Freedom on four wheels
You hit 18… and it's like this surreal experience. You get to vote (or at least you know you can), and be a part of the decision-making process of the country, you (most often) get to go out and stay out late, and of course…(drum roll), you get to acquire that all-important document called your driving licence. Freedom, liberty or independence – call it whatever you want, but every young person knows that this is his or her ticket to finally go do the things they've always wanted to, but most importantly without having to depend on someone else.
In Sri Lanka, most of us feel that obtaining your driving licence is quite a process. But is it really? With new laws and regulations coming in, the process, though still a bit long-drawn, actually seems quite organised. Speaking to Mr. D.S.P. Senaratne, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Motor Traffic, Werahera Branch in Borelasgamuwa, he talked us through the process of obtaining a driving licence. "You can either learn to drive through a learner, or by yourself – there is no restriction regarding that. Once you are competent enough, you have go to a district secretariat office, for instance the office at Werahera, which most people residing in Colombo are familiar with," he said.
"Once you have handed in the essential documents (the application form, birth certificate, photo copy of the ID, 3 photographs and a medical), you will be assigned a date for the written test, which contains 35 questions, of which you need to get 30 correct, to be eligible for the trial. At the trial, your basic driving abilities, the ability to reverse and so on will be tested. At the end of the trial, if you have passed, you get a temporary driving licence, and you will be sent your permanent driving licence within a short period of time." Mr. Senaratne also mentioned that there are times when they make certain exceptions for people who need an emergency licence, such as when you are leaving the country for a job and so on. "But we don't encourage this too much," he added.
So what's the experience like for a potential driving licence gainer? "Well it's really not that much of a process. I went to my learner and once I was ready, he took care of all the paper work, and I got the date for the written test and sat for it. It was actually quite simple – there is a little booklet with all of the road rules and signs. My learner gave me a van to learn in, so it was manual, which is good training, considering autos are much easier to drive!" says Deshika (20). She went on to add that learning driving is extremely beneficial for any young person, as it gives you independence and actually stops you from depending on people – most often your family members! "As for me, being the only child in my family, it hit me that I needed to get my licence, when my father got ill recently. It's always good to be able to take the wheel in an emergency."
For Udeshika (23), the trial didn't go well at all, considering the fact that she failed it the first time! "There isn't a specific number of classes which you have to attend, I just used to go whenever I was free. Halfway through the classes, you are given a form and asked to get your medical tests and so on done. When I was ready, I went for the written test, passed it and was given a trial date," she said.
"I was really nervous to begin with, and it was probably that that made me go into a lamp post. There wasn't any damage done to the van, but I (of course) failed! I also had to go around a round-about, which was pretty nerve wracking as well, and then finally had to reverse, and pull over and park. There was this other girl with us who kept changing the gear to the 4th, instead of the 2nd, so that was quite funny! Sometimes you're so nervous, that you make the stupidest mistakes. The few of us were so bad, that our examiner actually took us on a practice run, to ensure that we would be fit to take the trial!" After getting utterly disgruntled, and putting it off for over a month, she took her second trial, passed the test and now is the proud holder of a driving licence, and even drives her family members around.