Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Licensed to vroom vroom in USA

Step on the gas, floor the accelerator, put the pedal to the metal. I so wanted to zoom on the awesome American highways. I finally got going with the formalities of getting a DL over the summer. I think I am allowed to drive with my Indian DL but I wanted to be safe and get a DL here before driving around.

I used to drive in India. So this wasn’t a completely new experience. But there were a few novelties. First, they drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road here. But then you also sit on the wrong side of the car. So that cancels out. Although once I made a mistake of turning onto the oncoming traffic side of the street. Then there is the automatic transmission issue. That transition went pretty smoothly. But I must say that a stick is way better than an automatic. Also I rarely clocked more than 40mph in India. So driving at 70mph on a crowded freeway was a slightly tense experience. On the bright side, I actually enjoyed driving here for the reason that the traffic flows very smoothly and there are no autos to induce chaos. Driving is not a stressful experience.

Coming to the Drivers License procedure, first you need to take a knowledge test. There is a manual online from where you can acquire the required knowledge before the test. Most of the questions are quite straight forward and shouldn't be much of problem as long as you have read the manual. I remember one question from my test. "At what rate on an average can the body safely metabolize alcohol?" I took a guess and went for the lowest option which was 1 drink/hr. It turned out to be the correct answer. Now I need to find out what does ‘1 drink’ mean.

Next is the road test. You can take an appointment (which means a wait time of about a month) or you can go to the test and hope to get a chance in case someone with an appointment doesn’t turn up. I chose the latter. A heads up here, go as early as possible (by 8am) and be in the first on the without appointments list. I was 16th and had to wait for about 4 hours for my turn. Also I have heard you must avoid Mondays and Fridays. Not quite sure why.

The driving test went smoothly. The officer was kinda gruff and didn't let me say anything extra. He asked me a series of questions about the controls in the car. I answered them confidently and then he said pass. I went ‘yoyoyo’ in my mind. I thought I was done. Then he said, ‘lets go for drive.’ Oh dear, that was the controls test I had passed. I put the car in drive and slowly pulled onto the street. He asked me to do a lot of lane changing and turnings at intersections. Then there was parallel parking (see picture), curb parking and reverse driveway parking. Then he told me to pull over to the side. Its was the moment of truth.

He launched into a barrage of critical comments. I didn’t park to close to the curb, I didn't look behind while starting to drive again from par, I didn't stop before the white line, I wasn't smooth. I began thinking of all the time I had wasted, and that I would have to come again and give it another shot. Damn it. And then he said ‘you have passed, enjoy driving and stay safe.’ Hugh?!! I was speechless. I was really happy. The big smile in my DL picture says it all. A piece of advice here, take the smallest car possible because the space for parallel parking and reverse driveway parking is fixed. So if you have a small car you have more space to maneuver.

Thanks Jonathan for the car and driving practice, Ben for the long driving sessions and Pranav for accompanying me to the test center.