012

It doesn’t matter if you’re driving down the M4 Motorway between Cardiff and London, or on an itsy-bitsy, two-lane (that’s the British definition of a one-lane), curvy road, drivers whiz past at incredible speeds.

Or, they sneak up on you, hug your rear bumper and with an agitated look on their faces (you can see them sneering in the rear-view mirror), yank their car out into the road and scream past.

Or, they plow down a hill in the fast lane, when it’s raining cats and dogs (or cows and lambs in this country), going well over the speed limit, creating waves of water that cover your windshield, leaving you blinded while they laugh their way down a “put your car in low-gear, 15-degree incline.”

I’m talking about British drivers, here. They’re mad. Just like their French, Italian and Portuguese cousins. I know. I’ve driven in those countries and it’s enough to scare the pants off of you. (Take note: I’m 65 years old. You DON’T want to do that to me!)

The British driver, regardless of age, has to show his prowess when he’s behind the wheel. He gains his strength by becoming master of the road. She drives her U.S.-styled SUV, the one that takes up most of the already-skinny road, with one hand, yapping on the mobile phone (illegal here), and expects you to stop in your tracks and wave her through. Who does she think she is? Princess Anne?

Now, American drivers aren’t any better. But American drivers didn’t have to sit through hours of study that make university courses look like third grade. They didn’t have to take a theory exam with questions like: “What do you do when a shepherd and his flock are in the road ahead?” Or, how many meters does it take to stop a car, going 70 miles an hour, on a rainy day? No, American drivers only have to recognize where the ignition and accelerator are on the car, know what a STOP sign means, and have to demonstrate that they can drive in a straight line in a vacant parking lot.

In other words, the British driving test ain’t easy!! But all the idiots on the road have taken, and PASSED their driving test! “How,” I wondered?

Not only is there a theory test, you have to take the “hazard test”, indicating with your computer mouse when a hazard “might” occur, and re-indicating when it “does” occur. Many of the 14 hazard test segment videos take place on a grainy computer screen, in nighttime driving conditions, and have windshield wipers flapping in front of your face.

And then there is part three: the practical test, which you can only book AFTER you’ve passed the theory and hazard tests, giving you at least ten days to work your way into a mental frenzy.  On test day, an examiner sits in the passenger seat, telling you where to turn, when to stop, orders a three-point turn, a stab at parallel parking, a cruise on the dual carriageway (that’s a divided highway, for my American friends), up hills, down hills, in traffic, on narrow lanes and through hospital access roads and parking lots. All the while he’s jotting little lines on his grading paper, making you aware you’ve done something wrong, and creating an even tenser atmosphere in the car.

I failed the first time I took my practical test. I was speeding in the hospital area. A “criminal offense” my examiner told me with his eyes narrowed to illustrate the severity of my crime. It was the immediate reason for my failure. I also went too slowly down the hill, in the rain, while minding the “switch to lower gear” sign. He expected me to go at least 60 miles per hour in third gear. Another maniac.

BUT – today was different. Same testing office. Same examiner. Only this time, I kept my eyes on the speedometer, let the steering wheel slide through my hands, used my indicators (turn signals), looked through all the mirrors when I pulled out from a stop and even turned around to see what was in my blind spot. There wasn’t too much I did wrong.

So, after driving for fifty years, after holding a driving license that has no points, no accidents, no bad things on it, after all that time, I am officially a licensed UK driver.

Watch out maniacs…!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 4, 2012 4:35 pm

    I love it! LOL….As you well know, I’m in the same boat, and can’t wait to get the testing over! I wanna be a maniac, too!!!

  2. Trudi permalink
    May 4, 2012 5:00 pm

    Congratulations!!!!!! I knew you’d nail it! Xo

  3. Malcolm permalink
    May 4, 2012 6:10 pm

    WOW told you could do it xx

  4. julie permalink
    May 6, 2012 12:30 pm

    Well done!

  5. Minnie permalink
    May 17, 2012 4:27 pm

    Well done!
    Agree with you: the UK Driving Test is a beast of unimaginable cunning and ferocity. I am reliably informed by friends in Denmark that theirs is a lot worse; it must be a nightmare experience.
    But, yes, take your point about the sheer awfulness of the driving here now. This has become increasingly apparent during past c. 20 years. Why? Impatience/frustration and overcrowding? Don’t know, and not qualified to even hazard a guess; but it is definitely noticeable. That said, I miss having a car – public transport is DIRE in this country.
    Lovely blog. Should like to wish you continuing happiness in Wales, the country where I had my last home.

  6. essayel permalink
    May 24, 2012 8:20 am

    Congratulations. Passing your test here is a heck of an achievement.

    I have spent most of my life within a few miles of where you now live. Driving competence has always been patchy. Some locals drive badly because “well, I’ve never met anything on this corner before” and some are just idiots. Most are okay, they are just fast. That business about being marked down for not driving up to the speed limit is to blame. A whole generation of young drivers have been coached to be bats out of hell!

    Oh but the tourists, bless them! You have to laugh at their utter bemusement at the thought of having to reverse into a passing place to allow the milk lorry to go pass. Some of them just can’t do it. I bet they are ace at the panic stricken dash from traffic light to traffic light in central London, though.

  7. June 11, 2012 10:12 pm

    Bravo, Jann. Now I got my licence by asking a besotted priest to get his ster to give me an Irish one. All I had to do was to give him the money for it. That was decades ago and I went to Ireland for the first time 2 years ago! Valerie

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