Today I would like to share with you some of my thoughts on driving in the US. For those of you who do not know me, I love to drive! Granted, with two kids in the car it’s not quite as much fun as it used to be, but I still enjoy it. I would consider myself a good driver- if you exclude driving backwards, which I am awful at.
In Germany, it is ridiculously difficult to get a drivers license. You have to go through a driving school (Fahrschule)- there are no learner’s permits or kids being taught how to drive by their parents- and you have to be at least 18 years old. There is a set number of theoretical and practical hours that you have to absolve in order for you to be eligible to take the driver’s tests. There is one written theoretical exam as well as an extensive practical exam, in which you have to drive around town for around an hour in unknown terrain while being evaluated by an impartial (and usually very lovely and good natured- I’m being sarcastic) inspector who decides whether you get a license or not. The whole ordeal costs the average student around $2.000.
I was unable to afford the steep German prices. When I first came to the States in 2001 I was 22 years old and without a license. For a whopping $15, I got a Georgia license after taking a quick multiple choice exam, which I passed on my first try without having studied for it, and a 15 minute drive around the DMV parking lot.
Now, if you compare these two roads of license acquisition, I’m sure you will admit that the German one is probably slightly harder. Therefore (and because I have witnessed it first hand) I am concluding that the Germans are also better drivers.
Germans are very strict when it comes to rules, including rules of the road. Here? Not so much! As an example, let’s consider the rule that you may only pass on the left. In Germany, nobody would ever dare to pass another car in the right lane. I distinctly remember this happening when I was a child and there being so many horns blown by all the surrounding drivers that I was really impressed. Actually, it’s quite possible that they have the death penalty for such behavior. In South Carolina, everybody passes where they want to. Slow cars don’t keep right, they just drift around to wherever they feel they would like to be, and the other drivers just have to find a way to get around them. At first, I though it was fine to just pass wherever you wanted. I then learned that the law for passing is actually the same here…
I tried to get myself accustomed to the traffic laws here, but missed a few bits of information here and there. E.g. passing a school bus. I was driving along one day in 2001 when a school bus stopped in front of me on a country road. So, without thinking twice, I sped up and passed it on the left, nearly taking with me the Stop sign that had suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Ooooh, the people were mad! They honked and swore and shook their fists at me. Honestly, I had no idea what they were going on about. Until I spoke to someone who explained the law to me…
Turning right on red has been one of my favorite rules in the US. What an awesome concept! I just wish someone had explained to me that I can’t just go if there is nobody coming my way. I didn’t realize I still had to make a stop, even if it is safe to turn. You live, you learn.
Here is one bad thing about German drivers licenses: they don’t expire. Even if the person is 92 years old- like my grandmother was- they can still insist on driving- which my grandmother did. I don’t think I have to elaborate on why this is not such a good idea. If you are ever driving in Germany, beware of old men driving wearing hats.
Even though driving in the US is a little more chaotic, it is still enjoyable. At least it’s not insane driving like in some European countries I’ve been. Americans just have a different attitude towards the driving process. It’s like the people are in their living rooms- eating, drinking, smoking, talking on the phone, watching DVDs, reading, etc. Germans have no patience for such behavior- as with everything else, driving is a very serious business and there is no time for nonsense. (Insert smiley face here)