Friday, 28 January 2011

Dutch Driving

I am in my mid-twenties and I do not have a driver's licence. I am not really ashamed of it: why would I get a licence if I have no foresight of having access to a car? I live in Holland; where public transport is fair and a bicycle gets you to city centres faster anyway. I even had a student travel card (like the one below), allowing me free travel on the entire public transport network in the country. At first during the weekends, later during the week.

Allright, fair enough, I cursed the fact that I had no car quite often. As a busy student I only went to the laundromat once every three weeks. It would have been a lot easier to do that by car. Same goes for weekly groceries. I have carried lots of random things on my bike, including a microwave oven. And a full month's worth of dirty (and then clean) laundry. Or the times where public transport took over an hour on a trip which would take me just as long by bike (20km), or about 20mins by car. The annoying bit was of course that I had to travel that route two times a day, five days a week.

Getting your licence is quite hard here. You're allowed to drive at 18; with a valid licence. Most people need at least 40 driving lessons before they can go for their test. Only about half of them will pass. One of my sisters only passed the 5th time. As did one of my supervisors in the past year. Driving in Holland also is harder than in many other countries. Narrow streets, cars parked everywhere, pedestrians, various public transport vehicles, cyclists, weird roundabouts and lots of traffic are a few aspects of Dutch traffic. This city apparently is notoriously complicated. (seriously, sometimes I don't even know where the bit where I'm supposed to drive is!) My instructor said that if I can get my licence in this city, I can drive anywhere. Manual, of course. An automatic transmission only licence is considered a licence for the handicapped.

I started taking driving lessons in December 2009. I was optimistic, and planned to have my licence by January 2010. The crash course (I had 6 weeks off) crashed and burned before I even got started. I passed the required written test in one go (average is 2 times). I found myself a driving school. I filled out the paperwork. And by truthfully crossing the YES when asked if I ever had eye surgery; I became 'medical'. It feels like almost handicapped.

I had to get a full medical evaluation. I had to find an independent GP to test my eyes, my urine (nope, still not pregnant and still not diabetic), my psych history... etc. That was after paying 23 euros for the single sheet on which she wrote her findings and 30 euros for the check up... 8 weeks later I got the good news that I am fully fit to drive (but still had to have a special examinor). Without the fit-to-drive paperwork I can't take a test. You do the math. The irony? There is absolutely nothing wrong with me. I don't even wear glasses or contacts.

Taking lessons once a week from a 21-year-old instructor didn't go so well. When Michael Jackson came on the radio, he would turn up the volume and tell me that he has liked Michael Jackson since he was a kid (in the 90s). Yes, I was a kid then too, only I was a slightly older kid. I quit, I couldn't take lessons more often while working in another city. I started again when I worked in Maastricht; but then my research project literally drove me to the edge of what I could handle in terms of work-stress... and driving didn't go so well. I did my practice test right after practically passing out from sheer exhaustion. Needless to say; that was a very bad idea.

So now I am back in The City and am taking lessons again. I'll probably get close to 70 lessons before my first test, and I really want it to be the first and only test. I feel like I deserve it. My written exam had expired, so I had to take it again, and passed it again this Monday. I had to get the 'fit to drive' paperwork again, but luckily this time it only took 2 weeks, and now I'm set to go. My instructor said it's possible to get there in the time I have left.

I'm an agnostic; but I might actually start praying if that will help me pass the test.


  1. Sounds like when I've driven around New York city, but seems very Holland on who get a licence. Which is a good thing because there are too many kids around the States who should not be driving and I like that you have to be 18.

  2. Thats insane that it takes so long to get a stupid drivers license!!!

    You should come here, get it, and then just go back there and use a Canadian license!

  3. Oh, man! That process sounds so intense. How do you even find the time? I live in Virginia for medical school, but my car and license is from another state. I thought it was a hassle to transfer over my tags, driver's license, etc., but goodness, your story wins!

    Good luck and keep us updated!