Getting my UK Driver’s License

Here are some deets on the process of getting my license in the UK so you’re not into the nitty gritty, or aren’t planning on moving to the UK anytime soon (totally understandable) feel free to skim this post. But if you’re a curious cat, by all means dig in (meow)

I (Rachel) passed my driving test last month and am pretty pumped about it! I just received my drivers license in the mail am considering framing it 🙂 I would if my picture wasn’t the required level of terrible for such things.

Here is a not bad picture of me immediately after passing my driving test

Andrew passed his test back in March after having to reschedule due to a freak snow storm (link). Our US licenses allowed us to drive in the UK for 12 months, requiring us to get UK licenses after March of this year. We both drove our rental car without incident since we arrived in March 2017.

Some friends and acquaintances have seemed surprised that I drive in the UK as many of the expat wives refuse to drive (not sure if it’s fear or disinterest) but I never gave it a second thought. It may be something in my nature:

  1.  I don’t think of myself as particularity adventurous but that’s probably part of it and
  2.  growing up in Montana public transportation is not an option so I equate the ability to drive with the essence of freedom of moment and just freedom in general. ‘MERICA

Full disclosure: even though I’m a confident and arguably good driver it was stressful to drive in the UK initially as it required me to reprogram my brain! Andrew, who had been driving in the UK frequently during 2016, was a good coach and gave me a few tips that helped put my mind at ease.  So when March came to a close it was time to get back in the saddle…

The Theory Exam

Actually, back in the office chair: the practical exam can only be registered for once you pass your theory exam. I spent about 6-8 hours studying the material as I wanted to be sure to pass the first time. Luckily “there is an app for that” which prepared me well for the exam.

The test includes videos where the test taker is required to click on the screen when a hazard emerges. There is a five second gap during which you can click and the test taker is assigned points based on how early the hazard is identified. This part of the test was a bit crazy making for me as I never felt sure if something on the screen (car, pedestrian, cyclist) was considered a hazard or just a normal part of traffic. A car starting to pull out of a driveway may not initially be a hazard, but if they proceed to pull out in front of you, they are a hazard. But at what point is the determination made when the car changes from not a hazard to a hazard?  If you click too much you fail that section of the test. “Click the screen! but not too much! click now! no, now! not now! you clicked too much! don’t click on the cat!” Ahhh!

Driving Lessons

After I passed the written theory exam I began driving lessons. I spent about 2 months taking 1 lesson per week. The average is for students to take about 10 lessons so I’m perfectly average 🙂 Luckily I had a very good and chill driving instructor who Andrew and his co-worker, Robb, both recommended.

Here are main things I worked on:

  • Roundabouts and lane discipline: I needed clarity on the correct way to enter and exit roundabouts. I felt challenged when there were multiple lanes on large roundabouts or when the lanes weren’t marked on small roundabouts. I also had to learn lane discipline to stay in my lane and not drift into someone else’s lane when rounding the roundabout. I now feel very confident in my driving and realize that part of what made me crazy was that other drivers frequently illegally change lanes or illegally pull into my lane when they selected the wrong lane initially. The shame! I got a big kick out of having people illegally pull into my lane during a driving lesson and witness my driving instructor roll down his window to give two drivers a good talking to at the next stop light.
  • Speed Limits: I learned that unless marked the speed limit is 30 in built up areas/areas with streetlights (unless otherwise marked), 60 on one lane highways and 70 on two lane highways. Because there are lots of speed cameras in the UK and I come across a handful when driving around Poole, it was frustrating to not have clarity on if I was going to be in danger of received a nice £100 ticket in the mail. Thank you, Big Brother.
  • Parallel parking in a right hand drive vehicle: Seattle has made me into a parallel parking master (thank you back up camera), but parking with a right hand drive takes some practice. Luckily my instructor was really great about teaching me tricks on this.
  • General good driving habits: A biggie was forming a habit of push pull steering instead of using a hand-over-hand motion. Also ensuring that I use the “mirror, signal, maneuver” instead of signaling, then checking my mirrors. I’ve also learned to check my mirrors and blind spots more frequently for bikes and other hazards.

The Practical Exam 

The actual test was 40 minutes and included

  • 1 Maneuver: out of 4 possible options of reverse bay parking, parallel parking, forward bay parking and parking on the right side of the street. I had to reverse bay park although I extremely well prepared to demonstrate my parallel parking skills.
  • 1 Emergency Stop: requiring the driver to lock up the brakes-  I thought to myself “I’ve done this a hundred times. It’s called NOT hitting a deer on the highway”
  • Sat Nav: Following the GPS instructions for 20 minutes. This is a relatively new addition to the test and was the easiest part of the test as far as I was concerned. If you made a mistake and took a wrong turn it didn’t count against your score as long as you didn’t do anything unsafe.
  • Pulling Over: there were several points where the instructor had me  “pull over on the left side of the road when it is safe to do so” and safely merge back into traffic. I I found this to be the most annoying part of the test as it was necessary to pull over in awkward places I never would have chosen in real life.
  • Following verbal directions from the instructor
  • “Show me” and “Tell me” questions: examples include show me how to use your rear windscreen wiper, show me how to turn on the defrost, tell me how to check that your brake lights are working, tell me how to check your oil

In the weeks leading up to my test I learned that a maneuver could be attempted more than once. This made me feel like the test could be easily passed. But then I learned that doing the maneuvers correctly was not sufficient: every action must be done “in a safe manner”. This means always checking your blind spots and swiveling your head round and round like an owl to make “adequate” observations of emerging hazards. So not only do you need to execute maneuvers and drive around, you need to ensure you are always swiveling your head, which sounds easy but took practice for me to do consistently. For example, I was able to perfectly parallel park, but if I wasn’t checking my mirrors and blind spots while doing so, I would fail the test. :/

My instructor was very good at helping me to become more observant and swivel my head like a doll. There are lots of videos online with info about the test that helped me prepare but ultimately the test came down to staying calm and confident, but not too calm to the point of complacency. I had a lesson right before my test where I remember telling myself silently “don’t freak out” as I had drove over a curb and was getting too in my head about the test.

The Big Day

On test day I was pretty calm. I passed my mock exam and felt confident I could pass. Things went well with the exception of when I had to pass a cyclist: my confidence wained momentarily when I had to navigate oncoming traffic and the cyclist. I completely support sharing the road and love to ride my bike but this emergent situation was not something I had extensively practiced like every other aspect of the test. This is not something I would normally stress about but having the instructor evaluating me made me doubt myself. Skinny roads + cyclists + oncoming traffic = 🙁

In the end I passed with only one mistake! (You are allowed up to 15) My instructor was pretty sinking happy too and gave me a great big hug! It was such a relief to pass!

Final Thoughts

I remember my driving test at 15 being super easy and kind of a joke compared to the work that went into ensuring I passed in the UK. My high school offered driver’s ed and had a minimal cost compared to the hundreds of £s paid for the tests and driving lessons: the grand total was in excess of £500.

While I dreaded the lessons and the tests were stressful I’m glad I polished up my driving and learned how to navigate roundabouts with confidence.  I wish I would have taken a few lessons when I first moved here to clear up confusion, especially about the dreaded roundabouts. Being informed has made me more confident and the process taught me  good skills that I can practice in the UK and the US. And now I even know how to flip someone off in the UK! (It’s with 2 fingers!) (Not that I’m ever going to do that…hehe)

So glad to have that crossed off my list! Rachel’s Taxi Rides at your Service!


Here’s what my license looks like. Do you like my blonde hair? My license is good for 10 years although technically I’m supposed to relinquish it when I am no longer a resident but I’m definitely keeping it for my scrapbook! I earned it!

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