Wednesday, April 7, 2010

More on driving over here

As I've said in the past, I won't be critical of the United Kingdom, as Neeve was born and is being raised here. She's British (and American), but being raised as a Brit. I'm not going to be derogatory, make fun, or ridicule the country, the people or the customs. The government is a different issue however; as it is always appropriate to ridicule the government.

The one thing that has irritated me the most here (beyond Immigration) is the issue of car insurance. I recently bought a car. An old, 1999, piece-of-shit, Ford Mondeo Estate (station wagon). It cost me £350 ($600). It’s probably the most expensive thing I own right now, but it's still just an old beater.

In my life, I've driven in the United States, Canada, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Latvia (the worst country in Europe for driving), Lithuania, Germany, Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Angola (it has to be experienced to be believed). A variety of countries, many of them not known for their special skills on the road. But I've spent 30 years driving in those countries, without an accident of any kind, and haven't had a ticket in 20 years. I've only had 3 total, and they all came in an 18-month period after I left the autobahns of Germany.

Now, to my way of thinking, the United States is a developed country, and you don't just get handed a driver's license. There are written and driving tests required, insurance is mandatory, and the police are all over the place. There are strict rules and procedures for driving. This isn't like some other countries, where, although a licenses and insurance are required, the lack of either can be handled with a $20 to the police. No, there are standards, and records that cover the driving period, document all accidents and tickets, and a standardized system for tracking all of this.

So what is my problem, you might wonder? The United Kingdom refuses to recognize this. I can't receive my U.K. driver's license as a transfer from my U.S. license. And I'm not happy.

There are four categories of licenses available in the U.K.:

Full - just like what you get in the states
Provisional - a temporary license for people like me until we pass a written and driving test to get a full license
International - one of those paper licenses you get at AAA for $10, and gives you a year of driving anywhere in the world
Learners - a restricted license for people learning to drive

But if I came from one of the following countries, I could exchange my license with no problem:

British Virgin Islands
Falkland Islands
Faroe Islands*
Hong Kong
New Zealand
Republic of Korea*
South Africa

Now I realize that a lot of those are Commonwealth countries, but Japan? South Korea? Monaco!!!?


So I need to get a provisional license, and have to take a written and driving test. As far as they are concerned, my U.S. license carries no more weight than one from Angola or Iraq would carry.

So you'll know why I'm bitching, this is not just the inconvenience of having to take the tests. I think its silly, but I can deal with that. No, it goes much deeper than that.

Insurance on a full license - £54 ($90) per month

Insurance on a provisional license - £111 ($170) per month

See the issue. I'm getting screwed. My driving isn't considered good enough to warrant a lower rate, but people from other countries from throughout the world can come to the U.K. and exchange their licenses. For the simple reason that there has been a governmental agreement between the two. It doesn't matter what the standard, or what the background of the driver is. Just what is on the cover of the their passport.

They get a full U.K. license. And cheap insurance. Meanwhile, I've been driving for 30 years with no accidents and tickets against my record, in a country with some of the highest standards in the world, and I'm a substandard driver.

To be fair, I don't know what the procedure for Brits moving to the states is, so this could be the fault of the United Stats also. But maybe not. But the U.K. doesn't have to do it. They just are.

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