Driving in the British Isles, especially on the Isle of Man

When I moved to the Isle of Man (home of the famous Tourist Trophy, or TT, motorcycle races), I had to get a new driver’s license.? No big deal when you’ve already been driving for almost thirty years, right?? Wrong.? I needed to learn all the rules of the road and take a test while driving on the left (no, America, not wrong) side of the road.? The pass rate for those taking their driving test, including those retaking it, was 17% at that time.? By comparison, California had about an 80% pass rate at that time.

When you become a full-time resident on the Isle of Man, you have ninety days to get your Manx license.? Officially, our residency started in August, when we first touched down at Ronaldsway Airport (I loved that name), but I had to return to get our house in California sold.? Before I left, I took my wife, Kelly, out for her first time as a driver in the British Isles.? Probably the only reason our marriage survived is that we cut the lesson short after about ten minutes.? After I flew back to the States, she promptly enrolled in a course of private lessons with a local driving instructor.

“L” is for “Learner.” Or possibly for “Look out.”

By the time I returned in late November, she had her license and advised me to take lessons from the same instructor.? Even though I had driven in the British Isles for three months (when you add up all the days for four trips over), I heeded her advise.? I was glad I did.? Things like your hands can never leave the wheel unless you are shifting are very awkward and foreign to a California driver.? No hand-over-hand turning and no one arm thrown over the seat while reversing (backing up in California-ese). Rules of the road are different as well, such as no left turn (remember which side of the road you’re on)? on red, and no drinking a cup of coffee while driving to name a couple.? Roundabouts abound, so get used to them.? And remember to look right as you turn left into them.

Then came test time.? Like I mentioned in previous posts, language can confuse.? For instance, my instructor said, “don’t drive on the pavement.”? Where should I drive, out in the fields?? Pavement over there means the same as sidewalk here.? Then there’s the off-side, near-side bit.? Here we say driver’s and passenger’s side which always refer to where the driver is sitting.? Near-side is closest to the curb (or kerb) and normally the passenger side, while off-side is closest to the center line (if there is one) and normally the driver’s side.? If you’re driving a left-hand drive, which I did when I drove my Corvette or T-Bird, near-side is the driver’s side and off-side is the passenger side.? Want me to go through that again?

My T-Bird that I drove occasionally with the Manx Classic Car Club, parked in our drive. Remind me, which side is the off-side and which is the driver’s side?

I took my test in December (fortunately no one notice it was past 90 days) in our Ford Mondeo, a small car by American standards.? It had an auto trans, which meant it was in the 10% minority of British cars.? I felt like I was sixteen again, but in a bad way.? The possible humiliation of flunking with many years of driving experience hung over me like a dark cloud.? Things like making a “Y” turn (three-point) on a narrow road without touching a curb, yet allowing enough room for a car to pass if need be, was not easy.? Then you park and the examiner gives you an oral test (no multiple-guess) of your knowledge of the highway code, such as name all the fifteen times you should not overtake (pass) another car.? Start guessing.? Your eye test is reading license plates at a distance.? A police officer can ask you to do that again at any time.

I passed.? Then I had to take it again.? I originally passed in our auto-trans Ford, but I could not legally drive my 4-speed Corvette when it arrived until I took the test again with a stick shift.? Fortunately, I did not have to take it in my Vette.? I passed again, thank God.

The Manx look down on other UK drivers and vice versa, yet I side with the Manx about who are the best drivers.? There is no speed limit on the Isle unless it is posted, yet any accident will result in at least one ticket.? If you are in a one-car accident, you must have been at fault.? After all, are there any real “accidents?”? This Libertarian view of accountability has a ring of truth.? If you get two tickets in three years, you lose your license and must go through the entire process again.

Pull over, if you please. You were doing 25 in a 20. Dreadfully sorry, but I will have to issue you a ticket.

Five miles over where there is a speed limit posted is an automatic ticket and, yes, they do use radar.? Fortunately, drivers will flash their lights at other drivers coming from the opposite direction to warn of radar traps, so you do have a fighting chance.? But if you get caught, your name will be printed in the?? paper.? My banker told me she felt like a common criminal when her name appeared for going five miles over the posted speed limit.? It’s a small island, you know.

In conclusion, I have driven all over the US, Italy and the British Isles.? IMO, the Manx drivers are the best, hands down.? Being tough can pay off.

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