Friday, October 19, 2012

Driving Me Nuts

Here in France, you have to be 18 before you can sit your driving test. In the UK, it's 17. How come the EU hasn't harmonised this? Forget straight bananas, I'm trying to work out the most efficient way to get my son who has just turned 16 to learn to drive.

I thought I had it all worked out. There were two options (or so I thought):
1) Go through the French Accompanied Driver scheme. You start at 16 with 20 hours of lessons from a pro, then have to drive at least 3000km with a foolhardy brave parent/friend, so that by the time you sit the test at 18 you are well practised and are more likely to pass first time. Brilliant! Those are the pros. The cons centre around cost - about €1400!

A potential issue for my son is also timing. He'll be sitting his Bac in July 2014 and will be 18 at the end of September that year. If he gets into university in the UK (his target), he'll be heading off before he can sit his driving test. As you cannot choose the date of the test and the waiting time is about 6 months, it could get tricky, with €1400 going rapidly down the drain.

2) Take the test in the summer of 2014 in the UK using an intensive course costing about £750. Bargain!

Except that you have to be a UK resident before you can apply for a provisional driving licence, the one you need before you start taking lessons. Bummer.

I suppose there's no rush. He can wait until he is actually in the UK and take the test while he is at university, or if he doesn't get into the British university of his choice he'll stay in France and can go through the process here at vast expense.

Paying for it is another issue... as is buying a car, but then he does have two parents, two legs and the capacity to get a part-time job (in a couple of years)...

I remember when I took my test, I passed it first time (YAY!) while my big brother didn't (Bigger YAY!). Not that it got me access to a car, mind. My parents believed me to be totally incompetent behind the wheel as I had no experience (and whose fault was that, eh?) so didn't let me drive their car, and I had no money to buy my own. I had to wait until university when I got to drive the choir minibus to concerts because I was the only one who'd had a licence for long enough. Mad.

My next driving experience came when I left university and went to work for an art dealer in London, and was expected to chauffeur him around the West End. Talk about a baptism of fire. My boss had lost his licence some years before (DUI) and had got used to being driven around, so even when he got it back he still didn't drive himself.

I might have been driving around central London but my parents were still having none of me borrowing either of their cars. In fact I only got to drive the parental car when my dad started becoming unsafe due to dementia setting in, and I insisted because by that time I had the boys and wanted to keep them in one piece!

It was my (now) ex-h who bought me my first car when I arrived in France to live with him, aged 25 - a Peugeot 305S. Before he showed it to me he asked me, unwisely, what sort of car I'd like to have if I could choose. So I described something zappy and not too big, and certainly not one of those boxy cars that look like grandpas drive them (like the 305). Oops, when he showed me his extremely generous gift it was rather an embarrassing moment and I had to do some rapid back-pedalling! Ah the big mouth of youth.

Come to think of it, he hasn't changed. He still goes ahead and buys you what he thinks you should have as a pressie instead of asking you what you want. Not me any more of course, but for the boys, who gaze in wonder at some of the unasked for and unwanted gifts they've received...

I now buy my own cars, and take care of them, except that isn't checking the oil level very boring? Luckily I have my DB to nag me because when I went to Midas the other week for an oil change, there was in fact insufficient oil to change. I got a bit of a lecture, the oil tank was filled up, and I was told to come back in 500km time. I did, the level hadn't changed, but they chucked away all that practically brand new oil and filled up the tank again, with another lecture...

I was also told to take off all the keys from my car keyring because the weight knackers the ignition - the BMW sitting outside the workshop was in for that very reason. I'm not sure if that's true, but he couldn't make any money out of the information so I suspect it is (says she cynically)... and I pass it on to you just in case.

With what's in store for me ahead financially as a parent, I definitely need to keep my car sweet and running!