Sunday, July 12, 2015

Driving Licence Test in Greenslopes, Brisbane.

Last weekend, Saturday, I got my manual licence on the first go at the notoriously difficult Greenslopes Driving centre in Brisbane. (The pass rate at Greenslopes is 50%). Phew! I am happy and relieved.

I am writing this post to narrate experience and in the process also hoping that it might help some folks out there preparing for the Driving Test in Brisbane or Australia for that matter.

I have been driving a manual transmission for over 9 years in India. My mates say that I am a safe driver and I see myself as a disciplined and a decent city traffic driver. Also, when I say city traffic, it is an 'Indian' city traffic that I have done most of my driving in. I come from the lovely western Indian city of Pune best known for its abundance of quality educational institutions, gazillion software companies, smart people and lovely climate but deplorable traffic conditions and insane drivers who seem to be running away from an imminent apocalypse (read - no observance of traffic rules)!

Add to the fact that the traffic is bumper to bumper (sometimes bumper kisses bumper) at the peak hour. So, in one word - CHAOS. If you drive in such conditions day after day in all seasons and the worst of all, night time during monsoons, I would say you have achieved mastery in car control. Small wonder then, that almost all me Indian mates are very good car drivers. A little insane sometimes, but thoroughly accomplished car drivers.

So when I decided to go for the Australian driving licence in Brisbane, I thought the test would be a formality. I couldn't have been more wrong. The test requires meticulous preparation which includes not just knowing the rules but getting good practical driving experience (by that I mean good feedback from a qualified instructor) and working on your weak areas. In a sentence - You gotta take your test preparation seriously! Overseas drivers might easily take for granted that it is easy get an Australian driving licence in Brisbane in the neat, orderly and sparse traffic. Not so. At least in Queensland.

Brisbane is a rather difficult place in Australia to get a licence it seems. This, because, from what I have gathered over the past 6 months, my Victorian and New South Welsh mates have got the Licences in the first go and all my Brissy friends failed! - Failed for slightest of transgressions. And all these guys that I know are excellent and safe drivers back in India. I ain't blaming the system either. It is just that they got extremely strict examiners and yes there might have been a lack of preparation too.

All this got me very worried about my driving licence test. So I decided to take up a driving lesson with an accredited driving instructor - I should pat myself on the back for that decision. For after the first lesson, I was asked to correct many driving habits. Bad habits picked up over the years. For eg In Indian traffic conditions, you are required to do 'The clutch - Brake - Accelerate' routine every minute during the peak hours. But if you apply this to the traffic here, you would be inclined to hover your leg over the clutch pedal if you are a new driver and the examiners might mark you down for clutch coasting. After the first lesson and some contemplation, I decided to take additional lessons with the instructor and to unlearn my bad habits. It helped.

I also looked up online for driving videos and tips for Brisbane. To my dismay, every You Tube video was about driving test in Victoria or New South Wales. I could find exactly one article about driving test tips in Greenslopes, Brisbane. (link below) from a driving school. It was a tremendous help and I decided to post my experience after the test.

So here's what helped me prepare before and on the test day -

- Take driving lessons from a qualified test instructor - I cannot stress this more. There will be your well meaning mates and people dissuading you from going for driving lessons if you can drive. But bear in mind this is not about just about driving the car. It is about driving the car correctly and safely. Your mates are not the experts in pointing out your bad habits as they themselves may not be aware of what constitutes a bad/unsafe driving habit. Also your mates are not inclined to discipline you. A qualified instructor will give you good feedback about your bad habits and will help you unlearn the bad habits. The instructor will also show you correct way to do various driving manouveus (U-Turns, Reverse Parking, etc). Additionally the driving instructor is also aware of the latest rules and what is actually tested on the driving tests. This helps immensely. What's more, you also ingrain the good driving habits and that makes you a even safer driver in the long run. This is an investment that is well worth the money.

- Secondly, finding a good driving school instructor is as important as taking driving lessons. There are some people out there who just want to make money and they don't really care if you get a licence or not. Read reviews online before going with a particular driving school. Of course you can change the driving school if you are not happy but it is always makes a good economic sense to find a good instructor and use the same car for the lessons and the test day. Many people believe they just need more lessons and hours just to get the hang of driving on Australian roads and hence they look for the cheapest option. There are many of those on Gumtree. Not that they are not good. However like I said, not all of them genuinely care about you correcting your driving habits and getting a licence. It helps a lot to spend 10 bucks more on a good instructor. So read reviews - Positive and negative reviews both...Pro-Tip Read the negative reviews or less than 5 star reviews. If there are no such reviews. That is your first red flag. It will help you choose wisely. Also some driving schools have a lot of instructors so if you get a good instructor stick with him/her. That way the instructor is aware of your driving and your weaknesses and helps you correct your driving habits effectively.

- Practise in the Test Area. This is logical. You will get used to the streets, intersections and tricky turns. Ask your instructor to specifically start from the parking area where the test begins. This will get you accustomed to the test day start.
At Greenslopes Driving Centre - The test starts from a shopping complex parking. The reserved driving test parking spots are very near the exit and so there are a lot of pedestrians walking and cars entering and exiting all the time in the parking. The entrance and exit to the parking is quite steep too. By doing a couple of starts from the parking you will be aware of the exits, the speed limits in the parking and the pedestrian crossings. It always helps to have a mental image of the area you will be driving on the test day.

- Be aware of the speed limits. In Queensland the practical driving test is called the Q-Safe driving test and the current rules of the enhanced practical driving test (changed as of 29 June 2015) will have zero tolerance for speeding. That means exceeding the speed limit by even 1 kmph is a FAIL! So keep your eyes out on the road signs and your speedometer. Better to be under by 2-4 kmph than just to be exactly at the right speed. Watch out when driving downhill - you don't realise your car speeding up! Be very aware of that in Greenslopes which is a hilly area with a lot of such roads. Not to mention school zones speed limits.

- Read the official guide to taking the Q-Safe Practical Driving Test on the Department of Transport and Motoring, Queensland. (link). You will get an idea of the critical and non critical errors and the marking system. Also keep checking the department of transport websites to be aware of any test changes and other important information. Link.

- Go through the road rules. (For Queensland - go through the latest Keys to driving in Queensland handbook). This may sound silly to do after you have passed your written road rules test but if you have considerable driving experience overseas it is quite normal to forget some rules after your written road rules test and go back to your natural way of driving. Even if you drive regularly in Australia, it is highly possible that you may have picked up incorrect ways to do certain manoeuvres and errors like not signalling left when exiting roundabouts. (Yes, it is a non-critical error and it is very common to see many people doing that on roads!) So as you read and revise the rules again, there will be moments where you will identify such things you are doing incorrectly and this in turn will help you prepare better for the test.

- Adding to the point above, the online practice test on The Department of Transport, Queensland website is a very good resource. The various traffic scenarios it presents will clarify some rules further and get you in the proper driving mindset. Pay special attention to Give Way, Multilane Roundabouts and Merge scenarios.

- Be extremely aware of the critical driving errors. If you commit one critical error you will be failed (at least in Queensland). Some common critical errors to note - Car not stopping at the Stop Sign. Stopping means Stopping. So at the Stop Sign, all the four wheels of the car must come to a stop. Another common critical error - Speeding by 1 kmph over the speedlimit during the test is not allowed.

- Google Street View - If you do not have a car to practise, use Google Street View to go through the various roads close to your centre. The biggest advantage of Street View is that you see the road with the road markings and road signs. It is as if you are driving in a car but at your own pace. Another advantage is that, you can look for various hard to spot road signs such as a No Right Turn or a U Turn permitted sign which you might not notice when you are driving at 60 kmph. This is where you can peacefully wander about on that tricky intersection or the road to get a clear mental image of which lane to be in when you are on that road. Even if you do have a car, try it out - It helps to be in the comforts of your living room and getting familiar with the roads around the test area as you sip your favorite hot beverage.

- For Greenslopes Driving Centre Test Takers, check this and this post from a local Greenslopes Driving school. It gives information about tricky turns and road signage encountered in that area. It really helped me! Check these roads and intersections on Google View.

- You Tube videos - There are hundreds of awesome You Tube videos of the driving exam tips and various manoeuvres such as Reverse Parking, Three Point turn, etc. Sadly not many are from Australia (at least as of now). However there are very good New Zealand videos and some UK videos. They do offer good tips. In any case, do check them. It is another good way to get your head around various manoeuvres.

- The overrated Reverse Parking - When it comes to the Driving Test, a majority of people start getting goose bumps about doing a reverse park. For some, the Driving test is all about Reverse Parking. Hence they go nuts worrying about Reverse parking and overdo it. Get this right - Yes, Reverse parking is an important manoeuvre but doing it perfectly does not mean you PASS the Test. Driving is not just reverse parking! So worry about High Speed Merges, U-Turns, Give Ways at Roundabouts, Right Turns at intersections and keeping under speed limits. Practise all the manoeuvres equally rather than just getting hung up over Reverse Parking. There are many people who failed to do a reverse parking correctly and passed the test.

- The High Speed Merge - Some people do not even consider this as a skill. However, this is one of the most crucial of driving skills requiring observation and decisiveness and it is just as important as the fabled Reverse Parking. In fact, the newly enhanced Q-Safe Test will test people on High Speed Merging situations. Some people are slow on the ramp (I am guilty of that) and this can cause unsafe scenarios when you merge with the high speed traffic on the motorway. This is one skill that every new driver should practise. You gotta match the highway traffic speed and you should be able to do that as you enter the ramp. As always Practise makes perfect.

- On The Test Day - The timeless advice reserved for people on the Test Day is to be calm and confident. Easier said than done. How do we do that? Here are some things that should help.
Get a good night's sleep. Really, I mean, this is easy. Just hit the sack early and get at least 8-9 hours of sleep. Goes without saying avoid partying the night before Get your identification documents, forms and a good pen in an nice handy case the day before the test. Not on the test day.
Do not schedule other important activities on the test day. That means, if you are taking the test on the weekday, take a day off from work if possible. You will be unnecessarily worrying about arriving to work or that stupid meeting to attend (All meetings are silly and a waste of time. But I digress). My test was on the weekend and so I did not have to worry about trains to catch and schedules to keep (and no school zone timings to worry too:)).
Before the test begins go over the car controls i.e. the pre-drive checks (indicators, hazard lights, sound the horn, wipers front and rear, high beam and low beam, etc)...and when the test begins just remember it is just an exam. If you do go wrong anywhere or miss a turn do not panic and try to correct it. Just behave like a normal driver - say, "Sorry I missed that. What do you want me to do next?” After all wouldn't you do that when you are driving your mate back home? You don't panic when you miss a turn!

My Errors and Feedback - I was marked for some non-critical errors and most of them were during one wrong manoeuvre while changing lanes around cyclists. The test was at 8am on a weekend and so there were a lot of cyclists on the road. It was a multi lane road and I saw a couple of cyclists in my lane. I looked in the rear and the side mirror and did a shoulder check and saw that the next lane was all empty. All correct up to this point. Then my instincts took over and I decided to do a lane change after getting closer to the cyclists! I did that correctly but I did not do a shoulder check and no indicator signal because I was aware there was no one in the next lane! Incorrect! But since I had a good driving examiner, at the end of the test, he said you should have changed lanes after seeing the cyclists but you waited and did a lane change as you neared them. Why do that when you know there is a hazard in front of you? (Hazard Perception error).

Another one, at one set of lights when the lights turned green, I saw a pedestrian walking so I slowly went ahead and stopped the car. The examiner told me since your car was moving the pedestrian was unsure and only when you stopped the car the pedestrian crossed. This is one of the classic bad driving habits picked up by most people who drive every day. They slowly crawl ahead in the traffic to the pedestrian crossing lane. It is not incorrect but on a test this is can be a minor error. Ideally you should stop and let the pedestrian cross completely. I was told that my drive was good except for lane change situation which had the potential to be a critical error.

And folks, that's my driving licence experience in Greenslopes, Brisbane. Hope it helps someone out there. Good Luck and Happy Driving!