Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Driving Exams

OK...here's the story that everyone has been waiting for. My driving exam(s). I swear it was easier getting my driver's license on my 16th birthday than it has been trying to get my Czech license. Here are a few differences between how things are done here and back in the USA.

In the USA, you need to bring your own vehicle for the exam. There is no one in the car except for the examiner and the person taking the test. The examiner sits in the front passenger seat. You have to drive around for a while, park, etc. You drive on surface streets but one never drives on the highway.

In the ČR, you're there with the car from the driving school. You're driving instructor sits in the front passenger seat and the commissar sits in the back seat, all the while, telling you what to do. It's not uncommon to have other people in the car with you who are also taking the exam. You pretty much have to do everything...drive through town, drive on the highway, go through several roundabouts, park, etc.

So in June, I had an appointment to get my Czech driver's license. I wasn't overly concerned with the driving exam. I was worried about the written exam, in Czech, but with an official interpreter. Well I got a 92% on my written exam, even with all of those funny European road signs. Then it was time to take the driving exam. My driving school instructor sat in the front seat. The commissar was in the back seat. The first person to take the test was in the driver's seat. Another applicant and I were in the back seat waiting our turns to drive. The first person drove around for about 20 minutes and then the exam was over. We pulled over and let the driver out. I listened in on the feedback and understood that it was a big deal that you must hold the steering wheel at "10 and 2", blah, blah, blah. Then it was my turn. I checked my mirrors like three times just to make sure that the commissar saw that I did it. I even made him fasten his seatbelt before we drove off.

We drove for oh...about one minute and I was told to pull over. I had not turned on the headlights so it was an instant fail. You always have to drive with your headlights on...even in the daytime. All of my practice driving sessions were at night so, of course, I turned on the lights. Out of habit, it just didn't occur to me to turn on the headlights at 10 AM when it was bright and sunny. I felt like such an idiot. I've had either a California or a Georgia driver's license for about 24 years and I failed my Czech exam in about one minute.

Later that day I went to lunch with a friend. I told her "I'm going to tell you something. You can laugh or say whatever for the next 30 minutes and then I don't want to hear anything about it again, for at least a month". I wasn't ready for this to be a funny story yet. Kamila wasn't surprised at all. She said that it normally takes people two or three times to pass the driving exam. Then she wanted to know what illegal thing did they ask me to do. What the hell!?!? Apparently, it's not uncommon to be asked to do illegal things, just to see if you'll do them, and if you do then it's an instant fail. That does not happen in the U.S. At least it made me feel a tiny bit better. Bottom line...I would have to make an appointment to take another driving test and pay 400 Kč (~$24).

About three weeks later it was time for my retest. Then right before I got to the meeting point I received a telephone call that we had to reschedule the test because the commissar was ill. Damn him and his illness.
My third attempt to get my license was on my 40th birthday. I figured I got my 1st license on my 16th birthday so why not get my new license on my 40th. Good karma, right? It was raining that morning but no worries. I would just drive slow and be extra careful. And definitely remember to turn on my dang headlights. So I trudged out into the rain and right before I got to the meeting point I received another telephone call. It was my driving instructor. The person who took the exam before me had an accident and wrecked the car. We would have to reschedule again. Ugh!!!

A few weeks later and I was back at the meeting point waiting for my instructor to pick me up. At 8 AM I called him and there was no answer. Remember...people don't use voice mail over here. At 8:15 he finally picked up and said that he was on his way. At 9 AM he showed up, in a minivan equipped for a handicapped driver. He was giving a driving lesson to a young girl and we had to go swap out the van for the car we would use for the exam. That's when I found out that the commissar was busy giving exams with another driving school and today's exams would be at 11:30. Ugh!!! Again, there were three of us who would take the exam. It was the first exam for a Bulgarian girl and the second exam for a Russian girl. The Russian girl failed the first time because she drove too slow.

The Bulgarian chica went first. Did I mention that there was a light drizzle? Anyway, we started. The speed limit is 50 kilometers per hour (31 MPH). The first thing she had to do was drive downhill . She went 52 and was told to pull over in about two minutes. Next was the Russian girl. She drove for about 10 minutes and everything was fine. Then we came to a red light and for some reason she used the handbrake. When the light changed to green she continued to drive but forgot to release the handbrake. The commissar asked her what the red parking light on the dashboard meant. She realized the parking brake was still engaged and he said well at least she got that right. But she still failed again.

My turn. I could tell that the commissar was feeling extra ornery today so I didn't press the issue about him not wearing his seat belt. I drove for over 20 minutes and everything was fine. And then it came. I came to an intersection and a red light. I was told to proceed straight ahead. But I said that I couldn't because there was no room and I would have blocked the crossway. I was told again to go straight ahead but there was still not enough room. Now he was getting loud that I needed to go so I went. The light changed and the back of the car was about a half meter (18 inches) in the crossway so I failed again. Even my driving instructor was angry and started arguing with the commissar that it wasn't right. Clearly I could drive well and already have an American license. The commissar said that it was an unfortunate thing but it was still a fail. However, I could still take the exam again. Have I mentioned before that my background is Mexican and German? In other words, I do have a temper and I was so over this country. Clearly, I'm just viewed as an ATM because they just want me to keep paying for additional exams.

Seven days later and I'm back to take another exam. This time it is just me, the instructor and the commissar. I drove for 30 minutes and everything was fine. I passed! It was about damn time. I was told that I didn't have to pay another 400 Kč. Maybe they both felt bad because of what had happened last week? My instructor gave me a document showing my passing mark and said that I could go to the city magistrate office the next day to turn it in. That paper, a passport photo and 50 Kč ($3) would get me my driver's license. The next step is going to pick up my license.


  1. Congratulations!

    I was very fortunate in that when I moved to Germany, I moved to a German Länder that accepted my Indiana license as proof that I could drive (It's a specific Länder/specific US State thing) -- so all it cost me was an official translation of my US license and some other paperwork -- I probably spent about 100-200€ for everything.

  2. Länder is the plural, like Lands, the singular is Land. Moreover, at some point you are also going to need a local license.