I haven’t jogged for some time. I‘ve just been doing short 2–3km walks on the banks the river Lee instead of the usual hour-long jogging. To get back to routine, I decided to jog for two hours this morning. The exercise took me through a route which was a favourite for driving schools and I was reminded of the frustrating days I passed through to get my driving license. It seems a long time now but the memory still lives vividly with me today. I will narrate my story and the importance of a driver’s license to inform the newbies and potential migrants to the western world.
I had been driving for three decades before relocating to Ireland. I had also been driving for ages across the western world during vacations and visits. Most car rental companies will usually accept your Nigerian driving license and International driving permit so long as you have a credit card to hold down the required deposit.
However, it becomes a different ball game when your status changes to “resident”. Regardless of your driving experience, you are required to go through the full driver licensing procedure if your nationality falls outside the ‘mutual recognition’ agreement category. You must first pass a driver theory test, get a learner permit, complete a course of Essential Driver Training(EDT) and pass your driving test before you can legally drive here. Notwithstanding that the EDT is 12 one-hour sessions of driving lessons you still have to drive with a fully licensed driver whenever you mount the wheels with your learner permit. Crazy right?
Well, I didn’t think it was much of a problem considering my wealth of experience in driving. My missus fondly hails me “formula 1” each time I do my signature reverse parking very close to the kerb. As a matter of fact, I have never been involved in a crash while driving. The most have been a bump or a scratch on the side with danfo drivers usually the culprits.
In any case, I passed the theory test without failing a question. It was easy because I had done a similar one while living in the UK some years back. The only reason I didn’t get a full UK driving license back then which would have saved me the stress here was because I moved back to Nigeria. I just keep moving!
I was issued with a learner permit and I started the driving lessons thereafter. Believing it will be a formality I didn’t take it seriously. My only headache then was the bill. The €30/lesson summed up to €360. And then I had to hire a manual transmission car @€150 for the test, plus another €85 test fee. Adding all these up didn’t amuse me when I figured the naira equivalent.
All the same, I finished after a boring 9-month period repeatedly interrupted by travels to Nigeria after which I often forgot where I left off. The first sign of trouble I got was when I requested to hire my driving instructor’s car for the test. His response was that I wasn’t ready yet.
Goodness me! This oyibo was trying to extort me for further lessons after I had done the requisite minimum of 12. I laughed and bade him “au revoir”, after all, there are countless driving test car hire services out there.
On the day of the test, I was brimming with confidence which would be deflated 10 minutes into the test proper. I had made several mistakes and by the time we returned to the test centre I knew I had failed. You are given feedback immediately on a sheet of paper to help you improve on the areas you were found wanting. My commonest mistake was ‘coasting’. It simply means driving with your clutch pedal down.
Easy to shake that off one would think. But not so my dear, old habits die hard. I can bet 99% of Nigerian drivers coast and will fail their 1st driving test here. My friend in Dublin failed thrice, his wife 5x and another one I spoke to recently said he cannot count the number of times he has failed. These are all folks with decades of driving experience back home.
My second test was even worse. I was so livid with myself that the car hire guy — bless him — refunded my money out of pity.
I was to pass the third time but not without a stroke of good fortune. It came through an Albanian van driver whom I hired for removals. In the midst of haggling, I told him I could hire a van and do the job myself for half the cost.
“So why did you call me? Do you love wasting money?” He had asked sarcastically.
We both laughed heartily when I narrated about my driving test ordeal.
He said, “so today, you pay me and after I give you good driving teacher, my brother has the best driving school in Cork”.
He recommended his brother who owns Neptune Driving school when I revealed during our chat that I was still using a learner permit.
During the pre-test rehearsal, the guy just asked me a few questions and concluded that my problem was overconfidence. He told me that besides coasting I needed to drive like a ‘confident’ rookie for the 20–30 minutes my test would last. So we spent the first half-hour dealing with coasting and the next learning how to drive like a rookie, both hands on the wheel, 10 to 2 position and all the boring details. But you must get them right for the test duration.
I passed easily. The test didn’t even last 15 minutes and the tester was satisfied with my driving.
It has been a huge relief ever since and besides the countless benefits of a full driving license, I believe it is advisable especially for immigrants to prioritise getting this all-important document. For instance in the US where some states issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants this can be an immeasurable boost.
Of course, I know it’s possible to live and work in many western countries without having to drive let alone own a vehicle. But for convenience, especially for a family — and immigrants often have large ones — it is sometimes essential to have a car. Whatsmore, driving is also a profession and with the proliferation of ride-hailing services like Uber, it is a reliable fallback option to pay the bills.
Countless immigrants are Uber drivers earning a living and saving enough to remit back home. My friend who was a Limo driver was the most reliable person for a financial favour back in the early 2000s. He will wire my requested amount to my family and ask me to pay the naira equivalent into his account by the month-end. If the amount I require is a bit high he will just ask me to give him a week at the end of which he would transfer the money. Unlike others, he was as consistent as the northern star.
So prioritise getting a driver’s license in the western world because it ranks alongside your international passport as the most important documents. For, now let me go and reserve a van for the coming weekend’s removals.