The Driving Test is perhaps one of the most important events in your life, alongside Marriage, mainly because it opens up opportunities for greater travel (at least in Australia).
In London, I was never really that interested in learning to drive because the transportation network was amazingly efficient. Not only did you have buses, ferries, 'tubes', trains and aeroplanes, you also had mini-cabs and taxi cabs. Add all these to walking and you have the ability to pretty much go anywhere.
In Perth, West Australia, you really do need to drive around, unfortunately, as the distance between landmarks and locations is so much greater. They do have a great metro transportation network but in terms of reaching the outskirts of the city where all the people live, a car just makes it easy by several magnitudes.
So, last year I decided to learn to drive. First off was the Theoretical Test, a set of 40 questions aimed at general rules of the road. Who has right of way when turning left onto a road, for example. Most of the questions are fairly self evident but some of them do get confusing.
Passing that earns you a Learner's Permit and you get to then spend your time driving around in a car with an L plate hanging off the back whilst either a professional instructor or a supervisor teach you how to drive. My first lesson was at 6pm and probably not the best time as the light was beginning to fade. Still, driving a half-tonne of metal on the backstreets around the house was amazingly fun but equally nerve-wracking. My hands were shaking when I finally got home.
Lesson after lesson constantly pushed the driving envelope until I was driving at 100kmh up the Freeway and learning about merging traffic.
Eventually though, given enough time and practice, you get to sit The Test. Here in Perth, you need to complete 3 exercises - Stopping For Shopping, Finding An Address and Retrieving Your Wallet - with the Examiner checking your surreptitiously checking your general driving skills.
Stopping for shopping is based around the notion that whilst driving you pass a shopping centre that you meant to have turned into. The exercise calls for you to turn the car around, drive back to the centre and find a spot to reverse park in; the other two exercises call for similar manoeuvers. Passing The Test requires that the manoeuvres are completed above a certain level and, unfortunately for you, that level is fairly high - at least 75%. Unlike normal tests, getting above the minimum mark does not guarantee a pass as the Examiner is likely to find that even though you have demonstrated that you can drive, your safety record is such that as a whole you are not safe to pass.
So I am pleased to say that the Wednesday before last, not only did I take the test (with much pressure from friends, family and co-workers) but that I passed with good marks. Of course, there were mistakes but these were of issues that I can but learn from and become a better driver. All I have to do now is log 25 hours of supervised driving and sit a Hazard Perception Test - a computer-based exam that tests my ability to recognise potential issues on the road and to adequately react to it.
I'm a bit surprised though by this final test. Why have this at the end? And why allow me to drive this half-tonne metal object around in broad daylight if my reactions are not adequate.
Still, I am glad to be past The Test and on my way to driving in West Australia.