Got a Swedish driver’s license at the age of 38!
I cleared my theory test on the first attempt, scoring 57 from a possible 65, with the minimum score being 52. 80% is the the just-pass score!
BHPian supermax recently shared this with other enthusiasts.
I thought I’d share with you my experience of earning my right to drive on Swedish roads, and I promise you, it’s quite a rollercoaster ride, so buckle up!
This is hardly the first post on TBHP, on challenges involved in getting a Swedish DL, but I thought I’d add my take on the topic anyway, but if you are curious, @aved has written a nice post here.
As you may know, the rules here allow for those with residence/work permits to drive upto a year, with a driver’s licence issued by their home country, but after that first year, one is expected to obtain a Swedish license, to continue driving. In my case, I’d never ever held a driver’s licence for a car, even from India, so I had to start from scratch in any case, and starting from scratch would mean either taking lessons from a driving school (extremely expensive, like 12000 INR for a 70 minute lesson, 7000 for a 35 minute lesson), or with a private tutor, a person who has held a valid driver’s licence issued by Sweden or another European country, for a minimum of an unbroken five year period (unbroken=licence not suspended for any reason). The theory test as well as the practical driving test are very thorough, and while there’s always a bit of luck involved, one cannot hope to get lucky and pass the tests before one is really, really, ready for them.
I moved to Sweden in 2013, and had found back my love for bicycling, and after initially struggling, found my rhythm and before long, I was not only commuting on a bicycle, but also doing longer and longer weekend rides, including self supported ‘brevet’ rides which were several hundred kilometers long. I loved the outdoor, loved the tranquility and the meditative experience of biking in absolute solitude through spectacularly beautiful countryside, often without seeing any fellow humans for hours at a stretch. I honestly believed that I probably would never buy a car, as I was scared that I’d get lazy and lose my hard-gained physical fitness. Post marriage, my wife was initially bemused by my lack of desire to buy a car or even to learn to drive, but she accepted it, and even got used to bicycling with me. Time flew on, but I never revisited the topic of learning to drive or buying a car, until the beginning of 2021, when my wife and I realized that our family was set to grow by one. Now, I was suddenly less sure of my resolve to not buy a car, and I started thinking of starting to learn to drive.
With greater awareness about the difficulties involved in clearing the driving test in Sweden, one of the first things Indians do these days is to start driving in Sweden, provided of course that they have a valid Indian driver’s licence for a car. This is because the clock starts ticking the minute one gets a person number, and one can no longer drive with the Indian licence after completion of a year (some special rules exist for exceptions, but these are rare, and most don’t qualify), and the more they drive, the fewer lessons would be necessary at the driving school, before one is deemed to be ready, or this is at least in theory. In practice, I know many Indians who have failed the Swedish driver’s licence test, even though they have driven for 15 years or more in India, and this is probably because they find it very hard to unlearn the mistakes that have been ingrained into their very psyche, and these get brutally exposed during the driving test. In my case, the good news was that there was no unlearning to do, but the bad news was that I had to learn everything from absolute scratch, and since I didn’t know many people who were both qualified and willing to help me as private tutors, I was looking at the prospect of learning to drive at 12k INR every 70 minute lesson. Like Alice, I was beginning to find out how deep the rabbithole was; one has to be mentally prepared to layout a lot of money, and not lose heart even if the going was tough, else it would simply be money flushed down the toilet.
In Sweden, the summer is short, but during the short summer, the days are really long, with as much as 17 hours of daylight, and this is also the time of the year just about anyone who is interested to learn to drive hits the road. What this means is that unless you book lessons months in advance, you can forget all about finding dates with driving instructors in summer! When I inquired in the first week of April, I was told that the first possible class was on May 28, and this if I could make do with an instructor who only spoke Swedish. Getting hold of a real unicorn is probably easier than finding an English-speaking driving tutor in spring or summer in Sweden, but since my Swedish skills were reasonably good and improving, I breathed a sigh of relief and booked in the classes, and went home with the study material, also in Swedish. While the books too are available in English, it is a big advantage to know the terms in Swedish, when one has an instructor who doesn’t speak much/any English, Swedish it was, for me.
Since I had close to two months before my driving lessons started, I started a deep dive into the driving licence book, to learn the theory as best as I could. There are various apps and question databases one can use to get a feel for the theory test, and many try to prepare for the ‘knowledge test’ (theory test) using these exclusively, but I think this will leave too many gaps in one’s knowledge, and these gaps can prove costly, as many fail the test by as little as one single point. My strategy therefore was to go through the whole book at least twice, and only then start with the apps and question databases. Before I’d even started to drive, I’d achieved the goal I’d set myself, and I’d started to solve full length tests on the apps.
My first driving day arrived, and I met Huner, my driving instructor. He’d moved to Sweden from Kurdistan some thirty years ago, spoke fluent Swedish but no English at all. The car was a VW Golf with a 6 speed manual gearbox, as I’d wanted to learn to drive a stick. Why a stick? I’d always wanted to be able to drive a stick, and in Sweden, one can drive a stick only if one clears the exam in a manual car, else the license would be restricted to driving automatic cars only, much like how we in India have separate classes for ‘motorcycle with gear’ and ‘motorcycle without gear’. Huner drove us to a place with little or no traffic, switched seats with me, and taught me ‘att hitt dragläge’ (finding the bite-point of the clutch. I’d briefly taken some driving lessons in India, some 10 years ago, but this was as good as learning from total scratch. It was day 4 I think, when I was allowed to directly hop into the driver’s seat and drive out of the school’s parking lot, instead of being the passenger while he drove to the practice location. Before long, the initial 10 lessons I’d paid for and booked got over, and to my horror, I realized that there were no free dates for over a month, so I was on my own till then. That’s when I realized that I should have booked more lessons right at the outset, as unbooking is very easy and hassle-free, as long as one unbooks with at least 24 hours before the lesson time. My advice since then, to anybody starting with lessons is to book twice or even thrice as many lessons as they think they need, as they can easily unbook if they progress faster than that.
My real issue was with my nervousness. I’d have an iron grip on the wheel, I barely breathed, and I simply couldn’t master the art of developing a ‘rörlig blick’ (ability to scan the road for multiple information/threat sources), and looking far enough ahead. My eyes would be firmly planted on the road right ahead, and I’d miss speed limit sign or lane indication signs and would invariably find myself on the wrong lane. During a driving test, we can use all driver aids available in a car, with the exception of GPS, as we are expected to navigate by following signage and instructions provided by the examiner. The instructions are terse and to the point, like for instance, ‘Follow Route 34’, or ‘Head to the Hospital’. We have to constantly scan both the road for threats and the sides of the roads for signs directing us to the stated goals. When I looked for the signs, I’d miss slowing in time for pedestrians, or when I looked extra hard for pedestrians, I’d miss the signs, and it was frustrating as hell. My other big pain point was roundabouts; we only need to check for traffic coming from our left. Any vehicles already in the roundabout (to our left) have the right to pass unhindered, and it’s we who have to yield to them. Eco driving is also taken very seriously, so driving at the limit and making a quick stop at the roundabout is a no-no; we must spot the traffic early, go off the gas, downshift etc, time our approach as much as possible so we can avoid coming to a full stop, while still yielding to the vehicles already in the roundabout. A manual car is extra stress till the point one learns to change gears by muscle-memory, and develops the correct scanning techniques. For me, this seemed like a black art. Up until the introduction to roundabouts, I was doing brilliantly, but now, I was losing my confidence and my mistakes were increasing. I’d stall out, or go in too fast, brake too much too late, position my car incorrectly, or choose the wrong lane, or worse, the wrong exit! My stress levels would shoot up so much that I’d even forget the goal I was supposed to be driving towards!
The fun parts
Risk 2 (driving on a dedicated skid pad) was definitely one of the best parts of my learning journey. The cars were automatic EVs (Renault Zoe), and for the first time for many of us students, we’d be at the wheel of a car without a driving instructor beside us. In fact, I had other course participants such as myself as my passengers. We’d take turns carrying out instructions given to us by the instructors who were outside the car. A bus stopped at a bus stop was simulated by traffic cones, and we had to drive at various speeds before being ordered to perform a HARD braking. The purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate how hard it would be to miss a child or passenger, if they suddenly alighted from the bus and ran across the road. It was a sobering experience. We then had to do hard braking in both wet and dry conditions, as we got to experience how conditions could be, under icy and snowy conditions, and just how bad stopping distances can be, when the conditions are not perfect. There is no real prerequisite to be able to take this training, but one must have the required confidence to carry out both hard accelerations and very hard braking. The ability to carry out this absolutely invaluable exercises in a totally safe environment is simply amazing. Many of us were amazed how violent it was, to do a hard braking from 75-80 km, dropping to zero in the minimum time, and we could see how important it was to belt up. After that session, I’m never starting off in a car with any of my passengers unbelted.
Zooming on the motorway!
Motorway entries are another thing many have trouble with; when one enters a motorway, one has a slip road to help come up to speed, but this is often short and/or curved. There are many places where one has to accelerate from 50-60 and come up to 110 very quickly. Entering a 110 motorway at say 90 without due reason? That’s enough to fail a test. The Risk2 training with hard acceleration comes in handy here too, but one should scan well for traffic to ensure that we pick out a gap in the traffic which we are to join cleanly, and this is why it is so important to be at the right speed. If we are too slow, we’ll force traffic behind us to take evasive action, and that is grounds for a failure. Note that the traffic that is already on the motorway has no duty to yield to us, but they have to cooperate with us as best as they can, but the responsibility of joining safely is entirely on us. We should under no circumstance stop on slip road, and instead scan the traffic and plan our entry. The first few times, my heart rate would soar so high I thought my instructor could hear it where he sat, but with practice, I kept getting better, and it was less and less scary. The real challenge was when there was a hairpin bend on the slip road before I had to start accelerating even while turning, as I aimed for the magic speed limit number, without going over the limit! The number of variables that can result in a failure are very high, so practice is the only way to get there.
Driving as much as I could!
I was a man on a mission; I hoped to nail the driving test before the baby arrived, and I didn’t have much time, so I pretty much drove every day, and one some days, even as many three times a day. I was on the thin line between learning as much as I could and overtraining, where the risk was my mind getting fatigued, leading to wasted time and money, and I’d have not made any real gains. The mounting costs was something that was never off the mind, and I came close to calling it quits a few times when despite all my efforts, I’d end up making glaring mistakes. I ran a red light once, missing it completely, as I tried to scan for hard-to-see pedestrians. I drove out onto a bigger lane without yielding to oncoming traffic a couple of times. I often found that my speed would be a few kilometers over. Driving at 32 in a 30 zone is a guaranteed fail, but the limits are not so stringent on the higher side, but doing 120 on a 110 marked motorway can probably result in a failure too, so the golden rule is, follow the blasted speed limit to a T. While I’d learned all of the various ‘moments’ that are listed in the driving licence book, I was still unable to put it all together and deliver error-free drives. It was always the small things, and it was exhausting. Many people, particularly from India/Pakistan are convinced that driving schools are out to cheat us, trying to milk as much money as possible, but this is not true. While I don’t rule out the odd unscrupulous school, for the most part, they only try to ensure that we have the best chance of clearing the driving test as soon as possible. I’ve seen far too many people assuming they know enough to clear the test storming out of schools in disagreement with their instructors, taking up the driving test directly at trafikverket (the state body that carries out the driving test) and flunking it, often multiple times, before they realize that they are not as ready as they thought they were. Many also think that the government makes the tests harder to earn more money from students who fail; this too is false. The fact is, the government is indeed actively trying to reduce accidents and fatalities, and if this is going to require failing more people, so be it. They actually are happy if you simply don’t even apply for the test in the first place. They have now made it harder to get available dates for driving tests, if a candidate has already failed twice, just to ensure that students don’t rush to take the tests before they really are ready.
Timing the tests
Earlier, it was possible to clear the two tests, the knowledge test (theory) and the driving test in any order, and as long as both were cleared within four months of each other, one got the driver’s licence. If that four month window was exceeded, the candidate had to retake both tests. That rule however was amended (in 2019, I think), and a pass in the theory test now became a prerequisite to taking the driving test. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a complete shutdown of driving tests, leading to a big backlog of candidates, so the cut off time was increased to six months, meaning that one has six months to clear the driving test, after the theory test, failing which one must repeat the theory test. Since the test centers were under severe load, they decided to further penalize students who took the test without adequate preparation, but creating a priority system, in which only the first two attempts at clearing the driving test were prioritized. Once a candidate has failed the test twice, it becomes exponentially harder for him/her to find available dates on the test booking page; last minute cancelations etc are simply not available to be booked, by such individuals, which other candidates can take advantage of them. This being the case, I needed to optimize the timing of the knowledge test. A nice thing about the booking system is that it allows one to book all the tests at once, allowing for cancelations upto 24 hours before the exam date, without any penalties, so people try to get slots first and then go about preparing for them. Some people think it’s a good idea to clear the theory test before starting to drive, but I think this is a bad idea. Being ready to take the test before beginning to drive is sufficient; the theory test is best taken when one is closer to being ready to take the driving test.
I was ready for the theory test even before I drove my first lesson, but I waited as my progress with the driving was taking longer than anticipated. There are two ways to go about booking the driving test; option 1 is to let the driving school book in a date, which means the candidate gets to rent the car from the driving school, the car in which he/she has spent a lot of time practicing, while option 2 is to directly book a test from the government test center, also booking the rental car from them directly. Candidates are not allowed to take their own cars, as the cars must be approved by the state department and have dual control pedals. While one gets the advantage of car familiarity if one books from the school, the instructor gets the final say in booking in the test. If the instructor believes you are not ready, he/she won’t book in a test for you. This is to ensure that the school’s reputation is not tarnished. The understanding is that schools will only send in candidates they believe to be ready, not otherwise. My instructor would not even agree to book in a date into the future, till he was sure I was near ready, and by the time he was ready, the first available date at the test center when the instructor’s car was available was October 6, some two weeks after the estimated arrival date of my child! I was livid, but took the date, determined to opt for an earlier date should one open up. Not locking the date was not an option, as the waiting time might get much worse. A friend told me to time my theory test closer to September, but I was having none of it. I knew that I would be cutting it close if I took it too early, but finally decided to lock in the date for 14 July, for the theory test, some two weeks away.
The theory test (and more driving)
I cleared my theory test on the first attempt, scoring 57 from a possible 65, with the minimum score being 52. Yup. 80% is the the just-pass score! Clearing the test gave me a confidence boost, and I now wanted to get ready for the driving test. I drove every opportunity I got. When I took a course called ‘Introductory Training’ which is mandatory if one wants to learn from a private tutor, the teacher mentioned a thumbrule; you need to have logged in at least 100 hours on the road in practice time, before you can be sure to have been exposed to a wide-enough variety of situations, before the test. Anything below that would be pushing one’s luck, he’d said. I was driving fewer hours at the school, but driving more hours with two of my friends who’d registered to be my private tutors. Time went on, but I seemed to have hit a plateau with my driving. I was almost there, but I was still making on an average at least one mistake each session that would put me in the danger zone. What I realized was that I needed a couple of longer drives with more varied workload than the pressure-cooker like hour or so of practice, so requested for a half-day trip to the neighboring city and back, a 100 km round trip. That trip did volumes for my confidence, and I could almost feel things clicking in place, as I got more comfortable behind the wheel.
Booking the driving test
Checking for canceled dates was my early morning ritual each day, and I saw now that a slot was available on September 2. I knew my driving school didn’t have personnel availability before October, so I had to make the decision to directly book the test myself (and cancel the date the school had booked for me). The date was three weeks before the baby was due, and if I cleared it, the timing would be perfect, so I booked. I rang the school to cancel their booking for the test. The test center in my city has mostly Volvo V60s, but the other possible option was the Skoda Karoq, and I had no idea which one would be given to me, till just minutes before my actual test, but the likelihood was high that it was going to be a V60. The driving school had just one V60, and it was always in demand, because the instructor who drove it was one of their few English-speaking instructors, and he was booked fully all the way to October! I told the school to put me on a wait-list, to be notified if there were any cancelations for him, so I could take a few lessons with him and get a feel for the V60. As luck would have it, there was soon a couple of cancellations, and I took them all. The V60 was a car I instantly fell in love with, but boy, was it powerful! The torque in second gear is so much that the car accelerates even with the foot completely off the gas pedal! I took it to a motorway entrance where the slip road was a tight hairpin. I dropped to fourth and slowed down to 45 to negotiate the winding turn, and as I neared the apex of the exit, I started to put more weight on the pedal, and I floored it as soon as we straightened out, and that diesel motor just opened up. The noise level in the cabin was really low, but the car went like a bat out of hell! I accelerated from 45-50 to 100 in no time and I had to ease off so I’d not creep over the limit, and I upshifted to 6th, and it just felt so refined. I took a few more lessons with the V60, so I could get used to its behavior in all kinds of situations, and the more I drove it, the more I was at ease with it. Earlier in my journey, I was nervous while starting uphill, even with hill assist on, and now, I was confident enough to turn off the V60’s hill assist and not roll back.
The big day!
The big day arrived. I’d logged over 112 hours of driving between May 28 and Sep 1, driving in both sunny and rainy conditions, both day and night driving. Sep 2 was a very pleasant day. I hoped I got a V60, but was mentally prepared to deal with it, even if I got the Karoq, but I got the V60! My examiner explained the rules to me; she’d give me instructions about the route. In the absence of any (further) instructions, I was to hold the course, i.e continue navigating towards the stated goal, or keep driving in the same direction, unless asked to do something else. I was not expected to be perfect, i.e minor imperfections were okay, as long as I was not deemed to be dangerous. The final judgment would be a ‘helhets bedömning’, a full-picture evaluation. She pointed out the basic controls in the car and asked me to set it up per my wishes. When I was ready, she asked me to perform a check of the tires, as the mandatory ‘inspection checks’, which can be anything from a long list which includes tires, lights, fluid checks etc. It was summer, so the minimum tread depth was 1.6 mm. The tires were in fine shape, and the wear indicator was a long way in, so the depth was at least 7 mm. I’m usually a chatty person, but I’d decided I was not going to chitchat today. I asked if I could play music; she asked me if I had any preferences and I just said anything goes, as even white noise was going to be okay. She selected a jazz channel, and I felt it was perfect. It was a surreal feeling, pulling out of the test facility’s parking lot. I’d often imagined how it would be, but the reality wasn’t anything like how I’d imagined it; I was totally at ease.
She gave instructions in Swedish, and I just nodded and complied. She asked me to drive onto the E4 motorway, and I set about getting there by following the signs. As I did that, there was a huge tractor, a monstrous grassclipper ahead of us, and these are only permitted to drive at a maximum of 40 km/h, and we were on a 60 road. I checked the mirrors and my blindspot, indicated and changed lane to pass it, but as soon as I did so, I realized that right ahead was a traffic light, and I’d just changed onto a lane that must turn left, while I was supposed to go straight ahead. I told her that I’d now chosen the wrong lane and I couldn’t change back to the right lane due to the solid white line, so I’d have to take a left turn before attempting to get back. She nodded and asked me to execute a U-turn at the first opportunity, and I did so. We got back to the same signal where I now took a left to get back onto the road I was originally supposed to be on. She directed me onto a road with construction activity signage all over; I dropped down to the recommended speed for the construction zone and showed her that I checked my surroundings well as I drove carefully. As soon as the construction zone ended, I had to go through a roundabout and upon exiting, the speed limit goes up to 100. I accelerated hard in third before bringing up the 100 in fourth, and immediately shifted to 6th. Hopping over gears is a very good thing, as it demonstrates eco driving, as does using engine braking, instead of slamming on the brakes. She noted all of this. She asked me to turn into a small lane after a while and asked me to perform a reverse-around-the-corner maneuver, like shown in this video.
The orange ‘beams’ in the video are sectors to be scanned, while executing it. She was not very happy with my execution, telling me I’d partially backed into the opposite lane. She asked me to redo it, and this time, I executed it perfectly, all the while praying that she’d not fail me for that.
She asked me to drive though some residential areas, noting that I drove slowly and carefully, giving plenty of room to parked cars. We ended up back in the parking lot of the test center where she asked me to park the car and turn it off. She told me that I’d passed. And that I’d driven very well. She made no mention of the reversing, but mentioned that I ought not to have passed the grassclipper in haste, and that I ought to have checked what lay ahead before deciding to change lanes. She mentioned to me that she’d already sent me my result by email, and that I was as of then eligible to drive on Swedish roads, but I had to wait till I got the printed card in my hands, before I could drive abroad. I don’t know if I was more happy, or more relieved, now that the battle was won! I hadn’t even been able to spend a lot of time with my pregnant wife as I was on the road everyday, but all that effort had now borne fruit. I had earned my Swedish driver’s license, three weeks prior to the expected arrival date of the baby.
After the license
My first ever solo drive, without any instructor or tutor, was the very next day, when I test drove an Audi A3 Sportback, with a manual transmission. It felt exhilarating to be driving all by myself. The guy at the car dealership just took a printout of my driving test result, handed me the keys, and I was on my way. The car felt powerful and nice, but my wife and I decided that we needed something more practical, with a much bigger boot, so we’d have plenty of room for the baby stroller and other eventual luggage. Less than a year ago, I didn’t even think I’d ever own a car, and now, I’d had a licence for a day, and I was already checking out cars to buy! My friend, who’d also been my private tutor, took my wife and I on a tour around town, visiting all of the car dealerships in town, looking for roomy station wagons which hadn’t logged too much mileage. Due to the issue with the chip shortage, used cars were selling out faster than many dealerships could even update their websites. What caught our eye was a 2020 Skoda Octavia with just under 25k km on the clock, and it drove like a dream. And oh, it was a manual! I’d decided that I wanted to enjoy the pleasure of owning and driving a stick before they became extinct, so here I was. I’d signed the papers and driven home my car, exactly one week after I’d cleared my driving test, and when my son decided suddenly that he wanted to arrive a week ahead of schedule, I got to drive my wife to the hospital in our own car, and drive back with our son in his newly installed babyskydd (special baby seat for children 0-8 months).
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