I decided to pay for a driving lesson for me to get some understanding on how people drive in and around the city and the different signage I would come across.
I have previously driven in the UK for 6 years in a manual transmission (1.4 litre Peugeot 206), although I have driven different cars and have experience on motorways/highways, city driving, snow, rain and night-time; I didn’t have any experience in auto transmission or driving on the other side of the road.
In BC, learners have to do what’s called a graduated driving course. They first have to work towards their class 7 licence and hold this for 2 years with no issues or convictions and then go on to do their class 5 licence. When I transferred my UK licence, I received my class 5.
I called a couple of driving schools to see if they offered this service. Some quoted me $130 for 2 hours! Others wanted me to travel to their offices rather than pick me up. In the end I settled on $70 for 1.5 hours with an instructor who had also taken on foreign drivers from the UK, who were feeling a bit anxious about the roads.
My first challenge was to experience the driver’s seat on the other side. It was very strange to find the rear view mirror facing the left rather than the right. Second challenge was auto transmission. This turned out to be a piece of cake as I only used ‘Drive’ and ‘Park’ and considering all the other things I ended up being concerned about, I think a manual car would have given me a nervous breakdown.
In regards to roads in and around Vancouver. The majority of them are intersections with traffic lights. One major difference between the UK and Canada/USA is that they can turn right on a red light PROVIDING…there is no sign to tell you that it is forbidden to turn right on a red light and if there are pedestrians crossing the road. What makes things easier is that the crossing have countdowns on them so you can work out how much time you have to make your turn.
Another point is turning left at an intersection – I found this much much harder then turning right. When the lights are green, the first car needs to make its way into the intersection and wait for the traffic to pass before making the turn, you probably get away with no more than 3 cars making a turn depending on traffic, however if you are in the intersection and you don’t manage to make your turn whilst your light is on green, you MUST exit the interaction on amber and before your light turns to red or your f**ked lol! This is similar to the UK when you turn right and there is no filter signal – the difference is…your turning in the opposite direction, there is more traffic and you have to deal with some crazy drivers who may or may not know the rules.
Some of the roads did in fact have a left filter light but these were done on sensors in the road and would only turn on if you had 3 or more cars in the left hand lane, otherwise you positioned yourself as above.
Another difference is intersections with ‘STOP’ signs (these don’t have traffic lights). You HAVE to stop at these signs and give way to oncoming. There is ‘2 way STOP signs’ where you and the traffic opposite need to give priority to the left and right. There is also ‘4 way STOP signs’, which are a f**king joke!! Basically, the person with the priority at these interactions is the person who stopped first at the STOP sign – a great idea in principle but again, you are relying on everyone else to obey the rules as well. I would say it is similar to a mini roundabout when you have 3-4 drivers waiting to turn…
Speed limits for roads (except highways) is 50kph, in school areas (usually there is a sign or you will see the playground) it is 30kph. These are very heavily enforced because if you are caught speeding, you don’t only get points on your license, they also tow your car away!
To cut a long story short, the instructor had to use the dual controls twice to make an emergency stop, he decided to inform me that I would have failed my driving test 5 times over throughout the hour and half (do I care? I have already got my license…) and insisted that I was not far enough over in the lane most of the time. He also said my speed at the junctions was too fast on the approach and I need to slow it right down…my answer to that was I drive like a manic, which means I will fit in well here as everyone drives like rabbit on speed! – He didn’t see the funny side :S
What I found difficult was that some of the lanes on the roads are very narrow and you have parked cars on the right as well. On top of that, the yellow line in the middle of the road to separate the traffic so when he kept moving me over (he had a dual control steering wheel as well) I thought I would end up on the other side of the road.
I didn’t find the instructor very patient or very with the right attitude, he complained about other drivers and ‘the asian’ drivers as well as pedestrians – if that was his attitude with someone who knows how to drive, I feel so sorry for the people who are learning :S
Fricking love to see him take on the UK roads – we would eat him alive lol!
So how did I feel after the hour and a half…Initially after 10 minutes, I’d had enough, it was too complicated and there were too many rules for different scenarios but after the hour and half, I felt ok and more confident about the roads out here. I did initially struggle with being on the ‘other side of the road’ but I quickly got over this.
However, the roads are by no means easy and if you are someone who hates driving in the UK then this is not for you…you need to be confident and you cannot hesitate at junctions otherwise you are putting yourself and other people at risk.
I will be driving again, maybe with a hire car to take some trips out of the city. I am hoping my first couple of trips, I can take someone with me, who has experience driving out here just in case but after that, I can’t see there being too many issues. It is difficult to get lost as the roads are on a grid system (Like Milton Keynes lol)…then again this is me so anything is possible :S