So as a US citizen who has been driving since I was allowed to, I have been doing it for about 13 years. I have driven in the Czech Republic and New Zealand on my U.S. license without a bother. Well, well not here in Ireland! Ok, to be fair, I was allowed to drive on my current license for one year. After that year, I would need to get an Irish license.
Now, for other E.U. citizens this is an easy enough process. You go to the Irish equivalent of the DMV and exchange your French, German, Italian or Whatever drivers license for an Irish one. Boom. Bang. Done. Easy peasy. Not so easy for a non E.U. citizen, aka me. For anyone outside of the E.U. to drive in Ireland you need to get an Irish license. That includes a heap of time and money and being treated like a total beginner.
First of all someone interested in getting a learners permit has to take a theory test. This theory test consists of questions about road signs, road markings, the distance to keep between cars, and the theory behind certain scenarios while driving. I went out and bought a CD rom program that had all of the possible questions divided into categories and the tests to take. Then I scheduled the theory test and studied some more. I took the test and passed. First hurdle complete. With the learners permit I’d be allowed to drive with a full licensed driver everywhere except on motorways. I’d also need to display I big red letter “L” on the car. It seems very few people actually do either of those things. I managed to avoid the “L” and having a passenger all the time by still being allowed to drive on my U.S. license. Phew.
The next step after getting a learners permit is to take 12, one- hour lessons. Each at about 30 Euro per lesson, maybe more. Needless to say, getting driving lessons for Christmas is a big deal for a lot of Irish youths!
At the time I was contemplating getting lessons, it would have been a lesson per year I had been driving. Not a fun prospect, because it was having to completely readjust how I had been driving to follow a very strict set of guidelines. What got me for a long time was how I was taught to steer in the U.S. versus in Ireland. In the US, many years ago, I was taught the hand over hand steering method. Now maybe it has changed since then, but that’s how I’ve been doing it. In Ireland, you have to feed the wheel between your hands which are at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock. Very strange and it didn’t feel right at all.
Once the lessons have been completed, one has to schedule the driving test. The wait time for most of the test centers is 8-10 weeks and the pass rates hover around 50%, 41% at the test center I was going to. Eight to ten weeks is plenty of time to forget the lessons and the pass rate isn’t very comforting. It is normal to take a few pre-test lessons to prep for the test and boost confidence. One a week before and another the same day as the driving test. I did all that.
Now, I don’t take tests well. Someone could try to test me about spoken English and I’d probably be nervous I’d mess something up. I also get a bit nervous driving for the first time with someone I’ve never driven with before. My driving instructor had me for a pre- test lesson and said I was a very strong candidate to pass, just not to let my nerves get to me. Well, they did. With 12 years of experience and a good number of lessons, I got so nervous I drove like a total newbie. The worst part was, was that I didn’t realize I’d failed until I got back. Now, when I got the results some of them seemed a bit harsh because I hadn’t had any issue with that prospect in any of the lessons. That was a bit annoying, but the fail was a fail and I raged around a bit because of it.
That same day I rescheduled a test. A few weeks later, I took a few more pre-test lessons with a different instructor (my other one was on holiday) and was told again I was a strong candidate to pass. The day of the test, I walked into the test center and wait in front of the driver who had failed me last time.
I was so happy. The nerves from driving with someone new weren’t at play, because I’d driven with him. I knew what he was looking for in driving and I knew he was nice. He recognized me as well. We went out to drive and did the maneuvers very first. I had to reverse around a corner and do a three- point turn without hitting any curbs, aced those. To be honest, I usually do. Reversing isn’t hard anymore. Then we drove around for 30 minutes. And we chatted. That put me at ease as well, last time he tested me, he had an iPad that he marked me on and was quiet except to supply directions. This time he had a clipboard and paper and pencil and we chatted merrily about all sorts of things.
At one point he was saying how it was hard to be posted in one test center because people would get annoyed and hold grudges if you fail them more than once. My response to that was “You aren’t subtly trying to ready me for bad news are you?” He chuckled and said no. Ok, that was going well. We got back into the test center and he turned to me and told me I had passed. Not only passed, by passed without making a single mistake. He also said I was an “excellent driver”.
As a “New” driver, I have to display a big red letter “N” in the car for two years. Instead of thinking of it as demeaning because I am in now way a new driver, I consider it a badge of honor having gone through the hurdles of the system.
I was delighted. I was on Cloud 9. I took the certificate of competency and all other documents needed to apply for the license directly to the Irish DMV. Woohoo! An ordeal is over and I don’t have to worry about Irish driving licenses, tests, checking my mirrors in a very specific order, or feeding the steering wheel between my hands for another 10 years!
Note: If I had failed the test again, I was very seriously considering writing to the Illinois governing body asking them to draft an agreement with Ireland to recognize each other’s driving licenses. I’m glad I didn’t have to go that route!