A Thai Driving Test
After the comings and goings, to-ing and fro-ings, of the Buddhist ordination ceremony in Kut Chum, I stayed on in Isaan for an additional day in order to take the Thai driving test. My international driving license had expired and I needed to get a local driving license. This meant I had to complete a four part test.
Before all of that, however, I needed to make sure I had all the necessary documentation (passport, work permit, and medical certificate), and two photocopies of each. I arrived at the test centre at a little before 8am, minus the required medical certificate. There was, I was told, a clinic opposite the test centre and – as I sat in the car – a friend went in and got the certificate for me. Apparently I am fine.
With documentation complete I entered the test centre, along with about 35 others, and after a couple of minutes we were all brought upstairs to conduct the first test; colour blindness. We all passed.
Next was a test designed to replicate an emergency break situation. You had to sit in a chair in front of a machine that had a green and a red light. At your feet was a device representing the accelerator and break pedals on an automatic geared car. When the light was green you kept your foot on the accelerator and when the red light appeared you were to break. If you didn’t break within 2.5 seconds a bell would sound and you would have to try again. You had three attempts to break within the allotted time.
The lady just before me sat down, readied herself, and looked earnestly at the lights. When the red light appeared she pressed furiously on the accelerator. “No, no, no!” The examiner cried. “You are speeding up! When the red light comes on I want you to break.” On came the green light, then the red….. She shoved her foot down on the accelerator again. “Owwww! Break! You must break. Do you see the break pedal? In real life you won’t have three chances to do this. When the red light comes on you have to put your foot down on the other pedal.” The lady giggled and said “Oh”
The green light came on again, then the red, and she thumped the accelerator with her foot. “Okay. Go home! And don’t drive!” I think the examiner had had enough.
Next, we were shepherded into another room to watch an hour long video and each given a copy of the highway code. Usually there are copies in English available but, on this occasion, there wasn’t. I watched the video, browsed through the code and when the video was over the invigilator returned and explained that we would now do the theory exam. It would be conducted on computer and required that 23 of the 30 multiple choice questions needed to be answered correctly in order to pass.
He explained that on the section dealing with road signs, if you were unsure of the right answer you should opt for the one that had two lines of text, as 15 of the 17 correct answers in that section featured two lines. Helpful! He added, for my benefit, that this only applied to the Thai version as he didn’t know if the same was true for the English language version.
Ah well. It was around this time that I began to think that it would not have been a bad idea to actually read the highway code before taking the test. Anyway, a free place became available at a computer and I was seated in front of it and pushed the start button. The system is very good, you can answer questions, skip questions and return to them later and go back to questions and change the answer if you wish before submitting your final answers.
There is an hour to complete the 30 questions. I took 20 minutes. Some of the answers were very easy (road signs and examples of correct parking) and others were quite difficult due to somewhat imprecise English translations. As soon as I pressed the ‘submit’ button up popped a green message saying “Passed – 23 correct answers” Whew, a lot of luck came into play on that. Had I failed, I would have had the opportunity to take the test again in the afternoon.
Then it was out of the building to complete the actual driving test. This took place not on the highways and by-ways of the road system, but in the car park. An area had been section off, about 15 metres by 30 metres, and there were 4 exercises or manouvres to complete.
First up was parallel parking. A very generous parking space ( you could comfortably park two cars in it) had been marked out with flag posts and the idea was to draw parallel to it, go a little beyond the space, and then reverse into it.
I make no claims to be an expert driver, but I could not believe what I witnessed as my fellow candidates attempted to park. It was truly as if they had never sat in a car before; even as a passenger. A person two cars ahead of me actually ended up facing in the wrong direction, 2 metres outside of the parking space, stopped the car and looked expectantly across at the examiner (who was not in the car) with a look of accomplishment along the lines of ‘taraaa! Look what I’ve done’ thinking they’d parked successfully.
After the parallel parking we were required to drive two metres, in a straight line, between road bollards and stop. Then, assuming the bollards were still in place, to reverse back to where we started from; all two metres. Easier said then done. An assistant to the examiner was employed virtually full-time, to realign the bollards after their being nudged, pushed, or driven over.
Lastly, it was required to drive up to where the examiner was seated and simply park the car in front of him. No obstacles. Ohh, sorry, I was forgetting the kerb.
Anyway, having watched 4 people take the course on and seen what I was supposed to do, I actually felt quite nervous as I sat in the car; my left leg began to shake a bit. There was considerable interest from those waiting to drive the course after me, those who had just been through the ordeal, and those simply there to pass the time away, in how the ‘farang’ or foreigner would do. Thankfully, I managed to squeeze into the parking spot, drive up and down the corridor of bollards, and come to a stop without mounting the kerb. No medals but no mistakes.
“Very good, very good, very, very, good!” I got a ‘two thumbs up’ from an enthusiastic on-looker as I very gratefully took my “Pass” certificate with me into the building once more to get my photograph taken for the license. As I sat there waiting, only a couple of minutes, the gentleman beside me asked me how many times I had taken the test. I told him I’d just taken it this morning. “Oh, today is my 6th day here.” He had taken the multiple choice exam 11 times in 6 days and finally passed earlier in the day. “I am very happy!”
So was I.