Friday, August 12, 2011

Driving Lessons

Well the time came this year to get a Czech driver's license. An EU citizen can simply exchange his or her driver's license, from an EU country, for a Czech license. EU citizens are supposed to exchange the license during the first 3 months in the ČR. If you don't swap the license then the Czech government has a difficult time keeping up with how many penalty points a person incurs. Technically you have to do this but I know several people who refuse to trade in their UK, German, or French licenses.

Non-EU citizens, who will be in the ČR for at least one year, can trade in their driver's licenses for a Czech license too. However, it has to be turned in within the first three months of residency. If you miss the window of opportunity then you have to go through all of the normal hoops to earn a Czech license. It would have been really great if I had known about this during my first three months here.

In order to enroll at any driving school you first have to submit a doctor's form stating that you are healthy enough to drive. I then had to fill out a document with all of my personal information and provide the school with a passport photo. The school then registers you with the state as a student driver. Unlike in the USA, there is no such thing as a learner's permit, where you are allowed to practice driving as long as you have a licensed driver over the age of 25. In the USA it is a time honored/dreaded experience when a parent has to go out driving with a teenager. Czech parents don't have to deal with that drama over here because the only person you can ever go practice driving with is a licensed instructor. Czechs can't get a license here before they are 18.

Most schools require 16 - 18 classes plus driving lessons before you take the exam. Several expats here all recommended the same school for me to use. The owner cut me a deal since I just needed the practice driving sessions. I only paid half the normal tuition and received 6 hours of practice driving.

The bad thing was that school didn't have any material in English so prepping for the written exam was tough. The Czech DMV offers several practice exams on its website and I had to get those translated in to English. I love how the ČR is so proud to be a part of the EU, with its 23 official languages. Except, of course, when it comes to taking a driver's exam because then it is only available in Czech. The written test is timed and done on a computer. Foreigners can use a government approved interpreter during the written test. After the written test comes the oral, practical exam and then the dreaded driving test. I was nervous about the written exam but ended up with a 92%. More on the driving test later.

There must be a stereotype that Americans only ever drive automatic transmissions. Every one of my colleagues all wanted to know how I was making out with a stick shift. I actually learned to drive a manual transmission at 15.

Driving school cost me 5000 Kč, ($313). Plus 700 Kč ($44) for the exams and 1500 Kč ($94) for the Czech interpreter.

Update:  Link to Czech driving rules in English.