Thursday 25 February 2016


After roughly 30 years of driving (I started practicing early shall we say) I am apparently a learner driver. As an English resident and holder of an American driving license, one is only able to use their U.S. driving license here for a year. After this year of grace, shall we say, they must take both the theory, hazard perception and practical driving test in order to obtain their British license. I of course put it off for years for various reasons. One being, we never owned a car and I never needed a license to ride a bike - hallelujah. And two, I always found it preposterous that despite knowing how to drive (with a near impeccable driving record) I had to essentially start over.

England, despite having treaties with other European countries for this exact situation, does not have a treaty with America so that licenses are interchangeable. Get it together UK, we’re allies for god sakes. Your immediate response may be that as we in America drive on the opposite side of the road (and car), it makes sense to have to retake your test if you choose to live in England. Fine, that’s a valid point. Then explain to me why people from France, Spain, Italy and the like don’t have to take the test when they drive on the same side of the road as we Yanks do. (And have you seen how people drive in Italy?!) I am ridiculously logical person and I like things to make sense - and this my friends, makes no sense at all.

Hence, after many years of living over here, I have surrendered and am now awash in learner driving apps, books, theory practice tests, and hazard perception tests (you watch a video and click every time you see a potential hazard. Apparently EVERYTHING is a hazard). On top of all that, I take lessons once a week (with a big fat L on the top of the car) to ‘learn’ how to drive the British way. And no, this does not involve a cup of tea and some shortbread biscuits. Again, I shall give the authorities who demand I take this damn test their fair due and say there are a number of signs I had no clue what they meant. As well as a roundabout is always going to be somewhat of a mystery to anyone sane. But for the most part, driving is driving. It takes common sense, reaction time, patience and common courtesy (which often makes me wonder how anyone human gets their license).

But here in lies the problem: I’m an old dog. A seriously old dog with lots of driving habits I’ve picked up over the years. I’m not saying they’re all good habits but they get me from a to b and they work for me. And now of course, my trusty driving instructor is here to tell me that I have to undo every last one of them in order to pass the test (mother flunky!!!!). So my lessons with my instructor (who has the patience of a saint) go something like this… "Anthea, turn left up here, look in your mirrors before signaling…don’t cross your hands, mirrors…two hands on the wheel; hands…NO crossing…turn ALL the way around and check your blind spot (their insistence I swivel in my chair to the point that I pull my back out is utterly absurd to me, not to mention detrimental to my health)….no crossing hands, Mirrors then signal!" And so on. Let’s just say, I do a lot of heavy sighing as I try to grip the wheel at 10 and 2 appropriately.

But the kicker for me over here is their love of the e-brake. Or as they call it, the hand brake. If you are stopped at any time on the road more than 5 seconds, and you drive a manual car, you have to put your hand brake on. So hence, sitting at a light, ebrake; doing a 3 point turn (at the demanded rate of molasses!), ebrake (swivel, swivel!!), stuck in traffic, e-brake; reversing into a bay parking space (looooook and swivel), ebrake. I have that thing up and down so much my wrist starts to hurt at the end of it. And of course, you can’t make any noise when you pull up the ebrake, or apparently they’ll mark you down for not pushing the button. Sadists. Can I tell you where I want them to stick their ebrake at this point? And you wonder why so many people fail the test the first time out. Of course, most people on the UK roads probably never even use the damn hand brake, but if you don’t on the test you can bet your sweet sterling pound you’re going to have to take it again (and pay every time you do).

The cruel irony, if I manage to pass at the end of all of this, the insurance companies will of course insure me and the car - I don’t even have - as a brand spanking new newbie driver and charge me up the wazoo - despite my 30 years of driving. The worst part of it (to my pride anyway) is that my (British) husband this past year took his test after four months of driving (4 sodding months of driving a car!) and passed it. So of course, the bar has been set and with decades of driving under my belt, I’ll be damned if I let an emergency brake get between me and that shiny invisible car I don’t yet own!

Copyright © 2014 Anthea Anka - Delighted And Disturbed