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The Toughest Place To Get Your Licence

skiddingSo you thought that the practical driving test that you had for getting your driver’s licence was hard.  I know I did.  Didn’t help that the cop who put me through my paces when I was a timid wee lass of 17 was built like a brick outhouse (fine for dealing with the local drunk and disorderlies; terrifying for a nervous teenager).  However, the most difficult thing I got asked to do was to back around a corner – something that I’d never heard of or seen done so I initially suspected some sort of trap.  Also, the small town where I sat my licence was out that back of nowhere, and there were no hills for hill starts, no uncontrolled intersections and, courtesy of the local council planners, no parallel parking in the main street. I practically got my licence out of a cereal packet.

It’s a different story on the other side of the world in Finland. I don’t think that I’d manage to get my driver’s licence even now that mumble-mumble years have gone by and my teenage son is preparing to sit his practical test for the second time (failed the first time for not having parallel parking down pat).  Most of us don’t know an awful lot about Finland except that it’s up near the Arctic, borders Sweden, is the home of Nokia and produces rally drivers with names that look like they ought to belong to Tolkien characters.  Good rally drivers.  And given what you need to do before you get your licence, this isn’t surprising.

The theory test you get in Finland is pretty much like the one you’d get in most parts of the world – a set of questions with illustrations showing different scenarios, to which you have to apply your knowledge of the road code (which you probably spent the previous night swotting).  After that, the practical driving begins.  No being taught by Mum and Dad for the Finns: it’s driving school for two years unless Mum and Dad have an instructors’ permit and the family car (what’s the betting that it’s going to be a Saab or Volvo from across the border?) is fitted up with an extra pair of brake pedals for the front passenger.  And you can’t get that provisional licence equivalent until you’re 18. Which means you get your full licence at 20, and it’s valid for another 50 years.

Driving school isn’t just a case of endless three-point turns and parallel parks in a safe environment.  Safeish environment, yes – including computer simulations for situations that the instructors can’t make happen just like that… like night driving.

I have to say that the driving course does look quite fun.  There’s quite a good video clip about it.

I certainly wish that I had gone through this course, with its controlled skids on icy roads, moose avoidance tests and car maintenance lessons.  This sort of thing, especially the skidding bit, has two advantages.  If you’re a Nervous Nelly like I used to be, being taught how to handle a skid (and what sort of action will get you into a skid) will make you more confident in your ability and you’ll thus be less likely to panic and freeze if things do get hairy.  If you are at the opposite end of the spectrum and a bit of a hoon, then this will get all the skidding out of your system.  Unless you go on to be a rally driver.

We might not get the super icy roads over here in Australia or even in New Zealand, or at least not as icy as that driving course looks. But we do get rain and we do get gravel.  So learning this sort of thing certainly doesn’t go amiss.  Rural kids get a bit of an advantage here, as they have the opportunity of finding a large field that isn’t full of stock, crops or trees, then tearing around like crazy doing doughnuts, fishtails and slides.  Rural kids also know all too well that a large animal is likely to appear around the corner at random and either learn to take care around corners just in case or else how to dodge things.  However, they can go to pieces when confronted with multilane roundabouts, right turns in heavy traffic and other delights of city driving.  There needs to be some sort of exchange programme going on – shouldn’t be that hard…

Other countries have other interesting requirements for getting handed that piece of paper that allows you to drive.  In Switzerland, you have to have done a first aid course.  In Brazil, you have to have done a self-defence course.  In Russia, you have to have a certificate saying that you’re sane (guess a number of former Tsars and other leaders of this country wouldn’t have passed).  In Saudi Arabia, you have to have male genitalia, a Y chromosome and probably a beard.  Yes, folks, in the place where a lot of the world’s petrol comes from, I wouldn’t have had a chance of getting a licence on the grounds of gender.

Safe and happy driving,