Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Got my Victorian driving license

Roads in Victoria

Permanent residents who have an overseas driving license are allowed to drive with their overseas driving license up to 6 months from the time the visa is granted or the first entry to Australia, whichever comes later. At least, this is the rule in Victoria. After that, they have to have a Victorian driving license to drive on the road. Since my first entry to Australia was in October 2015, I had to get my Victorian license before April of 2016.

Note: There was a some confusion as to which date is considered as the first entry to Australia. This is because, in October, I arrived as a temporary visitor, although I used the same visa. In February 2016, I arrived as a migrant. This distinction was only applicable to the immigration at the airport, but for VicRoads, October was my first entry to Australia, and it had to be 6 months from then.

The first step in obtaining the Victorian driving license is to pass the learner permit test and the hazard perception test. They are the same tests you have to take to get your probationary license (one that allows you to drive with someone who has a full license, if you are beginning from the scratch). These tests have to be taken at a VicRoads (that's the governing body for licensing and registration) centre and are computer based.

But first, you have to have a client account at VicRoads. For that, you need to take documents that can prove that you reside in Victoria. This could be a hassle for someone who just moved in, as he does not have a bank statement or a utility bill sent to his current address, which will most likely be his friend’s or relative’s address. The easiest option is to open a bank account and apply for a debit card. If you get the debit card, the letter the card comes in is enough to certify your address as the debit card is always posted to your residential address. I had opened a bank account with Westpac when I was in Japan (yes you can do that, and it is called Westpac Choice for Migrants), and within few days after moving to Australia, I received my first bank statement. It stated I had zero fund, but meh! I took this to VicRoads in Broadmeadows, which was the closest centre to me, and I opened a client account. I applied for the aforementioned tests on on the same day, and I got time slots  in two days. There was a 1hr 2hr 30min gap between the two, originally, but on the test date it was possible to take them successively as there were some free slots.

The learner permit test was easy as they ask questions from the booklet (well, I did not buy it; I simply downloaded the PDF from their site for free) and there are ample mock exams on VicRoads website. Same questions seem to get asked at the test, as I had  seen the questions that  I got for my test before. Deja vu? The hazard perception test was not easy though; not that the questions were hard, but the video was of very low quality (low resolution and low bit-rate). And VicRoads does not have sample questions to practise with, although the South Australian governing body, 'my license' has some sample practice tests on their website.

After passing those two test, it was the actual 'drive test' that was  standing between me and the license. I was originally planning to buy a car quickly and use it for the drive test to save some money which otherwise I would have to pay for an instructor. You all know I bought a car alright, but soon after I brought it home, I found out that I cannot use it for test because it does not have a centrally mounted park brake. It has a foot operated park brake. Crap!

Drive Test Requirements

There was no option for me other than to look for an instructor who would lend me their car for the test. My cousin hooked me up with a Sri Lankan lady who delivers driving lessons and I decided to take a few lessons just to familiarise the car and the area around Broadmeadows. But once I started taking lessons, I felt that I needed some real practice, not to drive a car (I can do that), but to pass the test - in one go! It was important that I passed in one go because as of 2015, VicRoads had changed the rules regarding overseas license owners. It states that if you fail a drive test, you can no longer drive with the overseas license anymore. If I failed, I could apply for another test, but if I wanted to practice in the mean time, I had to apply for a probationary license, and even then, someone with a full license had to accompany me. It seemed like a lot of hassle, so I had to pass in one shot.

It was a big pressure, especially as my family would be arriving in about 2-3 weeks and in Australia, you cannot survive without a car.

I  practised myself as well. I drove my car from Oakleigh East to Broadmeadows to take the lessons, which is about 35km-55km away (depending on the route) and I took different routes every day. In addition to getting some practice, I also got to test the car and it seemed to do just as I expected. I drove like 500km in the last week alone, which was probably how much I was planning to drive in 3 months!

Anyways, I took about half a dozen lessons, paying $45 per session. I was able to familiarise the area well, especially a couple of tricky places on the road. The instructor’s fee for the test day was $200, which covered a 1hr pre-test lesson (just to get a feel for the road condition on that day), the fee for the car and also her time.

Yesterday, the day after the Easter Monday, I had my test, which I passed easily. That was a very easy day to drive - the schools were closed, it was 10:30am hence it was not the rush hour and people still seemed to want to stay at home after the long weekend. I had to cruise freely. But there are disadvantages to this as well, because you have to drive far because the test goes on for like 30 minutes. The sad thing was, I had to take the train because I would not be able to drive the car back home legally if I failed the test. I did not want to take the risk.

At the end of the test, I received a temporary license (a printed paper) which I could use from that point onwards as my driving license and also a marks sheet kind of thingy.

2016-03-30 17.41.31Temporary license

I applied for the 3 year license, not the 10 year one, because the instructor said that since I would be moving from place to place for the first few years, it is better to get the 3 years one, and go for the 10 years one after I have settled down at one place. The 3 years license cost $76 and the 10 years one costs $260.40, ironically the 3 year one carrying a lower per-year cost ($25.33 vs $26.04). It should be the other way round. They took a photo for my license then and there, and said it will arrive by post in between 7 to 10 days.

The first thing I did after going back home was to put the Sri Lankan driving license away! I do not want to lose it.

References:

1. If you are interested in the grading criteria of VicRoads, you can check it out here.

2. You can refer to this video to get an idea about an example test route around Broadmeadows..

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