Sunday, October 01, 2006

Driving Uncle Sam

Dealing with bureaucracy is an essential part of the life of any new Oleh but with the passage of time your memories become blurred somewhat. Mine have been re-awakened by my American experience - the latest episode is sorting out my State of Maryland Driving License.

New arrivals are allowed to use their out-of-state licenses for 60 days (in Israel it's a whole year) and during that time must sort out a Maryland license - if I were to move to Virginia next year, I'd have to get a Virginia license and the process would be different - just one result of the odd American system of different rules once you cross the State boundary.

I duly made a pilgrimage to the local licensing office - only accessible by car so the unlicensed must find a lift from somewhere. After waiting 2 1/2 hours, the very pleasant clerk explained that I was missing documents; 2 proofs of residency and a 3 hour drug and alcohol awareness session - the latter turned out to be the most hilarious part of the process, the instructor starting off by declaring "this mandatory 3 hour session will take about 1 1/4 hours".

Having sorted out the relevant documents, I returned to the centre, 1/2 an hour before opening time only to be told that all the available spots had been taken for that day and that they were changing to a new appointment only system for the following day. I was handed an explanatory sheet which specified that a person with a visa and I94 (which I have) did not need an appointment - the clerk rudely insisted that I still needed an appointment.

So I spent the next few days trying to get through to the constantly engaged number. When I finally got through the first time I was kicked out of the system. When I finally managed to speak to a human being I was straight away asked if I had an I94 - when I answered in the affirmative she confirmed that I didn't require an appointment! I insisted on making one anyhow - a whole month distant. Just like our very own Misrad Hapnim!!

Friday morning, I went along bright and early and the whole approach was somehow different - after waiting for 1/2 hour, my turn came up; I had all my documents which were reviewed and scanned - a process which itself took 45 minutes. My eyesight was checked and I was photographed. I was then directed to do the law test which I barely scraped through and then sent on to do the practical - all in the same complex. Anyone who has done the Israeli test knows what a joke that is - this was even more so in that it's not done on the road but a special course. I tend to think that testing people in real conditions, Israeli and British style is more logical but I wasn't going to argue.

After aceing the test I then had to go back to more queueing to pay the fee for my license and arrange to get it delivered.

So after initial trouble how to sum it up? Bureaucracies are the same everywhere and clerks are always open to giving incorrect information. In comparison to the Memsi, Eye and (joke) medical check up, Licensing Authority, Driving Instructor, test, Licensing Authority, Post Office to pay route in Israel, the all under one roof (apart from (joke) drug and alcohol session) approach is something that is far more user friendly albeit somewhat dragged out.

Driving in the US is different because:

Turn right on red: - a red light doesn't always mean stop..... (but it does in New York)
Four way stops: - the first car to reach the stop sign at a crossroads has right of way. Like that could happen in Jerusalem....
Horns: - used infrequently (if at all). No audible warnings when the lights change.....
Street lighting: - surprisingly poor and largely non-existent on motorways - I know it's a big country but on well used roads bad lighting can't be good for road safety
Passing: - in Maryland it's legal to pass on either side - seeing as everyone does it in Israel it might make sense to simpy change the law?
Plentiful parking: - Tel Aviv it's not....

Gmar Chatima Tova


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good thing you had a license already, otherwise you would have to do 60 hours behind the wheel with someone.
Also, here bederech klal there is no parking on the sidewalk.
But once you have a MD license getting a different state's license is easy.
Happy American driving!