Dear Minister

Share the road

Share the road

Readers will remember my travails with the Irish driving system. I wrote about having to apply for an Irish Driving License and then about the mandatory driving lessons and passing the driving test. I promised myself that when it was all over I would write to the Minister for Transportation and make recommendations about how people like me could be treated respectfully and flexibly.

I’ve finally written the letter and have extracted my recommendations below. I would be interested in whether readers agree with them. I’d also love to hear your personal experiences of driving in Ireland. It’s a unique experience in many ways – I am constantly bemused by what I observe as I navigate the boreens and village streets of this part of the world.

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EXTRACT FROM LETTER TO MINISTER OF TRANSPORT, TOURISM AND SPORT

There is no justification for such an inflexible approach to holders of foreign licenses. I know Ireland is committed to negotiating mutual recognition agreements with other countries over time, and that Canada may be a little more complex since licensing is handled by individual provinces, thus  requiring recognition of ten provincial licenses rather than one national one. I also understand that progress is being made, but slowly.

Since my license happens to be Canadian, I will venture now to make some recommendations on an alternative approach to how holders of Canadian licenses (and by extension others) could be treated.

Recommendations:

  1. Retain the requirement for the Rules of the Road test – there are enough differences to make this a good idea.
  2. Waive the requirement for the mandatory lessons or reduce them considerably – four lessons would be more than adequate to cover some of the idiosyncrasies of driving in Ireland.
  3. Waive the requirements for the Canadian license holder to apply for an Irish Learner Permit.
  4. If, for whatever reason this is not possible or practical, waive the regulation whereby the Learner Permit then takes precedence over the Canadian License. In practice, this allows the Canadian license holder to continue to drive on their Canadian license for a year (as they can if they do NOT apply for a Learner Permit) while preparing for the road test.
  5. Conduct a desk review of all ten Canadian Provincial Licensing systems. They are all easily accessible online, and fully explained. I can assure you that each province in Canada has a rigorous and comprehensive learner-driver program, but don’t take my word for it – a civil servant in your Ministry can conduct this assessment in less than a week.
  6. Once you have done this, immediately declare a unilateral recognition of Canadian driving licenses, as your Ministry has already done for several other countries.

The Road Safety Authority is doing a good job of raising the standards of driving in Ireland. In doing this they are battling decades of deeply-engrained negative attitudes to careful driving and to adherence to licensing regulations, especially outside the major metropolitan areas. I applaud this progress towards real change to the culture of driving in Ireland. But please, allow flexibility in how the regulations are applied so that someone with 40 years of driving experience is not treated like a  beginning driver.

Sincerely

Finola Finlay

Don't get distracted by the scenery

Don’t get distracted by the scenery

I wonder if I will get a response. I will let you know.

Mooooove over!

Mooooove over!

One last image…

What the...?

What the…?

Driving Home the Point

Another grand road

Another grand road

In my two previous posts about driving in Ireland, I chronicled the bureaucracy involved in registering our car and in applying for an Irish driving licence. Since Ireland and Canada do not have a mutual recognition agreement I had to take the theory test, a series of 12 mandatory lessons, and then take the road test. The good news is that I passed – I am now a fully qualified Irish driver! More good news – we got a €50 rebate on our car insurance. And best of all – having never even sat in a tractor in my life, I am now licensed to drive one. This is particularly pleasing since it is the vehicle of choice for the farmer visiting the pub at night in country villages, so you never know when I might be called upon to use this facility.

I can park my tractor in town now if I want.

I can park my tractor in town now if I want.

The bad news is that, between all the fees and the mandatory lessons, I spent a LOT more than the €50 I saved. It also cost me several months in which I was unable to drive on my own, and the aggravation of being trapped in an inflexible bureaucracy that refused to acknowledge my 40 years of safe driving.

I've learned to be alert for road signs

I’ve learned to be alert for road signs

However, all that paled when it came to the frustrations of learning to drive in a whole new style. As my friend Danny puts it, if someone tries to teach you how to walk (place this foot here, now lift this one) you will fall down. It just messes with your head to have to unlearn a sequence of actions that is as familiar as breathing, and relearn them a different way. This is not to do with being a better driver (although I think I am a better driver now), but with passing the test by demonstrating the correct procedures in the approved sequence.

You MUST not stop or park in a box junction

You MUST not stop or park in a box junction

Some examples might help to demonstrate. Shoulder checking is a huge thing in Canada – looking over your right and left shoulder before moving off, changing road position, turning a corner, etc. It’s because of the danger of not seeing a cyclist in the car’s blind spot. In Ireland, they want you to do a quick glance, no more. Here, you MUST check your mirrors before signalling, and after – there’s a strict sequence to follow. In Canada they teach you to take one hand off the steering wheel so that you can turn around and look out the back window when reversing – here they want both hands on the wheel at all times. You WILL be asked to reverse around a corner (you would not be asked to do that in a Canadian test) and you WON”T be asked to parallel park (a Canadian right of passage). None of these things are matters of life and death – they are all stylistic, but this is what you will be tested on. The national pass rate for the test is only 56% so there is a very real possibility of failing, no matter how well prepared you think you are.

No parking where there are zigzag lines. Or double yellow lines. Or both.

No parking where there are zigzag lines. Or double yellow lines. Or both.

Meanwhile, all around you, you will see Irish drivers doing the most appalling things and routinely flouting the rules of the road. This can be put down to the lax driving standards of the past, and so it is encouraging that it is now more difficult to get a license and that the expectations for skill and safety have been elevated. (See an interesting discussion on this here.)

Don't drive too close behind the slurry tank

Don’t drive too close behind the slurry tank

There was one bright spot in all of this – my driving instructor, Frank O’Driscoll. Having spent years driving big rigs all over Europe, and huge buses around the tiny West Cork roads, there’s nothing about driving that Frank hasn’t seen or done. Sympathising with my plight, he nevertheless gently prodded me through the lessons in sequence and encouraged me to just get on with it. An hour and a half in the car with Frank wasn’t just about driving, though. He has a great tenor voice and on the long straight stretches we roared our way through Come By The Hills or The Fields of Athenry, punctuated by snatches of poetry or by snippets of local history. Back at the house Robert put the kettle on and we settled down to tea and laughter as Frank filled in the log book and entertained us with his West Cork wit and stories.

Frank – if you’re reading this – I almost miss my driving lessons!

Frank O'Driscoll - instructor par excellence

Frank O’Driscoll – instructor par excellence

Rules of the Irish Road

Directional signs in Irish and English, cars parked every which way, street names in small print on the wall. Welcome to driving in Ireland!

Directional signs in Irish and English, not enough room for two-way traffic, cars parked every which way, street names in small print on the wall. Welcome to driving in Ireland!

In my Driven to Distraction post I alluded to having to get an Irish driver’s licence. I can drive legally for a year on my Canadian licence, but if I intend to stay longer, and if I want to get insurance at reasonable rates, I have to get an Irish one.

Do not overtake

No Overtaking. RR (Rules of the Road) p79

I have driven for almost 40 years without incident, in all kinds of conditions (Northern Canadian winters!) and vehicles, standard and automatic. I have rented a car every summer in Ireland year after year. I was prepared for some kind of process whereby I would be asked to demonstrate my competence and my knowledge of the Irish road rules – a process which I assumed would also acknowledge my experience and skills. The first part of that last sentence was a realistic assessment; the second part was a hopeless dream. It turns out that I must start from scratch, as if I was 17, as if I had never driven before.

Double yellow lines: no parking at any time. RR p115

Double yellow lines: no parking at any time. RR p115

Perhaps, you surmise, this is because we drive on the right in Canada and in Ireland we drive on the left. But anybody with a European driving licence can simply swap it for an Irish one, no matter what side of the road they drive on. This also applies to those in possession of licences from Taiwan, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. Within Europe, all countries have agreed to the principle of mutual recognition for all sorts of qualifications and Ireland happens to have concluded agreements with several other countries for mutual recognition of driving licences. But with the US and Canada, it has not yet happened. There are “talks” apparently, but no real progress. This also means that Irish drivers who emigrate to Canada must go through a staged testing process.

You MUST not park on a footpath. RR p116

You MUST not park on a footpath. RR p116

 

Right – fair enough – I must prove my knowledge of the road and my driving competence. OK, theory test now passed, when can I take the road test? Wait, not so fast! First I must take, and pay for, a series of 12 driving lessons from an approved instructor. The lessons must be documented and they should occur two weeks apart: that will take six months. In the meantime, I must have L plates on the car and I cannot drive alone or on Motorways. Did you get that? I CANNOT DRIVE ALONE. I have, in effect, lost my independence. I must rely on Robert to drive me everywhere (we live three miles from the nearest village) or to sit beside me while I drive.

Drive at a safe speed.  RR p88

Drive at a safe speed. RR p88

In a future post I will describe the lessons – a whole experience in themselves! Meanwhile, I must admit that studying the Irish Rules of the Road has been a salutary experience. I leave you with some photographs to illustrate the Irish approach to road signage and to the observation of the Rules.

Unprotected quay ahead

Unprotected quay ahead. RR p183