I came to Jamaica with the idea I would buy a car or van to take the kids places and to see more of the island during our trip and I am so happy I bought our 6 passenger Nissan Vanette that I already want another one for tours and so I can keep this one for just personal use. It was a little more than I wanted to spend at the time but in the end it worked out perfectly for us. We have been able to tour the entire island and meet some great people while seeing some beautiful places because of that van and we’ll see even more of it in days to come. It drives like a dream with a super smooth ride and the door arrangement is perfect for us as a family or for use as a tour bus and taxi cab. We get lots of folks looking at us for rides when we drive around in it but I rarely take the risk of picking anyone up.
I was prepared for driving in Jamaica with my Florida drivers license and an International Driving Permit valid here in Jamaica and like 30 other countries I think. It was quite the trick learning to navigate the roads of Jamaica and I have discovered lots of new things while getting lost in the bush. I have put quite a few thousand kilometers on the van and I would never have found great places such as Sunset Heal and made new friends like the owner Beatrice without it. I certainly don’t mind traveling off the beaten track to find gems like that and the van has made this happen for us. One piece of advice that has kept us safe was always keep your tank full because you never know just how lost you can get in Jamaica and the next gas station may be along way off.
When I insured the van with NEM insurance they told me I had 6 months to get a Jamaican drivers license so I bought a standard drivers license book and read through it once or twice. The test would be easy or so I thought. Driving on the left hand side of the road was odd at first but I’ve adjusted well and I have had quite a few Jamaicans comment on my good driving skills. My mom would be proud to see such an improvement over my teen driving years It must be the added responsibility of parenthood that keeps me more safe and aware on the roads now but learning to navigate this country with little to no road signage in every city was a different trick. My road map of Jamaica that I purchased from Amazon before we arrived has been of great help and of course my favorite guide on Jamaica has some nice maps and helpful suggestions as well. I brought the GPS along and have mapped some locations with it but I’m having trouble with integrating the maps into our blog still.
The paperwork necessary to own and drive a van here in Jamaica took me some time to sort out. After buying the van and clearing up the ownership documents I had to get a signature from a Justice of the Peace who could claim to have known me for at least 90 days. I found a man in Sav willing to do so after having just met me. He did it for free but I tipped him $500 Jamaican for his help and time because he went through and verified all of my documents and even signed off on my four Passport photos which I needed to supply for the drivers license. After the Justice of the Peace I was required to have a medical examination to prove I am physically and mentally fit to drive. I found a doctor in Sav and had a quick examination for $1,000 Jamaican dollars and she signed off on that for me. I guess having the $1,000 was enough proof of my mental state. Once I had the TRN and vehicle documents secured it was a matter of paying another $1,000 Jamaican for permission to take the drivers test and I thought it was to be over. I was wrong and of course in Jamaica things take longer because no one explains themselves and there is such a lack of information available. Most people in any kind of customer service position in this country need some serious job training with a focus on people skills and how to deal with the public. I have never seen so many rude people with the job of dealing with people as I do here in Jamaica and specifically government positions. They must be seriously overworked and underpaid to all have such an abrasive attitude so I pity most of them.
I now know there are two types of drivers license in Jamaica, Private and General. A private license is the basic license needed to operate a car or small personal vehicle. I have a 6 passenger van with the goal to have a red plate tag on it some day so I’ll need the General Drivers license which is more like a commercial drivers license. I asked what tests I would need to take while using my Florida drivers license to qualify and on my first visit for information to the Drivers testing depot in Sav La Mar I was mistakenly informed that I would only need to take the sign test, the yard test and the road test because of my use of my Florida drivers license as the qualifying document.
I was not made aware of what they call the mechanical test which goes in depth into the operation of the van and motor with details on things such as vehicle compression and motor functions and with questions like “On the compression stroke if a four cylinder motor what opens the valves?” or others about crankshaft directions in relation to the camshaft or something like that. I was lost. They showed me the test and I knew I would never pass it but the guy told me to take a chance so I did. I gave it a shot and came out with 14 correct from 22 which is failing. I needed 17 correct to pass. He tossed the test and told me to retake it at a later time. I’m going to have to go back after I have studied my new Jamaican Drivers Mechanical testing booklet which I purchased at Possessions bookstore in Sav La Mar for $250JA.
After taking the sign and mechanical tests I went ahead with the yard test because I could still finish that and the road test at this time. The yard test was pretty easy and consisted of me parking the van on an incline and taking off without rolling off the hill along with a simple reverse maneuver between some cones and parallel parking the vehicle on both sides within 18 inches of the curb. The yard is open to the public almost every day and if anyone needed to practice the course before hand it seems pretty easy to do.
When it came time to take the road test I was not aware that I had to bring a a licensed Jamaican driver with me but some fine Jamaican drivers are conveniently waiting there to ride with us for another $1,000 Jamaican dollars for their valuable time and skill set. I reluctantly paid the $1,000 to have a guy sit next to me as my driving instructor while the examiner sat in the back seat for the test. My instructor and I jumped in my van and drive down to the Mannings School entrance in Sav La Mar which is just up the road from the Driving Depot where the tests are administered and where they also do vehicle inspections. While we sat out front waiting for the examiner to arrive we talked some and the instructor told me I would most likely be asked to do the more difficult road maneuver from the handbook which was to turn around on a two way street using a minor road junction for the turn around.
It’s a pretty dumb move in my opinion because it forces you to reverse down a road in the right lane and turn in reverse into the minor road right hand lane before proceeding forward and turning left onto the major road from the left lane but I made sure to study the diagram provided in my manual before he arrived to be sure I understood the move. While executing my turn correctly another car turned into the minor road and stopped about 8 feet in front of me. After completing my reverse turn I came to face the driver in front of me and we both kinda sat there in a pause. Rather then sit still in the wrong lane facing the wrong direction about 40 feet before a road junction I chose to move around the car and proceed with my turn. My examiner told me to stop and then asked me what I was doing. He told me the other driver had the right of way and it was upon me to wait. I told him that it made little sense to sit there waiting for him to move when it was apparent he was waiting to see what I did. My examiner told me I failed on the spot and asked me to return to the garage. I was hot. I could not understand his logic in requiring me to sit in the middle of the right lane facing the wrong direction at a road junction while waiting for another car to move. I told him for safety sake it was best for me to get out of the road and if faced with that situation again I would act in the exact same way.
When we got back to the depot it took him about 5 minutes before he called me into his office and told me I failed and I would have to come back. I told him that was unacceptable and I wanted to speak with a supervisor. I told him I wanted to retake the test with some other more sensible person. I also accused him of splitting the $1,000 paid to his selected instructor and that brought a few others into the argument. Apparently even many Jamaican citizens are unaware of the requirement and they get caught up in it as well. I was given the chance to speak with a supervisor and the examiner in the room and after some pretty little drawings on a scrap of paper the supervisor called the instructor into the room. My driving instructor earned his $1,000 and told the supervisor he felt he would have done the same exact thing as I had done in my situation. He said we were at a stalemate of sorts and he felt it was on me to get out of the other cars way and on with my business. The supervisor called it a mistake in judgment by both parties and my only mistake in the test and passed me without really completing the driving test.
I went back and took the written mechanical test and got a receipt for my Jamaican Drivers License about 2 weeks late after memorizing the pre test questions to pass the mechanical portion of the test. The book and test were last updated in 1976 and there was little in there that actually related to my van or driving in Jamaica but I now have a General Drivers License which allows me to drive cars, trucks or vans anywhere in Jamaica. It took me over 4 months to receive my Jamaican drivers license and it has really helped me to understand just how screwed up things in this country can be. The bureaucracy, rigmarole and ridiculous red tape necessary to conduct any sort of business here really makes a mess out of things and must be the cause of some of the frustration amongst the Jamaican people.I understand that many drivers here never actually take the test and a large percentage of Jamaican drivers are forced to buy their license on the black market because some of them cannot read to take the tests and others simply don;t have the time or patience to take all these mundane steps to be able to drive.
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