Thursday, 15 April 2010

Driving Issues

On our recent visit to see Sarah in Edinburgh (which was now a few weeks ago, I've just been blogging about it for ages) we were talking about the fact that she is studying to take her driving test this summer. She's made it all the way through university and the first year or so of a job without a car! This reminded me how different things are here to in the US, where the car rules.

In the US, or in Oklahoma anyhow, one is allowed to drive as a learner, with a licensed person in the car with you, from the age of 15. It is possible to get a full driving license at the age of 16. In the UK you must have a provisional license which says you've passed a written theory test and you must be 17 to drive as a learner. Your car must have big red 'L' license plates on it to warn other drivers.

In Oklahoma, it is usual for Juniors or Seniors in High School (the last two years of secondary education) to have a spare study period in their weekly schedule and this is often used for a Driver's Education class. It always seemed that the Driver's Ed teachers were the football coaches, but that might be a coincidence. Learning to drive, when I was in high school, was considered a necessary part of one's education to get out and get a job.

I graduated two years early and only turned 16 a couple of weeks after graduating, so I never took part in this ritual, but I remember watching others do it. I think I got to ride in the car for one of the lessons or something. My Uncle Bernard was the one who got me through the practical driving test. To live in Oklahoma City without a driving license, like my Mom, is to be dependent and very stay-at home, as she was. In the US, the issuing of driving licenses is on a state by state level and rules differ.

Here in the UK, car ownership and driving licenses are a different matter. I used public transport to get to work for 4 1/2 years before getting involved with driving licenses and car ownership. It was very little hardship once I acquired the necessary warm and water proof clothing. In 2007, about 75% of UK households had access to the use of a car; 68% of adults (17+) in Scotland had a full driving license in 2008. Bill and I are a 2 car household, one of the only 26% in the UK. That all sounds rather strange until you consider the vast number of people who live in London where a car is positively a nuisance.

When I got around to getting a UK license, I sailed through the theory test, no problem. However, as the driving tests were not cheap and you had to book an appointment months in advance, I decided to have a few lessons before showing up for the test.

The first guy I picked was a nightmare: he brought his car to my house and when I got in he reeked of beer and cigarettes. He also had a very annoying habit of tapping his pencil on my left knee. I had the distinct feeling it wouldn't be long before it would be his hand instead. He really gave me the creeps. I was so distraught by the end of the lesson that I left my learner's permit in his car. I made Bill take me over to fetch it and I had a long hot shower when we got back home. It was illegal for him to be under the influence while teaching as technically he was in control of the car, but so far as I know, he is still in business.

The next guy was very nice, though so very large I wasn't quite sure how we would both fit in his little car. It worked out OK, though. At £16 per hour I was keen to get through all this soon, but sadly I didn't pass my first driving test. All those close manouevers that we don't worry much about in Oklahoma, where you have the entire South 40 acres to park, they very much count in this tiny country where the streets are narrow and teeming with pedestrians. I was pretty upset about not passing, particularly as I failed with the first manoever: backing around a corner. I got around, just not very neatly. I did get through the second test, thankfully.

Not long after I was doing that, the laws changed and a person had to have at least 16 hours of driving instruction signed off by a certified instructor before they could take their practical driving test. The driving test people felt they were putting their lives at risk, not knowing what the person could or couldn't do before taking the test. I could understand their concerns.

Car ownership is quite expensive over here compared with in the US. Bill has exclaimed at the cost of new cars as advertised in American magazines compared with here. Last I did the calculations, petrol here cost about 5 times what it did in Oklahoma. There is also the usual cost of insurance and road tax, not to mention car maintenance, etc. I've yet to find a car mechanic that I'm happy with.

I'm thinking of selling my car as I drive less than 4,000 miles per year, if that. It is generally accepted here that you need to drive at least 6,000 miles per year to make car ownership cost effective. Last I calculated I spent about £60 per month for my car. The annual pass that I had last cost about £500 per year, but that is now up to £840, which doesn't work for me. Nevertheless, I could make about 20 journeys into Newcastle for that £60, far more than I would need. I must admit, it is hard to let go of the convenience...

Anyhow, in a later conversation, Simon remembered a couple of the sayings his instructor had given him to remember:

Use of handbrake (important with hilly streets and standard transmission cars to maintain absolute control):

"When a pause becomes a wait, use your handbrake!"

When approaching an intersection with poor visibility, before turning,

"Creep and peep"

Anyhow, on our last night in Edinburgh, we went out

to dinner near the Leith Docks, where the former industries are being replaced with shops and restaurants, as is happening with many water front areas in the UK.


Rick Stone said...

Fortunately or unfortunately things change. Now in Oklahoma driver's ed is no longer offered in the schools due to budget constraints. They have changed the licensing of young drivers. Although they still get a license at age 16 they are restricted to the hours of the day they can drive and the number of passengers. These restrictions go until they turn 18. These have lowered the number of accidents and fatalities for our young people.

Personally, although I did take driver's ed in high school I did not get a driver's license until I was 17 since I did not have anything to drive. Mother did not drive and Pop drove a company car. Mom got her license a month before I did when Pop bought her very first car that Christmas.

Shelley said...

Rick - I think that's a move towards the positive. All those youngsters 'cruising' the streets after dark, can't have been a good thing (not that I'm ageist or anything...). I was going to go to university the coming fall in Edmond, and since I would still be living at home and my Dad took the one car to work everyday, one of my 16th BD gifts was a 5 year old Chevy Malibu. Mind, it had been in a wreck and the passenger side looked like crumpled aluminium foil!

Anonymous said...

Edinburgh is a beautiful city! I absolutely love it there.

In Jersey, people cannot get drivers license until 18 now.

Rick Stone said...

Yep, the restricted license for young drivers is a good thing. They are also restricted from driving after 11:00pm (16/17 year olds) unless they can show they are going to/from work. I do regret the demize of Driver's Education classes in the public schools. I always felt they were very useful and should be continued but budget contraints seemed to have carried the day on this one.

Sounds like getting a license in the UK is much harder than on this side of the pond. An American needing to get a license in that country would probably need some "extra" training to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road. ;->