Column: Legal to Drive – at last
I’m not someone who fails things.
While not overtly competitive by nature, I don’t like to fail.
I did relatively well at school and university and made sure that I was never the person at the back of the class laughing off an "F" on a test or exam.
But getting my driver’s licence was the most traumatic experience of my life. Not only did I fail, but I failed four times. Feel free to judge me - I’ve come to terms with it three years later.
I forgot to mention that I failed, not in an urban metropolis like Gauteng, but in rustic Grahamstown of all places.
The thing is I’m not a shocking driver.
While I wouldn’t put my skills up next to Schumacher, I drive relatively well if I do say so myself.
My black Fiesta and I have a very special bond and I haven’t treated her too badly, she’s only weathered a slight ding during our three year relationship. It was a combination of circumstances and nerves.
On the day of my second attempt at gaining a licence (I rolled back during the first attempt) it was pouring with rain on the day of my test and duly I reversed into a pole during the parallel parking part of the evaluation. This left me being returned to my university residence devastated and without a licence – again...
It also left me completely broke.
After the second failure (the parallel parking faux pas), my parents gave up on offering to help me out financially and to be honest, I gave up on wanting to even tell anyone when my test days were.
The cost of booking a driving test is about R200 (five times already equals R1 000 in booking fees). Not to mention the lessons, which are about R140 a pop. I had to get a part time job just to fund this torture. And then if you pass you still have to cough up another R150.
An unhappy (and unnecessary) state of affairs?
Considering most people applying for their driver’s licences are eighteen-years-olds, chances are, they are students.
This expense is just not economically viable.
When you are trying to make your way in the career market there is just no time to spend hours in queues, time in the traffic department getting your eyes testing for the umpteenth occasion ("Yes, I see the flashing lights – again") and taking afternoons off to have the lessons and go do the actual test – or tests, in my case…
A friend of mine is going through this traumatic experience currently.
She failed for the third time on Tuesday.
You may think I’m being slightly over dramatic, I can understand the complete look of desperation on her face.
Her business has a car sitting in the garage waiting for her to drive. It’s heartbreaking.
She has become an unhappy person of sorts. “It becomes stressful having to do driving lessons after hours, paying an instructor R145 per hour to sit through traffic, and then you learn to park as the sun sets. And after all the tedious hours of observing the roads, it brings you to your test (R550 to hire the car and for the lesson before)."
"You drive slowly into the yard, realising the layout isn't what you have been practicing and your nerves are finished. End of story, I have to wait another five months to get my next appointment, and I think about all the stress I have to endure all over again."
By the time I finally did pass (on my fifth attempt, I ambled through a traffic circle allegedly without heeding the correct observations on my fourth appointment), the driving school’s owner felt so sorry for me beforehand, he told me if I failed again he would give me ten free lessons. I had pretty much funded his Christmas holiday to the Seychelles – I am sure – as well as his children’s education. Eventually I lost count of how many lessons I had and how many driving instructors I shared those intimate one-hour sessions with.
Friends made jokes about putting a bottle of whiskey in the car for the traffic officer or coming right out and just asking if I could bribe him. I am law-abiding though and can’t really pull off that tough "bribe-the-cop" vibe anyway. So I miserably went through the system.
But perhaps it’s only a small, useless minority such as myself who found the whole affair so painstaking? After all I suppose, how many people actually take five attempts to get it right?