You all know me. Total OCD when it comes to obeying rules and regulations. I got to thinking about taking our camper over to the continent this year I wanted to make sure that I didn’t fall foul of driving regulations which might suddenly change. I decided to get an International Driving Permit to supplement my UK driving licence.
I checked and found out that these can be bought directly from our main Post Office so, since MBH was heading into Town to meet with a friend for a coffee and my attendance was excused, I hitched a ride with her and headed to the one Post Office left in the centre of our town.
For those reading this in another part of the world, let me tell you something about English Post Offices. They are set up deliberately to make the postal experience as depressingly complicated as possible. Collecting a parcel for instance is totally dependent on the whims of the parcel office which, serving a population of at least 239,000 (2015 census) only opens on certain days and for only a few hours on each of those day. If you work a normal working week then you might as well tell Amazon not to bother.
Inside, the pattern is repeated. Long snaking queues passing half a dozen counters staffed by only two clerks – one of whom is stamping and transferring forms from one box to the other. The other clerk is actually serving a member of the public – or rather is explaining the process of sending a parcel to Botswana, depending on the physical dimensions involved and whether the parcel contains something electronic with a battery included.
In our Post Office there is a section marked ‘TRAVEL’ and, wanting a driving permit, I joined that queue pushing past racks of shiny gold bubble wrap pouches and dog-eared birthday cards. The person at the head of that queue was trying to send a parcel somewhere distant. Could be another parcel for Botswana, could be Nova Scotia, who knows. She achieved her goal and sidled past me. The queue shuffled forward. The next person wanted a passport renewal. The clerk directed her to a booth at the other end of the building and then got up to follow her, totally abandoning her own queue. As she passed me she nodded and asked “What is it you want, dear?”
I explained that I wanted an IDP and she threw her head back in what could have been a gesture of either disgust or frustration. “Join the main queue then, somebody will see you.”she conceded. I walked over to the main queue and found myself behind people who had arrived a good five minutes before me. I waited. The one remaining clerk suddenly disappeared into a back room to sort rubber stamp in order of expiry date or something leaving us all harrumphing in annoyance.
Eventually I was at the front of the queue and was beckoned forward by a young lady called ‘Leesa’ (name changed to protect the guilty and for comic effect).
‘Sorry for your wait.’ She neither looked nor sounded in the least bit sorry, in fact I could have sworn I detected the hint of a smile in the upturned corner of her mouth.
I explained what I wanted.
‘Ah!’ She exclaimed ominously.
‘When are you travelling?’ She enquired.
I had no firm plans at that point so I picked a date out of the air. I offered “25th March?”
“Good! If you are travelling before 28th March then these permits will still be valid. After that…” her voice tailed off implying that either she had no idea what the situation might be if I chose to travel the next day – or that the new process might be a closely guarded state secret known only to the Primal Minister or her representative here on earth.
‘And where are you going?’ She asked, with the distinct implication that wherever it was there would be further complications.
‘France… then Spain’ I suggested wanting to cover all the bases for our annual exploration of Western Europe.
“Hmm…. For Spain you need a permit authorised under the 1949 agreement, but… France are going to withdraw from that agreement so you will also need a permit authorised under the 1968 agreement. If you are travelling through Lichtenstein then you will need a third permit.”
‘WTAF’ I muttered under my breath. Two adjoining countries in the same European UNION can’t cooperate to require the same piece of paper to let a fully qualified driver cross their common border?
“Let’s just do France then.” I offered resignedly. “I’ve got my passport and a photograph.”
‘Only need your passport if you just have the paper driving licence.’ She growled.
By now I felt thoroughly browbeaten and defeated and watched as she officially stamped the permit seven times in various places, stuck on my photo with a glue stick and then stamped that too for good measure. I was reminded of the wartime and post-war films where Orson Wells appears at a darkened foreign border and is questioned intimately before his entry visa is stamped with gusto by a dishevelled, thin border guard.
I was as quick as possible to pay the £5.50 fee to get out of that mausoleum of mediocrity as fast as my cold and shivering legs would carry me. I repaired to a local coffee house and, stimulated with a double espresso, I examined the new permit in more detail.
And then I began to panic.
Among the permissions and categories I was authorised to drive under were motorcycles of all types, cars of all types and tractors with or without trailers. Nowhere did it seem to show that I was permitted to drive our camper which is classed somewhat contradictorily as a ‘light’ heavy goods vehicle.
“Perhaps they’ve missed something on my licence – I need to go back!” I thought, not relishing the queues and the condescension.
I checked my normal driving licence, recently renewed.
The same answer, motorbikes cars and tractors. “Oh, h*ll! Perhaps they’ve got my licence wrong too.” I mused. The day was turning out bleaker than I expected.
I fished out my smartphone and hunted for a wifi signal. Finally I found one and logged into the Government’s website.
“Want to find out what you’re entitled to drive? No problem! Just enter your date of birth, driver number and National Insurance details, oh and your postcode for good measure.”
“What??? I just want to see the categories, not apply for certification to fly a Boeing 647!”
I searched and searched and finally found a page that listed what the various categories were and what the codes mean. Interestingly, with a full car licence, born before a certain date and with the licence issued before another certain date I was still allowed to drive anything with fewer than 8 passengers up to 3,500kg.
Panic over – but, wait a minute…..
Last year I had sought the DVLA’s approval to up-plate our camper from the nominal 3,500kg to its maximum approved weight of 3,700kg to make it easier to carry our bikes and kitchen sinks. The van was re-plated to the new weight but the minions in the DVLA had some further questions about the ‘type approval’ document and I was awaiting a new certificate from the vehicle’s manufacturers.
If I was now limited to driving 3,500kg then that meant I needed to have the vehicle re-plated again – unless I could persuade MBH to do all the driving for the next decade. Fortunately I had kept the old plate and could do this swap easily at home. Less fortunately I would now probably have to choose between carrying my shiny bicycle or MBH.
I will ask her…
The European Union has adopted a common format for driving licenses within all 31 European Economic Area member states (EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), and a common set of driving license categories. They were introduced to replace the 110 different plastic and paper driving licenses. That is until 29th March 2019 when every country can be free to punish the United Kingdom in any way it sees fit.
Carrying on an old tradition?