17 May 2012

Teaching old dogs new tricks. . .

I am happy to report that after almost 20 years of driving--and a full year of those driving in the UK--Keith and I are both newly licensed drivers!!  We were allowed to drive on international licenses for one year, and that year was up in April.  So, it was back to the beginning for us both--the written and the practical driving tests.

We started by calling for driving lessons because Keith heard from numerous people at CAT that the UK test examiners could be very particular.  Lessons ended up being a good idea (even though Keith was annoyed by them) because we had some bad habits of many years to undo. . .like driving with one hand, letting the wheel spin on turns, not checking mirrors in a (obnoxiously) thorough manner, etc.  There were also some new things to get used to:  even with my automatic, I am supposed to apply the hand-brake at any extended stop (like a stop-light,etc).  That one was tough to remember!

Studying for the written test--or the computer--generated multiple choice test--was interesting.  Besides the obvious driving-on-the-left-side-of-the-road things,  most of the rules of the road are pretty similar to the ones in the States.  However, it was the terminology that would throw us.  Here are a few examples:
  • "dazzle"--having your lights on when it isn't necessary or keeping your foot on the brakes instead of using the hand-brake at stop lights.
  • "driving whilst unfit through drink or drugs". . .honestly, I love the word "whilst"
  • "lay-by"--strips of roadside parking or rest areas for drivers
  • "zebra/pelican/puffin/toucan"--these are the four different types of pedestrian crossings
  • "dipped headlights"--normal headlights
  • "main beams"--bright headlights
  • "rumble strips"--speed bumps
  • "level crossing"--railroad crossing
  • "single and dual carriageway"--two-lane and four-(or more) lanes
  • "junctions"--intersections
We took our written tests on computers at a facility in Coventry--about 10 miles from here.  It shames me ;) to report that just like a teenager, I second-guessed myself on a couple of questions and got them wrong--consequently, Keith beat me on that test!  After passing that test, we were then able to book our practical test at a facility here in Hinckley just around the corner from our house.

Keith's test was a couple of weeks before mine.  He went, he drove, he conquered--I was actually a little worried that he might get himself in trouble for not doing some of the little things.  But he passed with only 6 minor faults--mostly because he didn't check his blind spot before pulling out from the side of the road. 

I was really glad to have the extra two weeks of practice.  It was the maneuvers that had me worried. . .or one of them in particular.  You are asked to do one of three things: parallel park (wasn't a real problem except for being on the wrong side of the car), three-point turnaround in the street without touching the curb (again not a real problem except that I don't driving a short little smart car!), or reverse (left) around a corner.  It's this last one that had me fretting. . .it's not a move I do often--if ever. . .I'm on the "wrong" side of the car. . .and I basically psyched myself out worrying about it!  But I had it nailed in the end!

My testing day came around, and it was pouring.  Thought there was a nice symmetry to that since there was an ice storm on my 16th birthday when I took my first driving test!!  I ended up getting the same examiner that Keith had, and everything went really well.  My red L decal flew off in the middle of the lesson (she told me to just leave it and not bother picking it up), but that was really the only rough spot.  We were chatting away the whole time about America, about kids, about holidays, etc. . .in fact, I am ecstatic that I only ended up with two faults for not signaling a turn soon enough, because I got them from being distracted by the conversation!!  And with only two minor faults--I BEAT KEITH!!  :)

So now we have our pink license cards--and they are valid for something like 30 years!  With a year of driving on the small, winding UK roads and parking in some interestingly awkward car parks, we have decided I am a competent enough British driver to go back to a Chrysler mini-van (Grand Voyager).  It's just like what we drove in the States (Town & Country), and I missed her so!  I was worried about driving a bigger car like that here, but I am managing so far and it's so nice to have all the space for all of the girls and all of our junk!  Currently, we call her "The Boat". . .

Driving licenses are ticked off our UK to-do list!  What a relief!  Thank you to Adrian of Adrian's Driving School for all of your help!!