So last March I did a poll on my Instagram stories about how my followers feel when they take a skill test.
Out of the hundreds who answered, 18% said they’re confident while 82% said they get nervous. I’m part of the 82%. You see, if the test is anything academic and requires answers that can be learned by memorizing/studying a certain topic, I’m pretty confident I’d ace it. But if it’s a test that requires me to do a skill in a certain way in order to pass, I get nervous. Why? For one, there are many factors around me that can contribute to my passing or failing, its not just what I know but how I react to what is around me. This is very evident especially when it comes to driving test.
LET’S TALK ABOUT DRIVING
Back when I was in college my dad taught me how to drive a van. Nothing complicated just the basics of how to drive a stick shift and also how to maintain acceleration on a slope using a hand break. After driving a few times with my dad by my side, I applied and got my license shortly and have been driving since.
We moved here in Dubai last October 2020 and my husband was able to get his driver’s license in November. He went through the same training as I did and both of us opted for Belhasa Driving Center. There are other driving institutes you can choose from (Emirates Driving Center, Al Ahli Driving Center , Dubai Driving Center,Galdari Driving Center, and Drive Dubai). It took me about 8 weekends to finish my training and tests for I can only go once every week since my husband can only drive me to the center on Saturdays (they’re closed on Fridays).
Since I have a Philippine driver’s license, I’m required to do the long route of getting a driver’s license here in Dubai. Some countries are exempted from the process– all they have to do is switch their driver’s license to a UAE license (lucky!). Anyhow, here’s a look at the process. Since I’ve been driving for more than a decade already, I’m required to do 10 hours worth of training. Shorter time driving would require 15 hours of training.
I registered end of January and got my learning permit and did my eye exam that day as well. Then I studied online the theory test and went to the center to do my preliminary test the week after. The theory test required me to watch driving videos and know the basics of driving here in UAE. I was pretty confident I’d pass it and I did. The next weekend, I started my training. My driving instructor, Chitra is a nice lady who taught me all the things I needed to learn about driving here in Dubai. She was strict but she managed to make me feel comfortable while unlearning the things I know about driving and learning what I should based on UAE driving rules and regulations.
And because I was having anxiety as I was nearing my parking test and road test, I had to ask two of my Instagram friends who have been driving around UAE on how their driving license journey went.
Jo is based in Abu Dhabi and has been driving around the emirates for 9 years already. Though commuting in Abu Dhabi is easy, she decided to get a driver’s license so she can bring her daughter to and from school, drive herself to work and not having to worry about depending on other people to drive for her.
Hannah has lived not only in Dubai but also in London. Even though transportation system here in Dubai is very accessible and convenient, she regrets not getting her driver’s license during her first year of living here. On her third year as a Dubai resident, she finally got the courage to get her driver’s license so she could be more mobile for her job.
I connected with these two ladies online and they’ve been very generous in giving me tips about Dubai and living in UAE. Thank you again Jo & Hannah for indulging me and letting me include getting your driver’s license journey here. ☺️
Jo underwent training with Emirates Driving Institute while Hannah went with Galadari. Even though we all went to different driving institutes, the process is the same & all have the same goal– to teach us how to properly drive here in UAE.
THE CHALLENGES DURING THE PROCESS
For Hannah, the most challenging part of getting a UAE driver’s license was to renew her driver’s permit thrice because work got in the way. Though it took her longer than what she hoped for, she eventually got her license and was able to drive soon after. For Jo, finding time to complete the training within the timeframe she set for herself was challenging. She had to train as early as 5 AM and as late as 8 PM, before and after work.
For me, the challenge was really unlearning the things I’ve learned driving for more than a decade. Driving involves a lot of muscle reflex and sometimes it comes automatically that my trainer had to remind me multiple times whenever I do the same reaction/reflex. It took awhile for me to unlearn things but eventually managed to do so.
Once a week classes is what I did and honestly I get nervous every time I have to do my training. I’m afraid I’d forget the new things I’ve learned since I have a 6-day gap. I was super nervous to do my parking and road tests. Though I know I’m good at (parallel and garage parking are my strengths), it’s different when you actually have to be precise and not hit any lines. Same goes for the actual road test, as I’ve never had to do this while I was in Manila (my dad who taught me wasn’t strict at all). Long story short, I passed both my tests and got my United Arab Emirates driver’s license on my first try! Ngiting tagumpay! 😁
THE THINGS TO UNLEARN
Gripping the steering wheel. Holding too tightly to the wheel like you’re holding a knife. This is how driver’s from the Philippines do it– one thing driver instructors notice about Filipino drivers. Jo and I learned from our respective instructors that we should hold the steering wheel gently. My instructor Chitra even told me that I must imagine holding something precious like a flower or a live bird that if gripped too much, it’ll wither or suffocate. So she taught me to hold the wheel with love every time I get in the car for my training. I am reminded of this and now I’ve been driving here with love in my mind. Media cheesy but honestly it works! ☺️
Hovering a foot over the break when slowing down on a highway. One of the mistakes my instructor kept on pointing out was my habit of hovering my foot on the break, getting ready to step on it especially when we’re on a highway. She told me I should get this off my system as the only way to reduce speed especially on a highway is to slowly let go of the accelerator.
Stop uncertain swerving. Swerving isn’t really one of the things I like doing while driving. I often times drive in the middle lane so if I need to turn left or go right it’s easy to switch lanes. But since Dubai has 5 to 6 lanes, my instructor told me I should be more confident to swerve. There’s this one route she practiced me where I turn right and immediately signal to switch lanes to the left so I can enter the U-turn slot. I was so scared to swerve on three lanes even though there were no cars behind me so I was doing it slow and steady (Manila drivers know this right?! like we need to peek through and inch our way to our chosen lane) to the point where I missed the slot the first try. Later on my instructor told me that I should have more confidence in changing lanes because once I signal and the road is clear, I have priority and oncoming cars will know this.
THINGS WE’VE LEARNED
Lane discipline. Learning the proper way to exit a lane when you make a U-turn or when you enter and exit a roundabout is a serious thing to remember. I remember my first experience entering a roundabout back when I was learning to drive in Manila, my dad simply said as long as there’s an opening go for it! So that’s how I’ve always done driving on roundabouts only to realize that is completely wrong and dangerous. Here in Dubai, entering a roundabout requires you to turn on your left indicator and switch to right indicator on the exit before your chosen exit. This gives the driver behind you or beside you a clear signal that you are about to exit the roundabout. And then you have to be sure that you exit the same lane you entered on. Say you entered on the innermost lane (leftmost) you also have to exit on the (leftmost) same innermost lane as well. This is what lane discipline is. Something that I have never learned while I was driving in Manila.
Stay within speed limit. Manila’s traffic rarely gets anyone a speeding ticket, unless it’s in the wee hours of the night where everyone’s asleep. I’ve learned its the exact opposite here. Traffic is free-flowing and probably the only time highway exits and areas around the city gets jammed is during rush hour where the volume of cars are too much. But on regular hours, traffic is very decent. So much so that a 15 kilometer drive only takes about 10-15 minutes. Which is why it can be tempting to go over speed limit especially if you have a sports car. Here’s the thing, just because no one’s watching doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. Be warned though that speed cameras are almost everywhere and while there’s a no contact policy, you can expect a traffic violation text alert (or via app/website) because RTA (Roads and Transport Authority) make sure drivers comply for everyone’s safety.
Turn your head 180 degrees when switching lanes. While a quick glance on your rear mirror and side mirrors are mandatory, turning your head to 180 degrees is part of this quick look when changing lanes or swerving. If you’re changing lanes thrice, you should literally move your head to the left or right each time you pass by a lane. So in this scenario you have to do three 180 degrees look for the three lane switch. The logic behind this is you’re literally checking if there’s an oncoming vehicle beside you because side mirrors tend to have blind spots, mandatory 180 degree look can help further assist the driver in changing lane safely.
TIPS WHEN GETTING YOUR DRIVER’S LICENSE
Be patient. If you’re planning on getting a driver’s license here in Dubai, patience is the number one thing you must have. The process can be tedious and time consuming but I honestly think it’s something everyone driving in UAE should experience. And Jo and Hannah couldn’t agree more with me as we all were challenged with finding the schedule that worked for us while completing our training and tests.
Get out of your comfort zone. Jo couldn’t have said it better. Oftentimes we get scared of the unknown because it literally makes us feel uncomfortable. Use it to your advantage. Not knowing gives us room to learn and grow. While driving can be a muscle reflex, rules and regulations differ country to country so it’s best to immerse yourself and be open to learning.
Listen and learn. As what Hannah shared, come with your glass half-full. Even though you already have driver’s skill, there are things you will find unusual but learn them anyway. Just go with the flow and let your instructor teach you how driving is done here. As for Jo, it’s important to do as you must during the actual tests. Whether you would look funny or do not agree with the principle, what is asked of you to do you must follow. After all, the goal is to pass the test. So don’t force the way you know how to drive, instead listen and learn what is being taught to you so you can apply it during your tests.
Stop overthinking and stay calm. When my husband failed his parking test and road test the first time he was furious and was really laser-focused on passing the tests the second time. Because it sucks to waste time and money over something you’ve already been doing for more than a decade. Unfortunately, unlearning is quite harder than learning. This topped with overthinking plus work responsibilities led to my husband failing his tests on his first try. After realizing this, he finally got a grip of unlearning some of his ways and he was able to pass his parking and road test on his second try. While I know my husband meant well, him sharing his experience to me got me very anxious. He got into my head and I can’t stop overthinking. Thankfully my instructor reassured me that I will past my tests the first time because she saw how I managed to learn how driving is done here in Dubai.
I sorta doubted myself when I was doing the parking test as overthinking got the best of me. As I was waiting for the RTA officer to call me and announce how I did, I was already looking at my calendar to check when I can do a retake as I was certain I hit a line during one of the parking test. When the officer told me I passed, I wasn’t even paying attention. I was ready to call my husband to say I failed. The officer looked at me, smiled and asked how I was. I answered nervously and I said I wasn’t 100% okay because I think I failed. He then proceeded to say, If I tell you you passed, will you be 100 okay then? Confused as I think of my answer, his colleague had to repeat to me that I passed. Even one of the students waiting for his turn had to say it to me as well because I wasn’t fully grasping the idea that I passed my parking test. I couldn’t believe I passed so when it finally hit me, I shrieked in delight and thanked everyone for confirming I passed the parking test. Kinda an embarrassing moment for me but such a memorable one! As for the road test, I was pretty confident about it because the officer didn’t have any comments while I was driving. He was strict and barely talked. He just gave me instructions once in a while on where to go and which exit to take. Though I was pretty nervous doing it, I tried my best to hide it as I kept my cool and showed I was confident and serious in wanting to ace the test. Another thing that helped me stay calm was me imaging I was driving my kids and having a good time as I intently check my side mirrors and do a 180 degree look as I switch lanes. As soon as I parked the car back the driving center, he immediately congratulated me and said I was a good driver and so I passed and can get my driver’s license right away. What a compliment to hear it from an RTA officer himself knowing they really take driving here seriously.
Honestly anticipation leading to my test days were so much worse than the actual tests itself. Kinda like the same feeling when you wait in line for a rollercoaster ride. The wait makes you more nervous than excited and when you actually ride the rollercoaster it’s more fun and less scary than you thought it would. So it really pays to be calm and focused. Don’t think about anything else when you’re training and during the tests, just do it how it’s supposed to be done. Be confident but not cocky. Do this and for sure you’ll pass.
TIPS ON DRIVING AROUND UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Plan your drive. According to Jo it really pays to plan your drive. Roads here in UAE especially Dubai can be tricky. There are exits that may require you to change lanes immediately which is something you have to be wary as it can make you miss your exit point. It helps to use Google Maps, Waze or any other GPS so you can navigate your way and make your driving experience more comfortable.
Always be alert. If there’s one thing driving here in Dubai has taught me, it’s to really be alert and to focus on the road. Being alert means you glance and check the mirrors as often as needed, you keep a good safe distance (of 2 meters) from the car in front of you and really turning your head to 180 degrees when changing lanes. Being attentive while driving is necessary here as traffic is flowing and cars can really change lanes and swerve to exit last minute. We’ve personally encountered this scenario a few times already because like I mentioned, the roads here can be confusing.
Be a disciplined driver. It takes practice & mindfulness to unlearn driving habits but its doable. Being a disciplined driver means following the signs, speed limits and traffic lights all the time. I always turn on my GPS even though I already know the route because it’s one way for me to check on the road’s speed limit. While I notice some drivers are impatient and would overtake me whenever I follow the 60 speed limit, it doesn’t really bother me because I’m simply following rules and I don’t really want to be fined 500 AED for over-speeding. Discipline is something that requires conscious effort. Applying it every time you go behind the wheel not only makes driving around Dubai pleasant, it also makes you a responsible driver as well.
I honestly think that having a UAE driver’s license is a badge of honor. To go through its strict process and come out as a confident and responsible driver is a privilege I get to do while I’m here in Dubai. All the things I’ve learned I’ll definitely apply even if I’m driving somewhere else- unless that country has another set of rules I need to comply to.
Got any driving tips or want to share your driving experience? Leave a comment below as I’m interested to know. Wherever you are in the world, please drive safe!