Thursday, March 5, 2015

Getting a Swedish Driver's License

I've heard tales of horror from Americans trying to get their Swedish driver's licenses. The theory test is difficult, the slippery course is fun and the driving test is brutal. Now that I'm actually going through the process myself, I'll share it in all of its gory detail.

Before you even begin...

Buy the books and begin studying

Seriously. This is no joke. Begin studying immediately and don't stop until you've completed the driving test. You must know all of the rules, and Swedes have a lot of rules, for scenarios like hauling a trailer, classes of vehicles, what to do if an old person approaches the road and other likely events.

Apply for a permit through Transportstyrelsen

You can't even take a driving lesson without this - no driving school will book you yet - so go get your eyes checked at your nearby Synoptik (or anywhere that sells glasses) and pay your driving permit fee.

OK - now that you've filed some paperwork and paid money to the right people, you can learn about all of the processes. All of these elements are mandatory to receive a driver's license.

Risk 1 - this is (usually) an all-Swedish language day-long course that discusses what elements put you at risk - i.e., sleepiness, drinking, distractions, etc. Basically you watch movies that show horrible accidents that result in pedestrian deaths, pediatric deaths, etc to make an emotional impression on the importance and severity of your driving actions. When you get behind the wheel, your ONLY JOB is to drive safely from point A to point B. That is it! No cell phones, no texting, no drinking, no smoking.

Risk 2 - this is the slippery/wet course and your goal is to deliberately lose control of and skid the car so to replicate what happens in slippery or wet driving conditions. The instructors want to be sure you've experienced what it feels like and know how to react appropriately so that you are prepared on the road. Have fun with this - there is no failing unless you drive off of the course and/or kill someone. Push your comfort limit and pull the e-brake to really slide out of control!

Theory - this extremely difficult exam consists of 70 questions that address any and all driving situations you learned about in your books. During the scoring of the exam, 5 questions are removed at random without your knowledge, regardless of if you answered them correctly or not. You must have answered at least 52 questions correctly to pass. 52/65 is 80% which is very difficult to achieve.
You will be expected to do calculations based on formulas you have read about regarding stopping distance, braking distance and reaction distance.  Many people fail at least once and must retake the test. If you fail a second time, you must retake all previous sections again. Practice questions are available for an extra charge and they are highly worthwhile.

Driving - you cannot take the driving test without first completing all of the above courses successfully. Should you fail the theory test, your driving test will be rescheduled until you successfully pass the theory portion. Err on the side of being cautious rather than over confident. They want to be sure that you understand the right hand yield rule, don't exceed the speed limit, and do the ever crucial backwards right-hand turn. Practice practice practice and ask a lot of questions during your driving lessons. Eco driving is easy enough to pick up but you just need to practice those techniques to ingrain them into your driving style.

All in all, your driver's license is going to cost anywhere from 6000kr-9000kr depending on how many driving lessons you book and if you fail and need to retake the theory or driving portions. More than just money, this all requires a lot of TIME.

Some final points:

  • Sweden's goal is 0 traffic related deaths/year. ZERO. That is why it is so difficult and expensive to get a driving license. There is adequate public transportation around the city and the expense and difficulty involved in getting a license keeps young people off of the roads and reduces accidents.
  • Rear face your children as long as possible. In Sweden, children must be rear facing until age 4 or 135cm. 
  • Drive cautiously - seriously. Being 2 minutes late for work isn't worth possibly hitting a child on a bike or a pedestrian. I cannot stress this enough. Slow down and pay attention.
  • Never drive while distracted - no texting or talking on your phone. I don't care what the laws are where you drive, you are responsible for your own driving.

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