Getting a driver’s license in the U.S. and abroad
By Alyssa Figueroa
Sophomore Cherrie Rhodes from Japan said it “never even occurred to [her] to get [her] driver’s license.” After all, it costs over $4,200 to get one, and since Japan has no permit period, many drivers often have to take the test about five times to get it right, costing them around an additional $70 for each test.
Getting a driver’s license abroad is very different than here in the U.S. In the U.S. alone, all 50 states have different laws on how to obtain a license. Sixteen is the most widely accepted age to get a license, and 49 states all have a graduated driver’s license program in which would-be drivers must have a learner’s permit and a provisional license before getting a full license. No state requires a person to pay for an instructor—parent drivers as supervisors will do. A driver’s license in the U.S. costs about $20.
However, in other countries it is much more difficult and much more expensive to get a license.
In Hungary, aspiring drivers have to have a doctor’s certificate of approval, take a rigorous writing exam, be first aid certified, take 29 hours of driving lessons with an instructor and pass a routine exam in which they have to know about the car and how to change tires, etc.
“I feel like my friends in Hungary are better drivers,” said Kati Lustyik, an IC TVR professor born in Hungary. “The quality is really jeopardized here.”
However, it costs $800 to get a driver’s license there, “an incredible amount of money for a Hungarian—about an average monthly salary,” Lustyik said.
Lustyik says it is very normal not to have a driver’s license in Hungary and that the cost deterrence of driving cars is good for the environment and allows people to be more independent. She believes people are paying for what they receive.
“I’m really supportive of public transportation—we can’t support more cars in Hungary,” she said. “Also, you get 29 hours of lessons and so I don’t know how to lower the price and make it more democratic.”
The instructors are also teaching Hungarians how to drive manual transmission cars, which is the majority of cars in Hungary as well as France.
Hugo Mordini, a French graduate student, finds some aspects of getting a driver’s license in the U.S. “weird!”
In France, teens who want their license must drive with their parents for a documented 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) and with an instructor for 20 hours.
“I can’t believe you are able to get on the road in the U.S. without a significant amount of time driving with an instructor,” he said.
Although the total cost of getting a license there is 800 euros ($1,091), Mordini says the expense is worth it.
“Just to have the right to drive a car its expensive, but when you see what you get for this price,” Mordini said. “You have a lot of driving lessons, you have a lot of hours working for your permit and these people helping you drive deserve the pay.”
Senior Rhys Walmsley from Australia disagrees. Where he lives in Victoria, Walmsley said having a car is a necessity. “I live in the countryside, and there you’re useless without a license.”
Walmsley believes his country makes him wait too long to get a license, since in Australia drivers cannot obtain a full license until they are 21. From 16 to 18, Walmsley had to have the parents in the car while driving. Then at 18, after taking a driving test as well as a computerized hazard perception test, he got his probationary license, through which he could only have one passenger in the car for three years; the process ends up costing about $400.
“I guess it’s a safer process than that in the U.S., but it’s still a pain,” Walmsley said.
Though Rhodes recognizes it’s a lot of money to get your license in Japan, she does not mind the price acting as a deterrent for driving a car.
“I don’t think it’s really an infringement because if they really need a car, they can call a cab or take the train; there are trains in the countryside too,” she said.
For Rhodes, driving is not a necessity in Japan, since there is a good public transportation system. Many people, she says, wait until they have families to get a license and then a car.
Drinking and driving in Japan is, thus, not much of an issue. The legal drinking age there, though not enforced, is 20, the same age for voting and smoking. Those who are planning to drink usually use public transportation. Also, since most partiers don’t have their license anyway, drivers are typically older and more mature. Japan is also very strict about drinking on the road, with many facing jail time if caught. The BAC adults can legally have when driving is .03; in Hungary it’s a zero tolerance policy.
In France, although people usually get their license when they turn 18—the same age they can legally drink alcohol—Hugo says people don’t get crazy about being able to drink.
“We are allowed to drink when we’re 16, and in our culture it is not forbidden to drink,” he said. “When you’re 18 you think ‘I can drive!’ not ‘I can drink!’ In France, you are considered an adult and you behave like one. If you think of drinking as a responsibility and not a liberty, it’s different.”
Both there and in Australia, the legal BAC is .05. Walmsley says drinking and driving is really frowned upon in Austrailia, where the drinking age is also 18, as campaigns use the slogan, “If you drink and drive you’re a bloody idiot.” The designated driver campaign is also promoted in pubs; as many give free soda to the DD. Walmsley also says there is constant breathalyzing done in his state.
“If I’m driving through main street, I’ll get tested at least once a week,” he said. There are also breathalyzing “blitzes” that occur statewide before around Christmas and New Years.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2006, 31 percent of drivers aged 15 to 20 years old died in a car crash while under the influence. Also, the youngest teens have the highest percentage of accidents, with the percentage decreasing with age. Although there is not a common database to compare U.S. driving statistics with other countries, it is known that in European countries, the highest accident rates caused by drunk driving occur with drivers aged 20 to 24. Younger drivers actually get in fewer drunk-driving accidents.
With driving laws and drinking culture very different in the U.S. and countries abroad, it may seem easy to compare the processes. In the U.S., it is much easier and cheaper to get a driver’s license, and a person doesn’t have to be too old.
Though it may seem to jeopardize safety, Rhodes said, it has to be this way in the U.S.
“It’s inconvenient for young people if they can’t drive in the States—they need entertainment; their friend might live a mile away,” she said. “Plus, even though they’re young they probably learn to drive better faster since they drive so often.”
Concerning alcohol, though the 21 drinking age law is in place in the U.S., drivers younger than that are getting into the most drunk-driving accidents, while in other countries the majority of drunk-driving accidents occur among those who have been legally allowed to drink for a few years. This “forbidden fruit” ideology may be doing more harm than good, but it remains unknown how teens in the U.S. would initially react if the drinking age were lowered.
The U.S. and other countries could definitely learn from one another about the driving process, but in context, it may be hard to match one country up against another.
“I think it is impossible to compare them,” Rhodes said. “The countries’ roads and cultures are so different.”
Alyssa Figueroa is a sophomore journalism major who is ready to be your DD anytime. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.