I’m very proud to announce that today I finally passed my Taiwanese driving exam and received a local driver’s license. This is no mean feat. You’ll find that many foreigners drive without a license because the process is so difficult. I would not have managed without the help of one of my students, Pisaw who helped me out nearly every step of the way.

Some foreigners can easily exchange their local licenses for a Taiwanese driver’s license, but it depends upon whether that country recognizes a Taiwanese license. Since each state in the US has its own rules, Americans have to check whether or not their state has a reciprocal relationship with Taiwan. I believe Florida does, but since New York State does not I had to take the test.

Full information on the various procedures and tests can be found on the various web pages I have listed on my del.icio.us account, with this post being the most informative. But here I just want to talk about the testing. Apart from the paperwork and medical exam the the process consists of a written test and a road test. As long as your learner’s permit is valid you can take the tests once a week until you pass. In the end I had to take each test twice, for a total of three visits, not including my initial registration last year.

Taking these tests is a good introduction to Taiwan’s test-taking culture, something about which Scott Sommers has written extensively on his blog.

Neither test is concerned with the skills actually needed to be a good driver. Instead, they are designed to provide arbitrary but standard measures of success and failure which can be easily implemented by the government bureaucracy. Nobody could pass either test without preparation, no matter how good a driver they might be. This may be true everywhere, but it seems especially true of Taiwan.The questions on the written test range from those which require simple logic, such as this true or false question:

When driving on controlled roads, all the control regulations must be obeyed.

To questions which are impossible to answer without having studied the manual:

The revision of professional driver´s license is once every: (1) 1 year (2) 2 years (3) 3 years

As you can already see from the above questions, those taking the written test in English face an additional hurdle. While these two sentences are a little awkward, they are still comprehensible. This is not true of all the questions. When I took the test one question asked about the rules governing the attachment of gym equipment inside your car. I still have no idea what this might mean, but I assumed (correctly) that it was a bad thing to do without first applying for permission. Other questions are worse, as in these true, or false questions:

To use overpasses or under passed would be the last resort.

The highway belongs to Provincial Route Number 1 highway.

I can’t tell if the people who wrote the test had a sense of humor, but I like to think that the humor in the following questions was intentional:

In an accident, in order to help the injured regain consciousness, you should try to hit and shake the injured.

I have driven for many years and have good driving skill. Therefore, when I’m driving, I often joke and sing. This shows my driving skill and will not affect the safety.

To avoid dust, the car behind overtakes me. I also hate dust, so I overtake the car in front.

And many, such as this one, are concerned with “driving morals”:

Respecting traffic laws and orders is just good driving and has no connection with driving morals.

(In case you can’t tell, that question is marked as “false.”)

The difficulty of the written test was compounded by the fact that it was taken on a computer whose keys were broken, and there was also an audio track which sometimes failed to agree with the written words. Somehow, after a lot of studying, I was able to pass with a score of 95!

The road test is just as arbitrary as the written test. It takes place on something that looks like a race-track from an old car racing video game, and to add to the video-game atmosphere the roads are lined with rubber sensors that make a loud buzzing noise if you touch one with your tire. You can download a movie of the road test here. (I had to look at the HTML code to find the correct download link as this page didn’t seem to work.)

One of the eight parts of the test involves backing up into a parking space which is at a right angle to the main road. While in real life we would do this maneuver in several stages, for the test it must be one fluid movement, without stopping or bumping into the rubber sensors. You can do it as slow as you like, but any mistake will result in points being deducted. Another section requires going forward and backwards around a tight s-shaped curve, while other parts are quite easy, like stopping at a railroad crossing until the lights stop flashing. Fortunately, you can go to a privately run practice course whose layout is exactly the same as the official test site and an instructor will tell you exactly where to turn your steering wheel and how many times to turn it, etc. My instructor even put a sticker on the car where I have to align my car with the signpost when I should start turning! And even though I messed that one up (the sign posts are slightly different at the testing site, which messed me up despite having been forewarned), I still passed the test.

Having now received my driver’s license I look forward to going on some extended road trips around the Island! Maybe I’ll get one of those cool GPS map devices Taiwanese have installed in their cars …

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