Mastering the ins and outs of driving on an island is no small feat. As a newbie driver moving from the US to the British Virgin Islands, I was required to take the BVI’s written test in order to get a valid driver’s license. Even with a US driver’s license, it’s mandatory (ie. there’s no getting out of it!) if you have been on island for more than three months. And so, chocking it up as all a part of the adventure, I bought the book from the DMV.
I studied voraciously, having heard that this test was a little on the crazy side (to say the least). I went in confident though – I’ve never flunked a test in my life after all. That is, until now. Yup, I failed. To my complete and total disbelief, I flunked. I may have even cried. I don’t know. What I do know is that in the test, you had to know a lot of arm signals. I was the crazy one in the test room flopping my arms around in all manner of directions, trying to make sense of it all. That may have done me in.
There were also some ridiculous questions I had to know the answers to that didn’t really seem applicable to me in any way. Questions like, “What cc bike is allowed on island?” I mean, really? Questions I considered much more important to actual driving here were strangely missing; questions like, “Is it legal to pass on a curve on a hill?” and “Is it legal to fly through a yellow/red light if no one is coming?” I shouldn’t have failed – I should be the one rewriting that darn test with some serious safety questions! Then we’ll see who passes and who fails.
To me, the real steps to actually getting the hang of driving on my rock were more practical than arm signals. Here are some of my Steps to Island Driving Mastery…
Become comfortable with driving on the lefthand side of the road. Stay hyper-aware of this until it becomes ingrained in your righthand brain.
Memorize where all of the unexpected, unmarked speed bumps are. Remember to slow down accordingly.
Commit to memory where all the car-eating potholes are, especially before they are filled with rain.
Understand that the opposing traffic also knows where all the car-eating potholes are on their side of the road and that they will more than likely swerve into your lane to avoid them. Always be prepared for evasive action.
Know that the cabs and busses make frequent, un-signaled stops and will let their passengers out into the middle of traffic – not the street or sidewalk side, but right in the middle of the oncoming traffic.
Always be on the watch for the car that suddenly stops in the middle of a busy, two-lane highway to pick up a friend or two. Keep in mind that more often than not, this takes place on a bend in the road with limited visibility.
Mastering the roundabouts will be your greatest achievement – especially the roundabout with the pedestrian walk-through. Yes, you will have to stop in the middle of three lanes of convergent traffic for a pedestrian. It’s going to be okay.
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Though I have rarely witnessed an accident here, I have noticed that nearly every car on island has some amount of damage to it. The cars still run of course (some, barely) but it’s worth noting.
I have to say, with much belated satisfaction, I finally do get it and can now drive around my rock without gripping my steering wheel in a state of near panic. I also did eventually pass the test… seems like THREE times is the charm. That, or they just got tired of seeing me flapping my arms around in their office. No matter. Whatever it takes.