Tuesday, January 13, 2015

British Expat: The Most Terrifying Thing About Moving to the U.S. is Learning to Drive

I know what you're thinking: this article is all about some confused British expat who probably forgot which side of the American highway he was supposed to be on. Before he had time to correct the error, the bumbling Brit almost certainly collided with that poor woman's blue Chevrolet Aveo (pictured above). 

Guess again. 

Okay, I've got it—it was the steering wheel he was confused about. Before he had time to acclimate himself to left-sided steering, the bumbling Brit definitely collided with that poor woman's blue Chevrolet Aveo (pictured above).

Way off the mark.

The picture you see above was taken in 2011. The poor woman is my wife. The car was our Chevrolet Aveo. I am the person behind the lens. Thisat the age of 29was my first ever car crash.

As you can tell from the picture, my wife (and not I) was behind the wheel at the time of the incident. This is largely because I am notand never have beenlicensed to operate a motor vehicle of any kind. In the UK, with public transportation so readily available, I never really felt a great desire to pursue my license. 

Nor did this desire suddenly materialize upon moving to the United States. I figurednaively it turns out—that I could continue to hop on trains or ride buses with the joyful abandon I had enjoyed back home. The state of Indiana had other ideas. The train from Indianapolis to Chicago is approximately the only passenger train service in Indiana.

Initially, however, it just happened that my wife and I were employed by the same company, meaning we could carpool together every morning. Indeed, it was on such a morning that the crash happened, when my wife and the driver in front each pulled into the next lane at the same time.  The car in front slowed down and our left side crunched into its rear.

A year later, my wife and I would no longer be working for the same company. It became clear that I might, in fact, have to take driving lessons.

Of course, one always remembers one's first car crash. It stays with you and resurfaces in your brain from time to timeusually when you're cruising through traffic past yet another disfigured tyre (tire in the U.S.) strewn along the hard shoulder (shoulder in the U.S.) of the motorway (highway in the U.S.). Why are there so many tyre remnants everywhere? My best guess is that tyres wear out more easily in the U.S. because of the sheer number of hours vehicles are on the road. After all, it is not at all unusual for people here in Indiana, for example, to commute an hour a day just to get to work (not to mention to drive home).       

These long commutes may also, in some part, explain why so many vehicles take to the road in, shall we say, delicate conditions. Furthermore, without the equivalent of an MOT test (for my American readers, this is an annual vehicle safety and road worthiness test that is required in the UK of all vehicles over three years old), there is nothing to prevent these old bangers from sharing the road with other vehicles.

With this knowledge in mind, I was not altogether thrilled at the notion of getting behind the wheel of a car in Indiana.

Regardless, I made my way one morning to the BMV (for my British readers, this stands for Bureau of Motor Vehicles) to take my written test. Perhaps once I saw how rigorously Indiana drivers were put to the test, I could feel a little more confident about one day taking my car for a spin along I-69. The fact that I passed the written test without doing the suggested studying, however, seemed to fly in the face of this theory. I felt like a 15-year-old trying successfully to blague my way through GCSE maths. Actually, this is oddly appropriate, since 15-year-olds are legally permitted to apply for a learner's permit in Indiana.

No matter, Iunder the supervision of my grandfather-in-law and later my wife (for the sake of brevity later on, we'll call them collectively my "trainer")eventually began taking driving lessons. 

Initially, it was perfectly straightforward. 

"I don't know what I was so worried about," I remarked, while hitting the gas around an empty car park (parking lot).  

Later, though, came those dreaded words: "okay, I think you're ready to go out onto the roads." 

My agreeing nod and smile utterly belied the fact that inside I was shaking my head and thrusting a dossier of road accident statistics into my trainer's face. Not yet, I internalized. Let's do a few more loops of that parking sign over there

"Do you think you're up for trying out the back roads?" Asked the trainer, unaware of my apprehension. 

"Yep," I lied in response.

"Okay, then you're going to want to turn left out of the parking lot. Make sure to look for oncoming traffic."

They say that the moment before you die, your whole life flashes before you. This is not true. What flashes before you are relentless images of strewn tyre remnants, old bangers that nobody thought to impound, and barely pubescent motorists taking to the roads. It's the multiple choice questions you aced without studying, the motorcyclist who perished because Indiana law does not mandate helmets, and the all-too-familiar high school memorial for a teenager we lost this year. It's the blue Chevrolet Aveo, the poor woman in the driver's seat, and the photographer who captured the immediate aftermath of his first ever car crash.

These are the things that flash before you prior to death, I convinced myself, while turning left out of the parking lot.

I didn't die that day, nor during the other lessons. I came close on a couple of occasions, but no harm was ever done. Physically that is. The truth is, and I can say this about few other aspects of my life, I am terrified of learning to drive in the U.S. Not because the road terminology is different, but because the laws are.

Drive safely, everyone.

This article was written by Laurence Brown. Laurence is a British expat living in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a contributor for BBC America and has written for Anglotopia. He is Editor-in-chief of Lost in the Pond and loves nothing more than to share these articles with anglophiles, expats, and other interested parties on social media. Follow Lost in the Pond on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Laurence, you've done it again! I am from America and am terrified of driving any further than I absolutely have to.

Elizabeth West said...

Driving in the US can be pretty scary because people are idiots. I was just starting to understand the traffic patterns in the UK when my holiday sadly ended. If I ever moved there for good, I'd probably get a car so I could be as mobile as possible (and I'm used to having one here). But I would definitely go to driving school first!

Anonymous said...

Regarding your observation about the MOT test ... Most states require annual mechanical and emissions inspections for motor vehicles. As far as I can tell, Indiana only requires an emissions inspection.

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