Ozzie in Oregon

On the road

Getting my license

Last updated:    January 22, 2008 (PST)

DMV sign

Early Ozzie driving mix-ups

The first time I drove over here I thought I was doing fine, but Steve had his hands over his face thinking that I was going to hit a garbage bin, a trailer and any parked cars.  I later realised that I was leaving extra space between me and the center of the road, as I was not used to having traffic so close to me.  Conversely, Steve was not used to being a passenger!

I'd be thrown by Steve's commands of "forward" and "back up", instead of "straight ahead" and "reverse".

I'd turn on the wipers every time I'd indicate.  This habit settled down after a while, but every time I got a bit flustered at an intersection, there would go the wipers, on again.

I'd miss seeing road signs.  It took me ages to look for them on the right-hand side of the road!

When I reached an intersection, I'd look the wrong way first and end up looking both ways twice before I felt confident that I could go through or turn.  I was very slow at intersections for quite a while.

Try reaching for your seatbelt or looking at the rear vision mirror in a left-hand-drive car.  All the different placement of things in the car and on the roads meant that I had to learn automatic reflexes all over again.

The first time I drove through a carpark, er, parking lot, Steve told me to "Watch out!!".  He then pointed at the pedestrian 10 feet away from me.  "So what!", I said.  Well, apparently over here the pedestrian is God, and you'd darn-well better drive slowly when people are around as you never know what they'll do!

The first time I went to get in a car that was not a taxi was in Mexico in September 2003.  Steve and the owner laughed when I headed straight for the driver's door.  Surely I didn't think I'd be doing the driving!  I was rather embarrassed then, but apparently this "going to the opposite side" thing is a hard one to shake off.  I still find myself walking to the wrong side when returning to the car after doing some shopping alone.

Oz licence US license

Getting my licence

I had lost a lot of confidence driving over here, so it took me over a year before I felt able to go for my licence, er, license.  Summer time meant no rain, and no awful weather, so getting my license before summer was over became my goal.  I tried to drive as though I was going for my test each time I was in the car.  That meant NO California stops (rolling slowly through a Stop sign), no going through yellow lights, looking over my shoulder every time I changed lanes and being vigilant for any pedestrians who might suddenly decide to cross the road!

I read and reread the Oregon DMV booklet, and tried all the online tests I could find.  I passed the knowledge test first time (28 or more out of 35 = pass) and then made an appointment for the drive test.  I spent time each week practicing reverse parks (parallel parking, over here), but in the end, the test was all about driving around through the central business district. No hill starts and no reverse parks! And yay, I passed first time (needed 75 out of 100 to pass)!

DMV drive test area. And no, that truck is not mine!

Getting a license was empowering for me, not only because it is the most commonly used ID, but also I would not have so much bureaucracy to go through were I (gasp!) pulled over by the police. Furthermore, the insurance costs are higher for someone who has traffic fines without having an Oregon license. 

One benefit of getting my license so late was that I used my Oregon ID card as a major proof of identity when changing my name in my Ozzie passport. Had I already gone and got my license, there would be no way I'd have wanted to send it to the consulate in San Francisco!

The icing on the cake was that once I had my license, I was able to be easily added to the car's insurance policy and with no questions asked about my driving history!

Ozzie in Oregon