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I am currently teaching our teenage daughter how to drive and this made me think back to my own introduction to driving back in South Africa.
Driving here is much different than driving in South Africa. The most obvious difference is that South Africans drive on the left side of the road and here we drive on the right side. Teenagers qualify for a learner’s permit when they turn 15 compared to two years later in South Africa. Here in Georgia, they can take the driving test as soon as they turn 16 and in South Africa you only qualify when you turn 18.
Learning to Drive in Garies
I might have mentioned it before, but I grew up in a very small town in South Africa called Garies. The town was so small you could really walk wherever you wanted to go. You only needed to get in your car and drive when you wanted to go visit someone on one of the many farms outside of town. Our house was right in the middle of town directly across the street from the main grocery store. So we only had to cross the street to buy groceries. My dad’s work was right down the road and it was a quick 5-minute walk for him to get there. Getting to school was another 5-minute walk and getting to sports practice maybe a 10-minute walk down the road. You get it – we were close to everything and kids really didn’t need cars to get around.
But getting a licence was still a big thing – a right of passage and a step towards adulthood.
I got my learner’s permit when I turned 17. To prepare for the test I had to study the rules of the road, vehicle controls and road signs and pass a written exam. That was easy enough. My brand new learner’s permit also prompted my dad to buy me a car, something safe and simple to practice driving. That yellow 1975 VW Passat was something special! Then came a whole year of lessons from my mom (and sometimes my dad) on how to drive. I also had to prepare for South Africa’s brand new type of driver’s test.
Taking the Driver’s Test
The test had three components: you started with a quick walk around the car checking that all is safe. Then you did the “yard” component of the test which included parking and various driving manoeuvres. You had to successfully complete the first two before you could go on a drive through town to demonstrate your driving abilities. Although quite nervous for this test, I managed my way through without rolling backwards, speeding or getting in an accident – the three automatic causes of failure.
What made my license obtained in Garies so interesting and a bit funny was mostly the road conditions/features found in larger towns and cities that were missing in Garies. Our busiest intersection was a three-way stop. Yep, you read that correctly. Three-way, not even a four-way stop. There were no traffic signals (yes, really – none) and most of the time there was no traffic to speak of. Well, actually Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings were a bit busy. And Sunday mornings when all the farmers came into town to attend church.
On the Road
My Garies drivers license got thoroughly tested during my three years in college. I lived in Cape Town for a year and then moved to Paarl. While living in Paarl, I drove an 80-mile round trip to the city every day. I even had four other students in the car with me! And I got them to college safe and (mostly) sound every day.
I have to say, driving in the United States was intimidating when we moved here permanently. I did have to take the driver’s test again to get my GA license. And then I had to learn to navigate the roads, highways and massive amounts of traffic. During that first year, I avoided the highways as far as possible. It felt like highway drivers drove too close together and were going way too fast and it made me very uncomfortable. A new job with a Real Estate Agent got me back in the swing of things and soon driving was just another normal activity.
Now this “Girl from Garies” lives outside of Atlanta, GA – a very busy city known for its extreme traffic. While I don’t make a living out of driving, I have no problem navigating our roads and highways. We have been on many road trips and I don’t mind taking the wheel at all. I actually prefer the driver’s seat over the passenger seat.
As with all things, we have come full circle. Our son got his learner’s permit when he turned 15 and along with my husband’s help, we were teaching him how to drive. I made sure to teach the Garies way of driving whenever I got into the passenger seat! He got his license without any problems and has been out and about ever since getting his own car.
Roads around Atlanta are very busy and I use to think people around here are calmer and more patient drivers. But they have been displaying some very impatient and rude behaviour while out and about for driving practice this past week. So much so, that I decided to buy “Student Driver” magnetic signs for my car.
Amazon has a great option and you get a total of 3x signs for under $8. To me, that is a great deal and I’m hoping that having this on my car when we are out driving will help the other drivers be more patient.
For now, I’m back in the passenger seat to teach Sidney – we are working our way through 40 hours of parental supervised driving – and I can’t wait to put another Garies taught driver on the road. And I will continue to wonder what my fellow motorists would say if they knew where I originally learned how to drive…
How do you find driving in your new home country?
You can go back to the beginning of our American Adventure from the Welcome to Garies Girl page. Remember to sign up for my blog posts!