Wednesday, 6 April 2016

My UK driving licence experience!

Truth be told, my year so far has been centred around getting my driving licence. I quit my job at the end of last year because I felt burnt out in hospitality and decided that I'll have a career change in the new year.

After looking and applying for a lot of ads, I didn't get to the interview phase with bigger agencies because I didn't have a driving licence. No one seemed to care that I don't have experience in the field yet, all they saw was that I couldn't drive. So, I decided to live from my savings, get some rest and concentrate on learning to drive. I expected to get it in 1-2 months with an intensive course. Unfortunately, plans don't always turn out the way you imagine, but I can happily say that yesterday I finally passed my practical test for the second time!:)

I wanted to share my experience because this is what filled my life and mind in the past 3 months and reading and watching others' experiences in this topic really helped me.

My first test was a strange one, my examiner got sick, so a gentleman who usually does the instructors' tests stepped in and did my test. I think he tried to go easy on me because I had to wait an extra 15-20 minutes to start the test because he had something else to do before. 
I got the 3 point turn which I like the least because there is no challenge in it, but is considered the easiest manoeuvre, I only had to stop once on the side of the road and the route wasn't a difficult one either. But I still managed to mess it up in the last 5 minutes when we already headed back to the centre... And of course it was a multi-lane roundabout with the lines not painted on, and I simply hate those because I can't see where I should go and I always end up in the wrong lane. I ended up in the middle lane instead of the left lane while cutting in front of another car who was following the right lane and so I failed with one serious and 5 minors. I was super disappointed because I was so positive before the test and the one thing I was afraid of was the big roundabouts, and obviously, I failed on one of those. Law of attraction or what?

In a way, this is all a mind game. You need to believe that you can do it because if even for a second you question or doubt yourself, you probably gonna fail. 

There must be a minimum of 10 working days between the tests, so I decided to take more lessons, and concentrate on my weakness, the roundabout. 

I had my second test yesterday, and I had a nice lady as my examiner. I got the reverse around the corner which is my favourite manoeuvre although I probably would never use it. Everything went fine, I was a bit nervous in the beginning but I was more determined that I'm gonna drive as good as possible, not rush and be on top of the situation. I felt that it was a good drive, and yes, I passed. I got 4 minors, two for not driving fast enough.Which is ironic because I was always told by my instructor to go slower...

I broke down the whole driving licence process into 10 points adding some tips that I learned along the way:

1. Provisional Driving Licence
This is step one in the driving journey. Try to apply for your provisional as soon as you can because it can take up to 3 weeks until they send the licence. Without this you can't apply for your theory or practical test, nor can you practice the actual driving. Keep in mind that you will need to send your actual passport in which also might take 3 weeks to come back to you, so if you have travel plans, maybe postpone this application after you came back.

2. Be prepared for all financial costs
Learning to drive in London is bloody expensive. I was prepared to part with £1200-1500 tops, and I ended up spending way more than that, which is very annoying. (I give you a breakdown of all my driving costs at the end of the post.)
Before you start the whole process just think about the financial side of things, especially if you're in a hurry to get your licence. Obviously, there are costs you can cut throughout. 
Such as applying online for your provisional and not by post, choosing a cheaper school (hourly fees can vary between £17-£30 in London, and learning on automatic is always more expensive than manual), or choosing to have a fast exam, which will cost you an extra £45 above the exam fee and the car usage or you are willing to wait for 2-3 months to have a test date. Also, practical tests on weekends and in the evenings will cost you more.
Obviously passing both your tests first time will save you a lot of money as well as time. The biggest cost is taking lessons so if you have anyone with a car to help you with your driving you can massively cut your expenses. 

3. Find an instructor who will suit your needs
As we all are different are needs vary, some people need an instructor who will tell and repeat everything numerous times, when to change gear, when to slow down, where to look etc, others like to slowly figure out themselves after being told once.

If you feel that you don't improve as fast as you'd like, or the instructor only wants to get more hours and money from you, don't be afraid to switch instructors. It's your money after all.

I was browsing through different driving schools, and actually only the third school I called up was able to fit me in their schedule. So be prepared that the school or instructor you find online might not be able to take you right away and you'll have to make numerous calls until you find an instructor open for new pupils. 

I found an instructor for a relatively cheap hourly price in my area, who was good and fitted my needs. I quickly had to realise though that I won't be able to do a very intensive course because my full concentration lasted 2-3 hours maximum.

4. Practice, practice, practice
If you're like me and never drove a car before in your life, I would definitely recommend booking some lessons with a professional driving instructor and if you have a family member or friend you can practice with on the side, that is great. I think the recommended driving is 48 hours with an instructor and an other 22 hours of private practice. 
Practice all the manoeuvres until you can't get them wrong! Drive in rain, sunshine, high-speed dual carriageways, and on busy roads. Try to experience all weather and road conditions so nothing can come up on the exam that you haven't seen or done before. Also ask your instructor to take you around the test centre area, especially if it's not where you live. Mine took me there several times and showed where pupils tend to fail their tests, and what to look out for on different road situations. 

5. Book your test date
As soon as I received my provisional licence I applied for my theory test. The first date I could get was 3 weeks ahead, but I learned the Highway Code and the signs, I practised the multiple questions and the Hazard Perception and I passed the first time. I was really happy. What I didn't know, (and I guess just assumed because that's how it is back in Hungary) is that in the UK I could have started my driving lessons while I didn't pass my theory yet. And potentially could have saved 3 weeks, but what's done is done now. I planned to get my licence fast (that didn't go my way really...) so I asked my instructor to apply for me and she could get me a date in 1-2 weeks time for an extra £45. 
I believe that if you are meant to pass the test, you will, but if you can why not make it easier and increase your chances. Try to book a date that lies outside of rush hour. The fewer people and cars on the road, the less mistake you'll make because of them. 
Also, try to get a time before school is over because teenagers running around driven by hormones won't care that you are having a life changing test. So I would say that between 10 am and 2 pm Monday-Thursday is the best time to have your practical test. Both of mine started at 13:35 and most of the roads were clear during them.

6. Get ready for the exam
Get a good night sleep on the night before your test and in the morning allow yourself enough time to get ready, don't start the day rushing and being nervous about being late. Don't stress yourself without a reason.
What I would recommend is to book an extra 1-2 hours right before your exam so you get into the driving mode, talk through what you need to have special attention on, go through the ''Show me, tell me'' questions and go to the test centre. 
Arrive 10-15 minutes early to have a toilet break(you gonna be nervous enough, you don't want to be extra uncomfortable because of your full bladder), drink some water and maybe tuck in a chocolate for some extra energy. I would also recommend having a chewing gum in your mouth while on the test because all the chewing will calm your nerves. 

7. On the exam
In the test centre, you'll have your practical test at the same time with other 6-8 people. The examiners come out one by one, calling everyone, checking the provisional driving licences, then you have to sign some papers and off you go to the car. On the way to the car the examiner will point out a car around 20m ahead and you'll need to read the licence plate, just to make sure your eyesight is ok. 
Then by the car, you are asked 1 show me, and 1 tell me question, that you had to go through with your instructor previously. It's 19 questions that you have to memorise, not a big deal, you can find many videos on YouTube on this topic. You won't fail if you can't answer these questions but it doesn't look good if you couldn't make the effort to learn them ahead of your test. After these questions, the examiner checks the car, while you sit in the car, and get yourself ready to go.

8. Driving
I would recommend that you pick a spot to park with your instructor where it's easy to set off from, where you don't need to do turns, where you're not jammed between two cars, where there is no slope in the road etc... While the examiner checks the car, start looking around what is happening on the road, if you see a bicycle coming a bit further behind keeping in mind that by the time you get going it would arrive next to you, or children playing, runners... Take a deep breath before he/she sits in the car next to you. Try to do everything right in the first 5-10 minutes because that's when the examiner is watching you the closest, use your mirrors, check your speed, position the car right and try not to shake and look super nervous. Even if you make a mistake, don't think about it, you can not change it, so concentrate on your driving and aim for a perfect drive afterwards.

9. Ask questions
Ask questions can be understood in many ways. While you are learning and you're not sure about something, simply ask your instructor. If something is not clear just ask. Even right before your test, if you have a burning question don't feel bad like you should know everything already, your test result might depend on your instructor's answer.
If it's a friendlier examiner he/she will probably start a little conversation and ask who you are, what you do, why you need the driving licence. If not you can also start a little small talk, it will just prove them that you are comfortable in your driving to hold a conversation as well while driving. If you don't feel comfortable chatting, and can't concentrate fully on your driving while having a conversation, you won't be judged just because you need silence. It's totally fine.
In the UK the test is around 40 minutes long, you'll be asked to perform a manoeuvre and you'll have to do 10 mins of independent driving following signs and instructions. If you forgot where the examiner asked you to go, just simply ask again. If you went the wrong way but drove safely, you won't get a minor. 

10. Test result 
So after your 35-40 minute drive, the exam is over and you will hear the verdict. If you have passed, well done to you, good job! If not, allow yourself a day to deal with the failure, maybe a couple tears and a nice comforting meal, learn from your mistakes and the experience, practice a bit more and try again! Don't let the failure stop you from getting your licence. It's not the end of the world, most people I know failed the first time. Just remember the money and time you put in! You don't want that to go to waste, do you? You can ALWAYS try again.:)

My Driving Costs:
Provisional driving licence: £34 
Post: £1
Theory test fee: £23
Driving practice 10 hours: £220
Driving practice 10 hours: £220
Driving practice 10 hours: £220 
Driving practice 10 hours: £220
Practical Test Fee: £62
Quick Test Administration Fee: £45
Car use on test: £75 
Driving Practice 10 hours: £220
Driving Practice 10 hours: £220
Driving Practice 3.5 hours: £80,50
Practical Test Fee: £62
Quick Test Administration Fee: £45
Car Use On Test: £75                                 
Total:                                 £1822,50

Some useful links
Theory Tests:
YouTube Channels: World Driving
                                 1st Drive
                                 For mental preparation   
                                 Show Me, Tell Me 
My driving school if you live in the South London Area:
I never thought that I will learn to drive on the ''wrong'' side of the road, especially in a city as hectic as London, but driving is fun and I really enjoy it! 

Good luck with your tests and safe driving everyone!:)


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