I know many readers of this blog find their way here via search engines and often arrive at the small series of posts about acquiring a UK driving license. In order to keep the information complete and up to date, I’d like to add a note about the upcoming price changes I saw mentioned in last Friday’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.

From April 1st 2009, the fee for the theory test will rise to GBP 31 (from GBP 30), and the fee for the practical section of the test will rise to GBP 62 (from GBP 56.60).

As always, be sure to check the DSA web site for  the definitive answer to driving test related questions.

There are a great many differences between driving in the US and driving in the UK, as I have been keen to notice over the last few months.  The singlemost striking difference is sitting on the other side of the vehicle as driver (right hand drive vehicles) and being on the other side of the road.  It is that first few weeks of transition that can be found most nerve-wracking and require focused concentration at all times.  And most Americans or non-UK drivers can likely recount at least one tale of how they involuntarily lapsed in to previous habits.  (I was the target of some odd and steely looks as I drove the entire length of Windsor High Street on the wrong – the right! – side of the road.)

For about 3 weeks, until I consciously sought to correct the behavior, I found that I “hugged” the kerb side (left side) of most lanes and roads I drove on.  I think this was linked to my brain correcting for where it thought I should be in relation to the middle of the lane/road.

Since you sit on the other side of the car, in many UK market cars the levers on the steering column to operate signals/indicators and windscreen wipers don’t always correspond to where they are in cars made for the American market.  Signalling at the first sight of rain, or turning on the wipers before turning left were a regular occurrence.   (“Didn’t he see I was turning left?  My wipers were clearly on!”  I joked to myself beneath a crescendo of honks as I cut across two lanes to exit at a roundabout.)

Anyone would be forgiven for thinking it was the Romans who built roads in the US and not the UK.  Roman roads were renowned for being straight, but it seems when they left the UK they took their roads with them.  Modern road building seems to been executed using the McCartney method leading to a lot of swaying and bumping.

In my previous entry on obtaining a UK driving license, I reflected on my experiences with the UK Driving Theory Test.  In this third and final entry in the series, I will talk about my recent experiences with the UK Driving Practical Test.

After passing the theory test you’ll be issued a pass certificate.  With this certificate you can proceed to book your practical test online.  You’ll need your certificate number and a credit card to pay the GBP 56.50**.  Fill in the details and you will receive written confirmation of your booking within a few days.  You should take the written confirmation along with your theory test pass certificate and both parts of your driving license with you on the day of your practical test.

You will also be required to take an additional rear view mirror to the test so that the examiner can see traffic behind the vehicle during the test.  These are available at Halford’s for about GBP 5.00.

Before getting in to the car, the examiner will perform a basic eye sight test by asking you to read a car registration plate that is about 20m away. He will then ask you two basic questions related to either vehicle safety or basic vehicle maintenance.  I have read in preparation materials that there are about 13 questions that the examiners select questions from.  My experience indicates that this is not the case.  The questions I received were not in the question pool commonly thought to comprise the entire set.

Usually, one question will be a “tell me” type  question (for example, tell me how you would check that your indicators are working), the other will be a “show me” type question (for example, show me how you would operate the high beam lights).

Only then will the driving part of the test begin.  Without going in to all the ins and outs of the test, suffice it to say that examiners are looking for an overall safe standard of driving.  Be sure to use your mirrors, and practice the MSM and PSL routines when driving.  The test is about executing safe driving in the recognised manner.  I cannot emphasise this aspect enough.  If you hold an American license then you may well have many years of safe driving behind you.  However, this does not mean you will waltz through the test with ease.  You must have a thorough understanding of the recognized aspects of safe driving as taught by British instructors and specialists.

The examiner will usually take you round a selection of roadway where you will encounter many standard obstacles (such as roundabouts, schools, mini-roundabouts, crossings, dual carriageways etc.).  Bear in mind the test must be carried out within the allotted 40-ish minutes.

During this time, the examiner will also ask you to pull over several times, sometimes to check the way you pull away from a stationary position (pay particular attention to your blind spots!) and other times to brief you on an impending manoeuvre.

You will be asked to execute two of the recognized standard manoeuvres.  These are:  left reverse round a corner, turn in the road (sometimes called the three point turn), reverse in to a parking bay and reverse parking (parallel parking).  Optionally, you may be asked to perform an emergency stop. I have heard it said that this is less likely if there is the slightest hint of damp on the road surface, or fog.

I read (and then later confirmed with a qualified driving instructor) that if the examiner wants you to perform a reverse park in to a bay, then it must be performed in the car park of the test center.  If your test center does not have sufficient space for this then you will not be asked to do this manoeuvre.  Likewise, if you are particularly weak on this manoeuvre then you might want to scope our various nearby DSA test centers to see which of them do not have sufficient space for this manoeuvre.

At your earliest opportunity, learn as much as possible about the recognized British way of teaching driving.  Learn and practice religiously the MSM and MSPSL methods.

The DVD I referred to in the previous entry ( ) has a very useful section on the driving practical test. It has video clips showing the correct way to perform all the manoeuvres and scenarios you will be expected to know for the practical test. It also has an entire mock examination filmed. I found this particularly useful.

A week before my test, I booked a two hour slot with a local ADI driving instructor and did a condensed mock driving test.  This was a very useful experience as he was able to identify several areas of weakness that I needed to be aware of if I were to pass (as I did at the first attempt).  Most instructors charge about GBP 20 to 25 per hour.  If you are not going to pay for a course of lessons, then I certainly recommend putting out the GBP 40 or 50 to do as I did.

If you pass, then the instructor will issue you with a certificate at the end of the test and your license should be with you within 3 weeks (about a week in my case).  If you fail, then you can request a full debrief with the examiner in order to ascertain where your major weaknesses lie and you must wait at least 10 days before re-taking the test.

** EDIT: On April 1st 2009, the fee for the practical part of the driving test went up to GBP 62.

Recently, I went through the protracted ordeal of obtaining a full UK driving license.

In order to gain a full UK driving license, one must pass two examinations in the prescribed order:  the theory test and the practical test

The theory test comprises two parts delivered by computer.  Part one is a fifty-question multi-choice test based on the UK Highway Code which you answer via a computer touchscreen.  Part two is the somewhat controversial hazard test which you answer at the same computer screen using the mouse.

For me, there was a great disparity between how, on the one hand, these tests were presented to, and largely feared by, the public at large, and the reality in that they are simply a well designed sequence of tests aimed at emphasizing good practice and safe driving.  Without any formal UK driver training, I was able to ace the theory test (100%) and pass the practical driving test with very few driving faults. 

In this entry, the first in a series of three, I will reflect on my experience from beginning to end in the hope that it will shed light on the process and ease some of the anxiety and heartache for anyone currently embarking on the same journey.  Largely, this is written from the perspective of an individual transitioning from a United States license and driving environment to a UK license, however much of the detail could apply to individuals coming from one of the many other countries which have no reciprocal license arrangement with the UK.

In order to book the UK Driving Theory Test, one must first have a UK provisional license (similar to a US Learner’s Permit).  Unlike the US, where most mid- to large-sized towns have one or more offices authorized for the distribution of licenses (BMV/DMV), in the UK the issuing of all driving licenses is undertaken by a centralised agency, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), in Swansea.  To get a UK provisional driving license, one must fill out the required form (currently called the D1 application form).  You can get this form from any branch of the UK Post Office.  Once complete,  send it to the DVLA in Swansea with a recent passport photograph, your current passport and payment (currently GBP 50.00) in an appropriate form.  

If sending a passport through the post sounds like a risky undertaking then I agree, it is.  However, the Post Office offer an expedited, registered service for this purpose and I strongly suggest paying the GBP 5.00 and using it.  Likewise, when returning your passport, since the DVLA cannot be held liable for loss in transit, it is a good idea to pay for registered, expedited service for the return (and make a note of the serial number on the return envelope before sending it away).  By default, the DVLA send back your passport as regular first class mail. 

The DVLA are understandably strict when checking the form and will not hesitate to return it as incomplete if there is reason to do so (for example, if your signature is not entirely within the bounds of the box provided).  If time is tight, then you can have the form checked at a local DVLA center for a small fee and they will also send in your form to Swansea.  Some post offices also offer this form checking service for the same small fee.

The DVLA will send back your passport once they have performed the required checks (usually within 10 days) and provided there are no errors or incomplete sections on the D1 form, your provisional license should be with you within three weeks of them receiving your application.

Here are some additional recommendations based on my first hand experience:

  • be sure to double check  your application (or have someone else run their eyes over it) and wherever possible have it checked and received at a local DVLA office.  In my experience, post office staff were able to answer only the more superficial questions related to the process; however, this might not nescessarily be true of all post office staff;
  • be fully aware of the photograph requirements as these have changed in recent times and may be different from current US passport photograph regulations (for example, you must take off your glasses for the photo even if you are unable to see anything without them etc.)
  • hand in your application at a local DVLA office;  the staff will check your form and knowledgeably answer any questions you have related to the process.  Also, depending on the origin of the passport you hold, they might be able to perform certain checks and return your passport on the spot;
  • if sending your passport to the DVLA in Swansea, be sure to include the necessary payment and paperwork to have your passport returned via insured registered mail (note the serial number of the return envelope!);
  • take appropriate funds to pay for your license processing fee, GBP 50.00 at the time of writing;  DVLA local offices will take a GB sterling cheque drawn on a UK bank, cash or banker’s check;  if you are not using a local DVLA office then be sure to send in the fee in an appropriate form;

Once you hand over the forms and payment, you’ll have to wait approximately three weeks before your provisional license arrives.  If you are under time contraints (as was I) then be sure to put this time to good use by beginning to prepare for your UK Driving Theory Test.

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to get this process started as soon as possible.  If you carry a full US driving license then, at the time of writing, UK law permits you to drive on your US license for a maximum of twelve months commencing the day you enter the UK.  Before entering the UK, you should ensure your US license is valid for a further 12 months since because, depending on your circumstances and situation, it could take anything from 8 weeks to 12 months to get a full UK driving license.  Be aware there are many steps involved in obtaining a UK driving license, each of which can (and quite possibly will!) take a little longer than you anticipate.