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Hi! 

 

I can't drive, as I've never had any need before, living in a city where it literally is much quicker to cycle. Or sometimes, even to walk. I'm hoping to learn this summer for when I go to the States in August. I currently have a UK provisional licence, and I had like one motorbike lesson ever which was disastrous  :rolleyes: - I'm hoping a car will go better. 

 

Questions: is it easier to pass in the US or UK? (I'm serious!)

I'm kind of worried because in the city where I'm going to, they all drive so politely it's ridiculous. I'm vaguely scared that I will drive like a maniac British person and it won't be okay. 

Should I try and pass the test over here and get an international drivers' licence? I'm not sure whether I will stay/go back to the US after my PhD, but it is likely. Perhaps I'm better off getting a US licence to start off with? 

Will it mess me up totally if I start learning and get confident in the UK, then have to switch to opposite sides of the road when I get there? 

 

It's scary because I have about a month in which to learn, and no idea whether I'll be any good at it. Then when I get to the US, not much time at all. Also, it sounds slightly racist but I don't mean it like that - I would rather learn in the UK than with an American instructor, at least till I'm confident. I feel like it is likely to be different, and I'm going to be freaking out (probably), so I'd rather have someone I can sort of feel at home with, if you get me. The same sort of thing as why some women ask for female instructors (I'm considering doing that too). 

 

Thanks guys :)

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I think it depends on which state you learn in how easy the driving test is: Pennsylvania is supposed to be pretty easy, but I don't know about California.

 

I don't have a driver's license either...but I have cycled in the US and UK quite extensively. My guess is that the ease of the left-right driving transition will depend on your general spacial co-ordination and handed-ness: I'm quite strong with both my hands so I found it easy to switch to the other hand for signalling etc, and I never once ended up pedalling on the wrong side of the road or looking out for oncoming traffic in the wrong direction! It's really a personal thing.

 

Lastly, if you're a nervous driver, then rushing to get a British license in 1 month might prove too stressful (if you fail the British test you won't really have time to resit). 

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I feel that California's road test is very easy and lenient compared to the driving test in British Columbia, Canada. I have had no experience in the UK though. But, you might want to know that California does not accept any foreign driver licenses. They also explicitly state that they do not recognize the International Driving Permit. My wife and I are Canadian and have had our full privilege Canadian license for years but we still have to go through the standard process with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and we even drive on the same side of the road as the Americans :P

 

Here's how the process worked for us:

 

1. You pay $35, show up at the DMV with all of your paperwork (if you have a Social Security Number for your TA/RA work, it's much easier). They process it and you take a 36 question written multiple choice test. You must get 30 out of 36 correct to pass. There are 3 choices for each question, and the majority of them are straight forward. However, there are a few trick questions and for us, it was hard to remember a new set of non-metric numbers for stopping distances, speed limits etc. You have 3 chances to take the test, but you can't take the test more than once per day. You can speed up the first visit by making an appointment online and filling out the forms beforehand.

 

2. Once you pass the written test, you get a provisional license and you can start practicing for the road test. You must drive with a driver that is licensed in California. When you are ready, you can make a road test appointment. There is no minimum time limit between the written test and road test, but you can't make the road test appointment until you've passed your written test, and I don't think same day appointments are allowed.

 

3. The book that they give you after passing the written test explains the road test very clearly. Basically, it's a 20 minute drive around the block and you will be asked to make right/left turns, make lane changes, and they will take you to areas with varying speed limits and other signage to follow to test you. You can make up to 14 mistakes and still pass. (It's possible to make multiple mistakes in the same maneuver though). Again, you have 3 chances to pass and you must do it within a year of your original application date. If you fail 3 times or take longer than a year, then you have to start at Step 1 again.

 

So, in your case, you might want to learn how to drive in the UK, where you might be more comfortable. You could try to get a license in the UK / international license but just keep in mind that it won't be recognized in the US and you cannot use it to drive in the US after some number of days*. It still might be a good idea though, because you say you are planning to come back after all. Also, having a license will help you rent cars in the US -- you're allowed to use a rental car on your road test if you get full insurance on it. If you are unable to rent a car, then you are forced to take a test through the driving schools, which cost a ton more money (but if you plan on taking lessons anyways, then this might make sense). My wife and I rented a car for our road test using our Canadian licenses as proof that we're experienced drivers, and our provisional California licenses as proof that we're allowed to drive in California. We also brought along a California-licensed friend just in case! 

 

(* Caveat: the official rule is that since we count as "residents for the purposes of the DMV", our international driver licenses are only good for 10 days after the arrival date stamped in your passport. This is an insanely short period of time, and many people will drive with their foreign licenses past this 10 day limit. Generally, as long as you don't get pulled over or get into an accident, no one will find out and you'll be okay. You can even rent cars with your license past the 10 day limit because car rental companies would just assume you have just arrived for a visit. You'll only get in trouble if something happens where they need to see your immigration papers and/or your passport. Still, it's risky and it's best to get the provisional license as soon as you have time!)

 

Good luck!

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The US is such a big place that driving behavior varies wildly from city to city even within the same state. Freeway driving is, counter-intuitively much easier than local driving. NYC is notoriously bad for driving due to traffic, both car and pedestrian as well as the blatant disregard for traffic laws. Downtown LA can also get bad but outside major cities it shouldn’t be too bad.

California was fairly easy when I took it. However,this varies wildly from city to city, even person to person (is your proctor lenient or strict? it makes a huge difference).

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I would recommend waiting to learn in the US. The switch from driving on the left to driving on the right is a big adjustment (I did it the other way around--learned in the US then drove in the UK, and it was really, really tough). I think it would be easier to pick up if you just learned one way and stuck with it for a long time. Also, you will want/need to get a US drivers' license, because you'll need it to get insurance. Most states require drivers to have auto insurance, and you can't get that without a valid drivers license issued by a US state. 

 

In comparison to European nations, drivers in (most) of the US tend to be extremely orderly. I think this will work to your advantage, as it will be much less intimidating to get out on the road. Yes, you will see some aggressive drivers in the US, but it's nothing like the way cab drivers careen through most of Europe or the Middle East. By and large, most US drivers "follow the rules" and drive about 5-8 miles per hour over the speed limit. You'll pick it up quickly and follow the rules of the road in a similar fashion. If you go on green and stop on red, obey the signs, and use your turn signal, you'll be OK.

 

Also, both of the places you've been accepted have fairly comprehensive city-wide bus systems (I think). While those bus systems might not be quicker than having your own car, you might look into using the bus at first so that you can take your time learning to drive.

 

Regarding drivers' education in the US: You have to be careful to find good driving schools. Check with the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in the city you're moving to, or with the local Better Business Bureau (BBB) to find driving schools with good records. It's been several years since I went through driving schools, so I'm sure it's easier to check websites and identify good schools. A good school may be able to work with you to get an instructor you feel comfortable with. 

 

I hope this is helpful. I understand your nerves, but I think you should be fine. Most people take to it rather easily, particularly if they take is seriously and get their practice hours done. Best of luck to you! 

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I have a friend who just moved to California from London. He held a full driving license here and has just gone through the procedure that TakeruK describes. His opinion that it was much easier (the theory and driving test itself) in California than London. Here the pass rate is very low - most people I know have taken multiple tests. He passed without any issue the first time in California.

 

I'd suggest taking your lessons in the US - as a new driver, it's very disorienting to switch sides of the road and this will just end up costing you more in lessons. Since you're doing a PhD, the likelihood that you'll want to drive at some point during those 5-6 years is quite high so it makes sense to get a Californian license. Plus the US is less well catered for in terms of public transport, so a car would be very useful (or at least the option of renting one).

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I got my license in southern california and I thought the behind-the-wheel test is pretty easy. In fact, I have been told that getting a driver license in the U.S., in general, is pretty easy. Sure, different states and cities vary, but they are still in the "easy" category. Parking test in California is very chill.

 

I'm not sure how the driving test in UK is, but I'm pretty darn sure the driving test in Hong Kong is far more difficult than that in the U.S. (just imagine the behind-the-wheel test is in the parking lot only -- that's what they do in the city that I am currently living)

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As others have said, it depends on the state.  However, some states post the driver's guide book online.  This includes everything you will be tested on for the written test you need to get a permit.  Here's the one for Illinois: http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/publications/pdf_publications/dsd_a112.pdf
  Also, FYI, many states have the DMV (department of motor vehicles) but some (Michigan, I know) just runs everything directly through the Secretary of State offices.
In the U.S., almost all cars are automatic transmissions, where I know it didn't used be that way in Europe (is that still true?).  Learning to drive a manual / "stick shift" is a good skill internationally (and can give you options for cheaper cars here in the States), but learning an automatic is easier.  I also think it would be easier to learn to drive on one side of the road and stick with it, but I'm not speaking from experience. 

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In the U.S., almost all cars are automatic transmissions

 

That really depends on the state. It seems to me that Washington, Oregon, and Florida have more manual transmission than automatic (based on my travel / living experience, besides searching in the user cars market). Hence, I wouldn't say "all" cars are automatic. But it indeed, knowing how to drive "a stick" helps a lot.

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I would suggest waiting as well.  The written test should be no problem, as often you can find manuals online or at least pick one up at the testing center.  The test for a permit is pretty easy, too, and is only a written test.  As for learning, driving schools are good but not strictly necessary: if there's someone you know who is willing to teach you once you have a permit, that's fine too.

 

I don't know for sure what the requirements are for internationals, but for citizens the required "hours of practice" you normally keep track of before getting a license (a least in some states) is waived once you turn 18.  So theoretically, you could go get a permit right away, take a week or so to learn (that's all it took me) and go get your license.  While you can make a lot of small mistakes and still pass, just be aware that some things, like missing a stop sign, are an automatic fail.  

 

As a new driver, I just think it would be more comfortable to learn driving in the place where you'll need to do it.

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 As for learning, driving schools are good but not strictly necessary: if there's someone you know who is willing to teach you once you have a permit, that's fine too.

 

Some states require drivers education classes, no matter what age, so in some places it may be necessary. Not sure what the requirement is for California.

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Some states require drivers education classes, no matter what age, so in some places it may be necessary. Not sure what the requirement is for California.

I did not aware there is such a requirement in California. While I did take 2 lessons, 3 hours in total before taking my behind-the-wheel exam in socal, I also know people (who just turned 20 / in early 20s) go straight to the behind-the-wheel test and get it done. Maybe for someone younger? 

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