x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

A no-show for the driving test turns out a double whammy

Our reporter Kareem Shaheen was all nerves and happily missed the theory exam only to find out later that the jitters were unfounded.

Kareem Shaheen studies a document at the Emirates Driving Company in Mussafah but 400 road signs prove harder to learn.
Kareem Shaheen studies a document at the Emirates Driving Company in Mussafah but 400 road signs prove harder to learn.

ABU DHABI // I missed my first driving exam. Here's how it happened. The night before, I had settled into a comfortable chair at a cafe, fresh grape shisha in hand, armed with a hot cup of coffee and my copy of the safe-driving handbook.

It wasn't looking good, seeing as it was already 8pm and I had 140 pages to get through, plus what appeared to be more than 400 signs to memorise. I could hear my driving theory instructor's warning echoing in my ear: "Remember the signs." Each time I heard his voice repeat in my head, the phrase became more imbued with sage wisdom. Yes, I was drifting off again. I needed to focus. My BlackBerry buzzed. It was an e-mail from the office about some conference we needed to cover in the morning. The problem was that it started at 9.30am, and my exam was only half an hour later.

But given I was utterly unprepared, I jumped at the offer to skip the test. Off to the press conference. The next morning, I felt a bit sad that nobody called to ask why I missed my test. I also emerged from the conference with no story. Double whammy. I went back to the Emirates Driving Company in Mussafah a couple of days later to reschedule, a process that, happily, took just 10 minutes but, unhappily, included a Dh50 fine. The test was two days later.

Convinced I really wasn't up to cramming on exam night, instead I skimmed the handbook. I went over the signs twice. Apparently when a sign says "Stop", you're supposed to stop. It was all a bit of a revelation, at least based on my observations of UAE roads. An attempt to review on the ride to school was aborted when I fell asleep, exhausted. At the driving centre, I surveyed the area outside the examination hall. I wasn't particularly nervous. Most of the material seemed common sense.

Of course I shouldn't overtake near intersections. Of course a child under 140cm shouldn't be in the front seat if there is an airbag. Of course the sign that says "Al Ain 30km" means Al Ain is 30km away. But I had no idea what the test was going to be like. I was flying blind and had no control, which did make me uneasy. The examiner called us into the room five minutes before the test started. The rows of desks were stocked with computers.

Every student knows that feeling of intense glee when you realise that test you pulled an all-nighter for is multiple-choice - just like real life. I quickly realised my worries were for nothing. We had 40 minutes to answer 35 questions. Only one was about a sign, conclusive evidence that I never spend my time wisely. Still, it was good that I knew them pretty well by now, since I planned to physically drive at some point.

But the questions sometimes strained credulity. "Was driving in the movies a legitimate sort of driving that should be emulated or was it a crazy fantasy?" one question asked. Who doesn't respect Steve McQueen's Bullit car chase? It felt like a betrayal to answer that real life was different. I uttered a little prayer as I ticked off the answer to the last question. I promised to be a better person if I passed. I did pass. Thirty-three out of 35. The instructor told the guy sitting in front of me that he did a good job. Presumably he got a perfect score. Geek.

I marched off happily back to the reception area. Ten minutes later, my minor triumph had already made its way into the system. I took my papers to customer service to sign up for the practical classes. "Mabrook," the representative said, congratulating me. What time would be good for classes? We agreed on 10am and I forked out Dh2,300 in lesson fees. I am due to start lessons on August 4, and do two lessons a day from Wednesday to Tuesday, except for Friday. Do I have to attend all the classes? Can I reschedule some of them? No, I was told. This was real. @Email:kshaheen@thenational.ae