Posts filed under 'uk drivers license'

Driving in the UK: Quick Tips

This will be my last post on getting your UK license/overall driving in the UK (until I discover yet another weird caveat to driving here). E doesn’t understand how there’s MORE to say about driving here…but I reminded him of our parking ticket, traffic ticket, missing side mirrors, general confusion, and multiple month long process of obtaining a license.  And I just wanted to compile a little list of oddities I’ve encountered, things I think you should know about, or just humorous little tidbits.

Driving test related quick tips

Look, signal, and maneuver – This may not seem that difficult to grasp or seem that important…but it is. In the states we are generally taught to signal, look, then move. Here (to pass your test) you have to look in every single direction, check for bikers, and blind spots before you even think about touching that turn signal.

Speed Bumps – the are quite large and can be placed differently across the road- but you’re supposed to straddle them. Even if that means (that due to parking) that means going into the complete wrong side of the road if that’s the only place you can straddle the bump- because the goal is to make the person testing you as comfortable as possible.

Four Maneuvers – During your driving test you’ll be asked to perform one of four maneuvers. You won’t know which until your asked. You can make errors on the maneuver and still pass- unless you drive over a kerb. That’s an automatic fail. But you can hit the kerb, then pull forward and straighten out. During every maneuver you must look every direction 1,000 times. It makes actually completing the maneuver distracting.

  • Back In – Backing into a bay parking spot. Easy enough but make sure you practice it.
  • Parallel Park – also, not difficult. But you need to be a full car length behind the car in front of you (see road behind the tires of the car in front of you) and between 8-12 inches from the car. This is not Chicago squeeze in as close as possible parallel parking. Learning this should explain all your rage when trying to find a parking spot and freaking out because everyone could move up 6 more inches and create 10 more parking spots.
  • Three-point turn– don’t forget to swivel your head 100x more than actually necessary.
  • Back around the corner – yes, this is a maneuver. I have never in life encountered a situation where I would need to do this. But I actually have seen it down and if you mock it, the Scots will tell you all about how this is a maneuver they use all the time. It just seems illogical to me to encourage people to reverse down the road. But yeah, backing down a road- totally normally here.

Dazzled – All over your written test you will see/read the word ‘dazzled’ in regards to driving. You must avoid dazzling other drivers at all costs! Fog lights dazzle drivers. Reverse lights dazzle drivers. Hazard lights dazzle drivers. High beams (or brights) dazzle people. People are just easily dazzled in Scotland.

Emergency Stop – this may or may not happen during your driving test. E got one, but I didn’t. You literally just slam on the breaks as hard as you possibly can. No messing around.  Make sure your back seats and locked so they don’t flip down. Make sure you don’t have a soccer ball in your backseat that will fly forward and break your mirror or anything. Seriously.

Pull Over Anywhere – literally you can (and will be encouraged to) pull over anywhere. As long as there aren’t 2 yellow lines. But you will be asked to stop and pull over on busy country roads with no kerb and a straight drop off to a ditch…totally inconveniencing everyone around you- but it doesn’t matter. I got asked no less than 10 times to randomly pull over during my test.

No Hazard Lights – hazard lights are like a dirty word here. I don’t know when you’re supposed to use them other than never. They might dazzle a driver. Also you’ll have to drop your automatic into neutral with a parking brake instead of park…because to get to park you go through reverse which having your reverse lights flick on for a second might either dazzle the driver behind you or confuse them…as if they aren’t already confused what the hell you’re doing pulling over at such a stupid place on the road blocking all traffic.

Parking Brake – they don’t care if you have an automatic, every time you come to stop you must put the parking brake on.

BYOML – Bring your own mirror and L-plates. I have no idea why the test administrator doesn’t have his/her own since they do the job all day every day. But nope. You need to bring “L” learner’s tags for the front and back of your car and your own suction cup mirror for the test administrator to use.

Passport Date Fear – Your driving instructor may put the fear in you that you can’t drive yourself to your test, especially if you technically aren’t supposed to be driving. But I can say they didn’t check E or I’s visa/passport date to see when we entered the country. So I wouldn’t worry about it.

General driving in the UK tips

 Parking ALL directions – You might turn down a road and see cars facing you parked on both sides of the road and suddenly freak out that you’ve turned the wrong way down a one way. Fear not. Most times you haven’t. You’re just allowed to park any direction you please.

Must be a one way road – See above. And in addition, you turn down a road, and there’s cars parked on each side, and you see a car coming at you, and this road CAN’T POSSIBLY BE A TWO WAY ROAD BECAUSE YOU SIMPLY CAN NOT FIT TWO CARS PASSING EACH OTHER ON IT. But, it is actually a two-way road. And furthermore, this is almost every neighborhood road in Scotland. You really practice your patience waiting for an oncoming car to pass through.

Parking Garages – they have them and they didn’t design them well. Sometimes you go wind up at a dead end in the parking garage and have to do a 42-point turn to get out. A lot of the time you won’t be able to make it up around the next floor’s corner without a reverse involved.

Unnamed Roads – Quite common. Not in any downtown, but I live under 5 miles from the city centre of Aberdeen, and you have to turn onto two unnamed roads to get to my house. Do you know how hard that makes giving directions?

Disappearing Lane Markings – you might be driving down the road, clearly seeing the dividing line between your lane and the other. And all of a sudden that lane marking disappears, only to reappear 10 yards later. When the lane divider disappears, suck it in! That means that out of nowhere on that wee bit of road it’s not actually two lanes anymore. As in, there isn’t room for two proper lanes.

Handmade Road Signs – You learn those are the ones you should listen to the most.

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Dual Carriageway – A proper American highway! Two lanes of traffic going each way and a median!

Stop Signs – There aren’t any! Okay, I’ve seen about 7 since I moved here over a year ago. Yield. Always a yield. Generally just the triangle painted on the pavement. Be careful not to miss it or you could end up blowing through an intersection and getting sideswiped.

Tire Pressure – Apparently Scots are really stressed to an extreme level the importance of tire pressure awareness. There is always a line 3 deep to fill up your tires.

Gas Station Etiquette – Gas stations are one way. One way in, one way out. But it’s not marked as such. You’ll just realize it when everyone is glaring at you. To that end, all the gas pump hoses are extra long so you can almost always fill up regardless of what side your tank actually is.

Winter/Snow Tires – extremely overused in this country. Possibly another fear mongering tactic. Although I might eat my words now that I live in the country…But we drive through some pretty rough snow and conditions in the Midwest and I don’t know anyone who swaps out their tires in the winter.

Set Speed Limits – you won’t find many speed limit signs in Scotland. More than anything you’ll see this sign.040924_cb_mp_comm_sign_001

That sign means national speed limits apply. And 90% of the time, all speed limits and signs are just national speed limits. Here are the rules:

  1. Dual Carriageway: 70
  2. Residential Areas w. Street Lights : 30
  3. Anywhere else: 60

The only time when it’s different than that is in some residential areas where they speed limit will be posted as 20. Those are your options: 70, 60, 30, and 20 mph. That means that on crazy ass absolute pitch black windy unmarked narrow roads with sheep jumping across….it’s 60 mph.

Driving Legally in the UK Part 2

We’re back to {hopefully} finish off how to get your UK license as an American. So you have your provisional license, you’ve signed up for your theory test, and you’ve been studying. If you got the app (which I strongly recommend) and have been taking practice tests, you might find yourself in fits of laughter over some of the questions. These are a few of my favorites:IMG_0605 IMG_0604 IMG_0601 IMG_0603 IMG_0602 IMG_0596 IMG_0597 IMG_0598 IMG_0599 IMG_0600

What did you notice from those? A lot of sheep questions, questions about towing things, first aid questions, and a question about how to drive in an ecosafe manner. What the what? Yeah, your theory test covers a wide range of questions with the likes you’ve never (or would ever) see on a USA driving test. I think you have to apply to get a towing license, but that doesn’t stop the possibility from being asked about it. You also need to know first aid stuff and other random car stuff like how you would tell if your brake fluid is low or how to properly adjust you’re the head restraint in your car. Oh and there are questions about different shifting into different gears and things even if you’re only taking your test on an automatic. They don’t care. Car maintenance questions can be on the theory test, but even more so when you take your driving test. I’ll be back to that.

So you come to take your theory test and it is NOT taken lightly here. You will be checked in with a valid photo ID, sign a form, and then have to put all your belongings in a locker. No jewelry, phones, watches are allowed. You then will be called up again, ID checked again by the receptionist, then go to another women who’s in charge of the room where the test gets taken. She’ll check your ID. Then you have to pull up sleeves and show her your arms, turn your pockets out (literally), and I had to lift my hair so she can see behind my ears and neck. She’ll keep your ID while you go to the computer to take the test. After the test, I think she checks your ID again and you wait for a couple minutes to see if you’ve passed. The receptionist calls you up then and tells you if you’ve passed, and after another check of ID will give you the piece of paper stating you’ve passed. They say you cannot loose this sheet of paper because you need to give it when doing your driving test. Though I did NOT have to have this piece of paper, it’s probably better for everyone if you don’t lose it.

Back to the theory test. It’s 50 multiple-choice questions. You can flag ones you are unsure of to revisit. I think I flagged 5 so I was a little worried, but I ended up missing 3 of them so I passed that. The next part is the hazard awareness driver stimulation part. I’m sad to say I didn’t have to dodge any sheep, but E had two different stimulations dodging sheep. You get points based on how quickly you see a potential hazard. But if you press too soon (before it actually becomes a hazard) it won’t count. You get 5 points for being spot on, and as each second goes down less points. You can click a few times but you can only click so many times (maybe 5?) for the entire video or they think you’re trying to cheat the system. So whenever I would see a hazard I would click, wait a second, then click again because if I was too early it would get me 0 points. You can get up to 75 points total on that part- 14 clips, 13 of them with one hazard and one with two hazards that they don’t tell you about beforehand. E did worse than me and only got 44 out of 75 but still passed…. Have no idea what I’m talking about. Click HERE for a little example of our hazard perception test hell. http://www.theory-test-online.co.uk/free-hazard-perception-test-demo.htm

The day after you’ve passed your theory test you’re allowed to sign up for your driving test. So I passed my theory test on Monday August 10th.   I went to sign up Tuesday morning and the earliest driving test appointment available was November 23rd.  You’re allowed to log in as many times a day as you want and change test dates to earlier if appointments open up, as long as you don’t cancel your appointment less than 24 hours in advance- you’d be charged for that. So I checked the website several times a day and got my November 23rd moved up to November 2nd, and then another jump up to October 27th. At the end of August my driving instructor tipped me off that there was a demand for it so they’ve added a bunch more appointments, I was able to log in and get one of the new appointments for October 1st and then never looked again. But that was over a month and a half after passing my theory test. Meanwhile, I wasn’t supposed to be driving after July 28 and was driving illegally the whole while. NOT IDEAL. But what else could I do…be housebound with the sheep?

I should also note you can sign up to take your driving test anywhere in Scotland. There are two locations near me, by the Bridge of Don (north) or Cove, just south of me. I had always heard Cove was easier so both E and I went there. Apparently you can see pass/fail rates online and someone just told me the pass rates for those two locations are about 50% where as if you go out to Ballater it’s 70%. Something to think about if you’re that scared.

So test day came. E had warned me in advance, “Lauren….I don’t care what you think, tell them you love Disney World.” Because there’s this awful bit that a lot of Brits that come to the USA only go to Florida to go to Disney or go to Las Vegas. And I mean I love Vegas, but I don’t think that’s where you should go coming to America on your only USA holiday. And Disney…I am just not a Disney person. The idea of the hot, acne-ridden, sweaty man hiding behind the mouse head gives me the willies. And the little girls with the princess package…it’s like they come out ready for preemie prostitution tryouts. I digress. Sure enough my instructor did tell me all about his timeshare right outside the gates. And yes, I played along and said how much I looooove Disney! “Oh the kid in all of us, it’s just magical!” Hork.

Anyway so at Cove you go into the building and you’re the only car in the lot and the only person in the waiting room and you just sit there and wait and it’s weird. Finally the instructor comes out and you head outside where you have to read some license plates that are zip tied to the fence to make sure your vision is alright. Then you get to the car and you are asked a “show me” and a “tell me” question. Word on the street is if you don’t get these right, you fail automatically and don’t take the test. E’s questions were show me how to turn on your fog lights and tell me how you’d use your horn. My questions were tell me how you’d know what your tire pressure should be and show me how you’d correctly set your head restraint. You can see the whole list here but this is where you need to know some stuff: how to check your oil (and maybe more so hot to pop the hood of your car!) and the exact way they want you to answer the question.

In the test you can have 15 minor errors, but there are a list of things that if you foul up will be an automatic failure. For example: improper signaling in a roundabout equals automatic failure. Driving over a curb when asked to do one of the four maneuvers is automatic failure. I think I was told if you happen to drive past a car in the right lane (fast lane) from the slow lane it’s an automatic failure. Even if that person is going 15 mph below the speed limit, you are NOT allowed to be passing (or overtaking as they say here) from the left lane. All kinds of random stuff. And if you do one minor thing more than 3 to 5 times, that counts as a major and you’ll be automatically failed. Like if you pull out from a random pull over (which they’ll have you do at least 8 times) and don’t turn your head to look in your blind spots. Get that wrong 3 times and you could fail. I also heard they don’t tell you you’ve failed until you’re all done, which sucks.FullSizeRender (11)

So I got 3 minor errors on my test. In the maneuver I was asked to do (back around a corner) I hit the curb. I thought that failed me but I didn’t drive over the curb (it’s spelled kerb here just FYI) so I guess that’s why I passed. But I got two minors for that, I think 1 for hitting the curb and one for lack of control in reverse since it obviously went narrow. I just straightened the car out and then backed up again. I also had one deduction for mirror use- not sure when. But they want you to constantly be using your mirrors…when you take the test just move your head around like a parrot on crack.

FullSizeRender (10)The test lasts about 40 minutes. Afterward I wasn’t sure if I passed or failed due to the curb. In fact I spent the last 20 minutes of the test doing a pep talk in my brain not to cry, that it’s okay, I’ll just take the test again. So we pull back into the center and he (I think) says I passed, but then starts talking about all the stuff I did wrong. And then he mentioned something about doing something wrong at the roundabout, but I got stopped by the light, and if I hadn’t I would have been endangering lives and would have automatically failed (oh yeah, life endangerment is automatic failure) but I was able to correct whatever it was I did wrong when I got stopped.   No idea. But then I really thought I failed, but next thing I knew he was filling out my Test Pass Certificate.   I got that and had to turn in my provisional, but in exactly 2 weeks my real license came in the mail.

HALLELUJAH!

So that’s the process…let me know if you have any questions. I’ll also be providing a little tips/tricks/lessons post for UK driving next week.

Driving Legally in the UK

Hey, hey, hey future (or current) UK expats! How’s driving on the wrong left side of the road? And more so, should you actually be driving at all? I’ll share what I did, what I recommend you do, and the laws and tips and tricks as best I know them. This will be Part 1 of 2 in posts concerning getting your driving life sorted in the UK, aka getting your UK driving license as an American…the only country I can speak on behalf since I’m American.images

First things first, REGISTER FOR YOUR PROVISIONAL DRIVING LICENSE ASAP. The sooner the better. Like As soon as BT sets up your home Internet. Why? Because the whole process can be a very long, super pain in the ass and you could wind up either driving without insurance illegally or being on house arrest. Not so bad if you live in the hopping downtown area of Aberdeen, but if you have more neighbors with four legs instead of two, it’s a bit of a problem.

Coming from America with a valid American drivers license, you can legally drive in the UK for exactly one year from your visa’s date of entry. Getting insurance is a whole different issue. We were lucky in that we get one company car that the company takes care of insurance for us. I have no idea what company they use and how they go about it, but they were able to insure us with our American license info. For our other sweet little hatchback commuter car, we had to insure on our own. In the UK car insurance doesn’t work the way it does in the US. Your insurance is specific to who is driving the car (and possibly even down to what days the respective person drives and what distances). You actually can’t just let your friend drive your car and have your insurance cover them- the insurance is person specific. So both E and I had to be individually insured on the car.

So, it should be noted in this process, you need to get insurance after you buy your car, before you can drive it home. If you buy it from a proper car lot they probably won’t let you drive it off the lot until you come back with proof of insurance. Something to consider.

I was told that only Geico insurance would accept our American license numbers and driving histories. Now I’m hearing differently, but regardless several expats did recommend Geico to us and it was easy (and cheap) enough. But I’d advise to use a quote comparison site (very common here) like GoCompare.com and perhaps reach out to Geico independently as well to get a quote. And don’t be concerned when your quotes for insurance are from the grocery store and post office…everyone offers every kind of insurance here.

Anyway…while you can continue paying your car insurance premiums after your year in the UK (Geico isn’t going to stop taking your money) if you get in an accident, you won’t be covered. When the claim comes through they will say, “Sorry, it was up to you to get a UK license and alert us to it, you’re no longer a valid driver in the UK. Not our problem.” Don’t expect anyone to chase you down to get a valid license. Although, E’s company did email us telling us the month before our year mark that after 30 days we’re not allowed to drive the company car until we send them our UK license info, but insurance providers won’t.

We had actually started the license process before we got that email (like a couple months before), but even still we didn’t get our UK licenses in time. And I’m not too proud to admit that we were driving illegally for some time. E for a month and me for about two months. Luckily, nothing happened…but if we did get in an accident we would have been screwed.

So you should notice that timeline of a couple months over the year mark despite starting the process a couple months prior. This is a shining example of how unlike the states this process is.

So what do you need to do? You need to first and foremost, apply for your provisional license. You do this online here and it costs £34. You’re thinking oh, this is easy, you apply online and they send you your license. But you’re wrong. In 2 weeks time post applying, you’ll get a form in the mail that you’ll have to fill out and mail back in with your passport/visa. That process takes another two weeks. But what if you have a trip coming up? Well, you can’t risk your passport not getting back to you in time so you think okay I’ll send this in next month. BUT, you only have two weeks time to send back in your paperwork and passport since applying. So you’ll then have to call and get an extension, which is what I had to do because I was going to Portugal. I WENT TO PORTUGAL IN JUNE. I DIDN’T GET MY LICENSE UNTIL OCTOBER 1. TAKE NOTE.

So getting the extension was easy enough. So E mailed his passport and paperwork back in. In two weeks time (everything runs on two weeks time almost exactly to the day in this process) it came back to him and was explained he had to re-fill it out and submit because he sent in his current passport, not the expired one that has his visa on it. So he just lost two weeks in error and had to resubmit sending BOTH passports. When I returned from Portugal I sent filled out the paperwork and sent in my passport (which is current AND holds my visa). But two weeks later I got it sent back saying that I had to resubmit the form because my signature strayed outside the box. Seriously the bottom of my “B” dipped below the box and it was declared invalid. So lessons you can take away from this: you’ll need in extension if you’re traveling, send in visa and current passport if they are different, and do not, even just barely, cross the parameters of the box in your signature.

Okay so if you do it all correctly you get your Provisional Driving License back. Hurrah. Now what?

First things first, sign up to take your theory test. It generally takes about 2 weeks (there’s that number again) to 4 weeks to get a slot to take the provisional test. You can’t register to take the test until you get your provisional driver’s license number. You can sign up here and it costs £25. I think it’s beneficial to have been physically driving in the UK prior to taking the test. And in all honesty, you should get behind the wheel pretty soon after moving here. Yes it’s scary and takes a lot of concentration and reminding yourself, “left, left, left” every time you pull out onto a road, but bite the bullet and dive in. Everyone else does it, don’t be a Nancy. You’ll figure it out.

57887_signsIt is also THOROUGHLY recommended to get driving lessons. Some expat packages include this, ours did not. I protested to driving lessons kicking and screaming. I am GREAT (taxi-style) driver in the states! I’ve been driving for 15 years! Why would I need a lesson?! Um, I actually needed about 3 lessons. Driving is different here.  Trust me.  And I would NOT have passed the driving test if I didn’t have them. If you’re in Aberdeen I have a great instructor that I’ll be happy to pass on. His lessons cost £30 an hour and most lessons are booked for an hour and a half. More on physically driving in the UK in Part 2. Not only driving here prior to the theory, but I would also recommend having 1 driving lesson before taking the theory test. Not mandatory, but I think it only helped.

Otherwise, in terms of studying for the theory test there are two options. There is the official book or you can purchase the DVSA Theory Test Kit App which cost about £5. I kind of used both since the book was given to me (which I paid it forward giving it to someone else) but the reason I passed was because of the app. I read through the highway code on the app, but liked to study the signs with the book and with the important numbers and stats you need- it was nice to bookmark them in the book. But the book includes all like 1000 questions you MIGHT be asked on your theory test. You’ll never get through them and know them all. The app does practice tests. I took 10 and scored passing in all 10. That signified I was ready and saw a nice mix of questions. The app also has the hazard perception test. You read right. Hazard perception. You do driving stimulation and have hazards jump out (literally in some cases when they throw sheep across the screen) and time how long it takes you to respond. I’m not joking….

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So I’ll give you a minute to catch up, sign up for your provisional, and start studying before part 2 (hopefully next week). In the meantime, if you’re still under that year since you came into the UK, you can drive as normal. If you’re over that year, the provisional is like your learner’s permit in the states. You can only drive with someone who has their UK license (and has had it for over a year!). It does not matter that you’ve been driving all around the country for a year already. You are now unfit to drive alone and your insurance might not cover you.