Sunday, June 07, 2020

learning to drive in the UK

It's been about a year since I first got behind the wheel of a car as a learner driver, and soon it will be a year since I've passed my test! However, since I don't get to practice much, I figured I could do the next best thing: blog the process, so that I can have a revision of sorts.

Part of learning to drive also involved asking a few friends for advice and some valuable tips from my instructor. I hope blogging them can help others in a similar situation.

So, to get started: you need a learner's driving license. The process might be different between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, but the basic guidelines are the same: you need to apply by filling a form, and supplying documentation of proof of identity and residence. I used my residence permit as proof of identity and a credit card bill as proof of residence. And wait till it arrives in the post.

Next up: you have to eventually prepare for and pass your theory test. While it's not mandatory to pass it before you get behind the wheel as a learner driver, having a good feel of the rules, road signs, recommendations, etc will obviously make things easier on the road. Also, since I love to read, this made the wait for my learner's license more bearable.

I prepared in what would probably be considered the wrong order: I stated off with "how to drive" by Ben Collins (the guy who, as the cover of the book wold remind you, used to be "the Stig" on Top Gear) - while his book was good, informative and entertaining, it was aimed at teaching people who knew the rules, how to be a "good" driver - and brought home the point that the two things are quite different. Next up: The DVSA's official highway code. Now this (e)book isn't new to me (I had read it online in 2017 when I was preparing for my 1500-mile motorcycle trip up and down the country, back when I could use my Indian license), but I didn't realize until some way into the print version of the book, that it was simply terrible: all the facts were in there, but it was incredibly badly structured. In fact, most of the stuff that would get you through the test was in the appendices! Either way, i read it from front to back (or the other way around). But I wasn't confident I would pass (and mock tests online suggested I wasn't doing great either). And there was the bit about hazard perception as well - there were a couple of free clips I could try online, but I was doing terribly at them, and the instructions were no good!

I then purchased a DVD: Driving Test Success Theory. I don't know what got me to this one (probably cheap + well rated). This was about the time I was starting my practical lessons, and my instructor said it didn't really matter as they're all about as good.

The application on the DVD had one page about passing the theory test. It was brilliant. It summarized in about 10 or 20 screens of text, what none of these books I had enthusiastically read could do: told me exactly what are the principles behind all the rules.

It also had question banks of all the possible questions that could be asked, but honestly, the UX sucked when it came to mock tests, so I eventually gave up on the DVD and did these online. Definitely much better UX there!

The hazard perception bit was tricky though. I literally took the mock and practice tests on the DVD until my eyes were sore. Like 60+ hours of them. The only way I could pass was by watching clips multiple times until I remembered from memory when the hazard appears. I was super scared and tense. Finally, I realized the problem: I was using my TV (hooked up to the laptop) as a screen, and the video resolution was not good enough, and I was too far from the screen to see minute details of hazards. In fact, I sometimes completely missed hazards thanks to my setup! Solution was to not use a TV but a regular monitor, and sit at the usual distance one would from a computer. After that, I was pretty good at those as well. One handy tip my driving instructor gave me, was to always click twice. Once when you think a hazard may occur, and one when you're sure it's a hazard. Also, the definition of a hazard is "anything that might require you to react to it" - so whether it's by slowing down, changing lanes, etc. Also, I found that two clicks is not adequate, as sometimes my first click was before the software registers the start of the hazard window, and the second click barely got me any points. So I would click first when I had a clue that a hazard could happen, second when I have a good sign a hazard will happen, and third when I can actually see the hazard unfolding before me.

I have read multiple times online that you get disqualified for a question if you're clicking repeatedly, and I know someone who actually failed because he was disqualified for too many questions, but I found the three-clicks rule worked well for me.

Also, when it came to the actual test in the test centre, the videos are not recorded but computer generated - I found movements and hazards in those videos to be quite exaggerated and hard to miss - definitely easier than the DVD's practice videos!

Most of my friends passed their theory test with just the practice questions, but I don't recommend that because honestly, driving is a matter of life and death. Practicing enough questions might get you good enough to pass, but I feel that a good, safe driver should have ALL aspects of their theory right in their head, never mind if you don't get a 100% in the actual test.

Back to my experience: I passed my theory test. Twice. Twice, because you have to retake the theory test for the motorcycle license as well (even though the content is virtually identical - few motorcycle maintenance related questions in addition to everything in the car test). I booked my tests for consecutive days, because I wanted to get them over with. I don't remember my hazard perception scores, but I literally aced the multiple choice questions, so there!

Also, once you pass your theory test, you have two years to pass your practical test (or you have to reteake the theory test), so at that point, the clock starts ticking!

Next up: let's get behind the wheel :D

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