Wednesday, April 23, 2008

23 April 2008: Driving

The State of Indiana decided that I needed to take a driving test.

Not because I'd caused any accidents or anything, but because my driving licence was from a country that wasn't the USA. This meant I didn't know how to drive although, interestingly, they do allow non-residents to drive for up to a year on a foreign licence. The moment you become a resident, however, the law changes and your driving licence is no longer recognized as being valid proof of driving ability. The point at which you become a resident is exactly 183 days after moving here, so I had a little time to deal with it, but I thought it best to just get on with it.

(None of this is to mention the fact that actually, according to Indiana's state equivalent of the 'Highway Code', I was not ever legal to drive in Indiana as my UK driving licence was not accompanied by an International Driver Permit. The IDP, for those who don't know, is a specifically non-legal document whose entire purpose is to translate driving licence information into English. OK, what country did I just come from? And what language do they speak in England?)

So, off we went to the BMV, which is one letter away from BMW and far less fun. It's the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Indiana's equivalent of the DVLA, and instead of just having one generally unresponsive unit hidden away in Swansea, it has branches all across the state, where you can walk right in, take a driving test, get your driving licence printed out right there, along with a number of other useful things such as registering to vote (which I'm not allowed to do) and sign up for the draft (which, if I were under 26, I would be legally obliged to do. Leading me to ask questions about 'what do people do if they also have to perform military service in their own countries?').

We first went in on Saturday. To get an Indiana licence, Gloria just had to give them her licence and take a written test even simpler (believe it or not) than the UK equivalent. We also had to get Indiana registration plates on the car - that's still ongoing due to the fact that, technically, our car is still 'owned' by a Toyota dealership in Corpus Christi who four years ago offered a very enticing interest-free offer. As for me, well, it was always going to be complex. I brought along: UK passport, UK driving licence, Permanent Resident 'Green' card (it's white), Medical Insurance card, Social Security card and our housing lease. All of which was required. I took the written test (without first reading the manual, and that made no difference: it was still ridiculously easy) and booked the practical test for today, Wednesday morning, 9am.

In we went. Same documents, plus registration and insurance for the car, and out came the examiner, a very happy-looking older gentleman with, I could tell immediately, a mouth he could not keep shut, even for a moment. Quick sight test, and out to the car we went.

"Just drive out of the parking lot straight ahead," he said. "Turn right, and we'll go from there. Say, how many holograms do you have on these UK licences?"

I looked over to see him admiring my pink-and-green DVLA photo licence. I'd never noticed holograms on there. He told me he could see at least three. He proceeded to write some bits down from said licence, asking me a couple of questions along the way, then put his clipboard on the floor.

Hm, I thought, this is a little different to my UK test. That day I'd had an A-Level mock in the afternoon and so my double-nervousness had made me notice everything, including every single mark the guy had made on my sheet. This time?

Well, let's just say a couple of times I reached a junction without knowing which way I was to go next, mainly because said examiner was too busy telling me about his travels to Canterbury and Rome. We went on the same street a couple of times, and he proudly took me round one of the rarest sights on a US road: a real, honest-to-goodness roundabout, which he directed me to go all the way round and then back the way we came.

"I have a question," I said as we approached the roundabout, trying to squeeze the words in during a tiny pause between his sentences. "What's the signalling protocol for a roundabout here? In the UK we'd signal left, then go round until we passed the preceding exit, then signal right, then take the exit. Except for left I mean right, because we go round them the other way."
"You know what?" he said. "I have no idea."

At this point I began to suspect he wasn't an examiner at all but just some guy from the BMV who wanted to be taken out for a nice mid-morning drive.

So we drove round the same few streets a couple of times and then he said:
"OK, that'll do, let's go back to the BMV."

Back we went. We'd been about fifteen minutes maybe. Gloria looked at me as we walked back in, assuming I'd failed as it had been so quick. But no, I'd passed. Without doing any parallel parking, reversing round a corner or emergency stops. And that was that.

Except, of course, for the paperwork. The State of Indiana, it turns out, do not recognize my 'green' card as being valid proof of my permanent residency (which is funny, because that's its exact and only purpose). Instead they take my details, send it to Indianapolis where someone who clearly should have better things to do will take this information, contact the US Customs and Immigration Service (not our favourite people, if you've followed previous blogs), find out whether I'm supposed to be here or not (I suspect the answer will go along the lines of "well, we gave him a Permanent Resident card, what do you think"), and will then send me my shiny new Indiana driving licence in the post. In the meantime I have a scratchy photocopied-with-bits-filled-in-by-pen sheet of paper to serve as a temporary licence.

Except of course that it doesn't serve as proof of ID, which is pretty much why people get driving licences over here.

Still, the good news is that they didn't take away my UK licence, so I won't have to take a real heavy DVLA driving test if and when we return to the UK one day. After today's experience, I don't think I could handle a real driving test again.


Whiskers said...

SO what was the answer to the round-about? I assumed you didn't have to signal at all as there is no other way onto it. I do signal when I leave if it is 90 degrees from where I entered else I assume it is like driving a straight road.

Whiskers said...

Found a partial answer:
" Drivers are not required to stop before entering the roundabout, but must yield to traffic already circulating in the roundabout. As you approach the roundabout, be prepared to stop and wait for a gap in the circulating traffic.

" To enter the roundabout, move forward into the circle.

" Once inside the roundabout, continue moving until you reach your exit. Do not stop while inside the roundabout, but continue to flow with the traffic.

" Before exiting the roundabout, use your right turn signal to inform other drivers of your right turn from the roundabout.