I got my Driver’s Licence today. It’s a big deal.
Ok. It’s only a provisional licence to be exchanged for a permanent one after 18 months, subject to satisfactory driving record during that period.
Getting a driving licence in the United States is significantly more difficult than buying a gun, for example. And the process can be tedious. Let me explain.
The process is slightly different across the states but the fundamentals are the same. Here in Maryland, you first go to the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) and write a computer exam that tests your basic knowledge of driving instructions and road signs (there is a manual you can read online. Testing costs $50. You can also download apps to test yourself before that day). If you pass (I flunked the first attempt and had to schedule another one), you will be issued a learner’s permit. Then you have to attend an approved Driving School and sit through 30 hours of classroom (3 hours each day for 10 days, with a test at the end of each day) then six hours of road practice with an instructor (2 hours each day for 3 days). At least 3 hours of this road practice must be at night. When you are done with this and the school is satisfied that you can now drive, your details are transmitted to the MVA. You can then go online and schedule your MVA road driving test. But there is a caveat. If you’re less than 25, you have to wait till nine months after the day you got your learner’s permit before you can schedule a road test. If you’re at least 25, the waiting time is 45 days after your permit date.
Of course trust Nigerians who don’t have time for all that senrenren. I was told I could bypass the driving school part of the process by paying a premium at some schools and just getting the certificate, so far you can drive. Going through the normal process at the driving school cost me $365 and a further $50 to expedite the road practice sessions with my instructor, so you can imagine how much the shortcut would have cost. Anywhere Naija people day, there is always a shortcut (although to be fair, I was told it’s not peculiar to Nigerians alone).
If you came here with your country’s driving licence, you can change it for a Maryland driving licence without going through a training school or writing the computer test, although you have to attend a 3-hour Drug and Alcohol training class (for $50), in addition to taking the compulsory MVA road test.
I came here with an international driving licence which I have been using to drive since I got here last September (I used to drive 120 miles to and fro work each day). I tried to exchange this licence for a Maryland licence, but I was required to get a covering letter from the Nigerian Embassy which I got. When I went back to the MVA, they said international driving licences were not accepted. I arranged for someone to send me a local driving licence from Nigeria (don’t ask me how I got it — my name is not Oluwole ) but then the people at MVA asked me to get my driving record from Nigeria. Cue frustration. The lady attending to me saw I was annoyed and asked why I couldn’t just go through the normal process instead of trying to use my Nigerian licence. I told her I couldn’t wait for nine months. She asked if I wasn’t over 25. I told her I was. That was when she told me applicants who are at least 25 years old only have to wait for 45 days, not 9 months. Because the people around me going through the driving licence process were all below 25 (and so had to wait nine months), it never occurred to anyone to tell me I only need 45 days (of cos I am above 25, what did you think?!). I just started laughing.
It was July 2nd. My international driving licence was to expire on September 2nd. Even though I’d only been stopped on the road once (and even then I wasn’t asked to present a licence — a big surprise!), I always felt my luck would run out as soon as my licence expires.
I had no choice. I took the computer test a few minutes later.