Learning to Drive in Ireland
In America we learn to drive at a young age. This exact age varies from state to state, but in Florida, where I grew up, we could get our driving permits at 15. Looking back, that is so young but think about it – we need to be able to drive. I didn’t live in a city with accessible public transportation. It was expected that I would start driving myself around at 16 and that is exactly what I did. I drove nearly every single day from the time I got my permit until I moved abroad.
Getting my driving permit in America versus Ireland could not be more different. Looking back, obtaining a permit in America was a joke. At 14 I got about five pieces of computer paper stapled together from the DMV to study the rules of the road. I am not exaggerating that the paper was stapled together, it was that short. When I turned 15 my mom drove me down to the DMV where I took a theory test on the oldest computer in the world and passed. Since I had passed the test, they then checked my eyes….in the DMV. It was this little box on the counter that you leaned into and the DMV worker questioned what you saw. How is this okay?? As I had passed the theory and vision tests, I was good to go! I had my photo taken and received my driving permit then and there. By the way, none of this cost me (read: my parents) a single dollar.
BEFORE YOU GET STARTED:
Before I took my exam, I studied using the Official Driving Theory Test Questions & Answers Book. This book, unlike my stapled pieces of paper in Florida, was over 200 pages. Once I finished reading the sections of the book that would be on my test, I started to take practice tests using the Theory Tester website and the Official Driving Theory Test Questions & Answers CD. It is important to note that the Theory Tester website is not official or affiliated with the RSA. But it is free, and I found it extremely accessible and helpful. I took tests on the website on my phone when I was commuting to and from work. Taking practice tests on there really helped me to see what I was struggling with so that I could make sure I gave more attention to these areas before I took my official test. The Official Driving Theory Test Questions & Answers CD was also good, but I don’t think I got my money’s worth out of it. The testing simulation is also not the same as in the actual testing center even though it is advertised as so. I think if you put the effort in and study the Official Driving Theory Test Questions & Answers Book and make use of the Theory Tester website, you should pass.
STEP ONE: DRIVING THEORY
You will need to book an appointment at the Driving Theory Test Centre to take the Driver Theory Test. When I booked to take the test in October 2018, the fee for the test was €45. I would recommend booking the test as soon as you can because when I went to book in October the earliest date available to sit the test was mid-December.
When you enter the testing center you will need to supply ID (passport is easiest) and proof of your appointment. From there you are to put your belongings in a secure locker. Before you enter the testing room you will have your photo taken and be searched with a metal detector. It is truly this dramatic, I can’t make it up.
You are then brought to a computer to begin your test. There is an option to go through the buttons and such before the test. I know, you’re thinking ‘I use computers all the time, why would I need that?’. Just do it. This is a software that you don’t use every day, so it shows you how to use it/has some helpful tricks such as showing you how to strike through answers you know are wrong or to flag questions you want to go back to.
Once you finish the test you will be given a print out of your results. If you pass, you do not want to lose this! Keep this somewhere safe because you must have this to get your driving permit. You will be given information from the testing center on the next steps in the process, but all this information is easily accessible online as well.
STEP TWO: BOOKING AN APPOINTMENT WITH THE NDLS
You’ve passed your Driver Theory, go you! Now time to book an appointment with the National Driver License Service. Appointments here can be booked here up to four weeks in advance. You can find your nearest National Driver License Service centre here.
You aren’t required to have a scheduled appointment time for this, but I would recommend that you book one in or else you could be waiting around the office for who knows how long. If you don’t schedule an appointment you will have to add your name to a queue on an iPad and then sit around and wait to be called on – no thank you. Because I had an appointment booked, I was in and out of the office in under 20 minutes.
STEP THREE: EYE EXAMINATION
As a part of the Driving Permit application, you must also have your eyes examined. An optometrist must sign and stamp the Driving License Eyesight Report Form that is to be submitted along with your Driving Permit application. I got my eyes examined at Specsavers for €30. You will need to call and specifically book a test for the driving permit application. The document from the optometrist is only valid for 30 days so you will need to make sure that your appointment with the NDLS is within that time-frame of getting your eyes examined.
STEP 4: DOCUMENTS
This entire process will be easiest if you have a PSC (Public Services Card). I would assume you have one if you are applying for a driving permit in Ireland. If you do have a PSC the number of documents you will need to bring with you is minimal. Your PSC card can be used in your application as: photo ID, proof of PPSN, evidence of address, and evidence of residency entitlement. If you do not have a PSC you will be required to provide photo ID and proof of PPSN, address, and residency entitlement through a list of acceptable documents which can be found here. You will also need to completely fill this form out and bring with you on the day of your appointment.
I do have a PSC but brought the documents for those who do not just in case. If you have ever dealt with any bureaucracy, you know they can change the rules at the drop of a hat. I have had this happen to me a few times in Ireland so I was not into that office without every single document I could potentially need. Call me over cautious but the appointment wasn’t easy to get so I wasn’t taking any chances. What you do is up to you, but better safe than sorry!
STEP 5: THE APPOINTMENT
At the appointment you will submit all your documentation and have your photo taken for your ID. They take 3 pictures and you get to pick the one that will go on your ID. They basically all came out the same for me, but I still liked getting to choose! You will also pay for your permit at this appointment. That’s right, you get to spend more money! The permit is €35 and valid for two years. You will not get your Driving Permit on the day, it is posted out and should be received in 5 to 8 working days.
In Ireland, I spent over €100 before I even signed up for a single driving lesson. Between buying study materials, paying testing fees, and eyesight exams, I was out a good chunk of money just to be able to qualify to begin lessons. Instead of getting everything sorted in one day like it did back home, the entire process took me about 3 months. I am not saying it takes this long for everyone and the main reason this took as long as it did was a lack of appointments available at the Driving Theory Test Centre. Starting the process around the holidays when I was going home to America and everything in Ireland shuts down was also not the best timing on my part.
Another thing to be aware of is that there are several countries that benefit from a 'mutual recognition' agreement in respect of driving licences. Ireland has agreements with certain other countries/states that designates them as recognized states for the purposes of driving licence exchange. Unfortunately, America is not one of these countries, but the list can be found here. Check to see if you have a license from any of these countries/states and can skip this entire process all together! Do be aware that this process can take two to three months.
I was told by the woman who processed my application that because I had driven in America for 7 years, I may be eligible to have my number of required lessons (which is 12 by the way) reduced. I am going to call and find out about this but honestly, I think I could do with all 12 lessons. I have only ever driven an automatic car on the right side of the road, on the right side of the car. I also haven’t really driven in about 5 years, so I’ve been out of the driving game for nearly as long as I was in it.
Update since I originally wrote this – as of January 21, 2019, foreign license holder can apply for reduced Essential Driving Training (EDT) and/or exemption from six months wait time for driving test. There are some rules around this (as there should be) but I have sent my application off for this to keep my options open.
Next step, driving lessons! Wish me luck!
*thumbnail image not original to Candid Alexandra. Stock image from Typorama.