50 years driving!

It is 50 years since I got my driver’s licence and I went through the same ritual as so many of my time.  At that time driver’s licences were issued to those who had turned 18. A learner’s licence had to be obtained first and this included getting clued up on the rules of the road.   The Durban Corporation Licensing Dept.  were the “agents”  for the Natal Provincial Administration and all driver’s tests were carried out at the City Licensing Testing Grounds which were at the back of new Municipal Centre  in Old Fort Road.

I cannot recall the exact terms of the learner’s licence and how long it was valid for but do recall that the test was rudimentary and questions were asked about the rules of the road.  Once obtained , it permitted one to drive a vehicle for the purposes of learning to drive with one proviso that a qualified  licensed driver had to be with you in the vehicle at all times when on the road.  There was no K83 (?) at the time but you had a book with all the Rules of the Road and in it were regulations that you could be asked when you  sat for your final test.

One of the tests that was carried out for your learner’s was the Eye Test and I must relate what happened to me in this regard.  I was in the room with the person dealing with my learner’s and  was sort of apprehensive not knowing what the procedure was. The “examiner” turned to me and said “Read out the numbers on the licence plate on the tree outside the window”.   I looked out the window onto a sort of garden area and there were several trees in the distance. Thinking they were testing long vision,  I scoured these trees for a number plate and for the life of me I could not see one. I looked again breaking out into a sweat and still could not see a number plate. I was completely flummoxed, now confused if I had heard the question right and still saw no number plate.  Expecting the worst,  I had to face the music and said to the examiner,  “Sorry, I can see no number plate.”  thinking perhaps he considered me blind!  Obviously looking under stress,  the “examiner”  replied “Where are you looking? Just here outside the window ! “.  Not five metres away  was a small bush with a thickish trunk and nailed to it was a number plate “ND  123456”. Now that I had been directed to it,  it stood out like a beacon. I felt such an idiot. What’s the saying?  “None so blind than those who do not want to see”.

Getting your licence in the 60’s was not as complicated as it is today but there were still some problems to overcome.  Not every family had a motor car so you either had to go to a friend or a relative to learn or alternately go to a driving school which cost money.  The majority of learners in those days I think were taught by friends and relatives and the trick was when you considered yourself proficient enough,  was to go to driving school and have about 3 lessons to tidy up the loose ends.  I depended on my late brother-in-law to teach me to drive in his VW and parking lessons were done at the old Kingsmead Stadium (now Moses Mabida) where space and marked parking bays were available.  To get the hang of driving we traversed the wide Trematon Drive from end to end continuously, turning at the islands and then back again.    A crunch test was the taking off on a hill without rolling back. Now Durban had two notorious hills in those days that I can remember. One was South Ridge Road just past Marist Brothers (St. Henry’s) entrance gate which was a killer. It was steep and at the top it flattened out  to meet Glenwood Drive very close to the Entabeni Hospital’s entrance.  (This hill in later years was remodelled and its incline greatly reduced).  The other was Windmill Road on the Berea, another steep hill which was quite wide and thankfully did not carry much traffic in those days. It was the one we used to practice take offs on hills. I can well remember my brother-in-law’s firm grip on the handbrake as I made my first attempts. I took the route of going to a driving school (British School of Motoring which was in West Street) for the three lessons and also to make use of their motor car which they provided. I recall my teacher was Terence Merritt,  an old school friend and the car was a newish Anglia 1200 two door. I recall the tip Terence gave me when reversing into a parking bay.  “Reverse till the parked car appears half way in the back passenger’s side window,  then full lock to get into the parking bay and then straighten out”.

I cannot recall the actual final test itself bar that the parking test and the three point turn was done in the grounds of the licensing centre. I vaguely remember there was an incline as well where the start on an incline could be performed. It was then out onto the road with the examiner for the driving test in the traffic.  Remember in those days hand signals were compulsory, so one was quite busy as the examiner barked out, “Turn right at the next intersection”.  Grinding the gears was also taboo!  It was with much relief ( and perspiration) when the examiner instructed you to return to the testing ground. The road test is long forgotten but I still have a copy of my original licence issued on 14 Sep 1964.

It cost all of two Rand !

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2 Responses

  1. John Taylor
    | Reply

    Hi Gerald,
    I got my drivers licence at more or less the same time, and your description of the procedure and what we had to go through brought back memories. My late Dad worked for the Durban Corporation nearly all his life, and somehow knew the licence examiners. He must have put in a good word for me because despite a nervous and shaky performance I was awarded my licence!
    The youngsters of today would probably find the compulsory hand signals quite hilarious. Upon reflection they were pretty stupid. Changing gear while waving your arm around out the window was actually quite dangerous, and how were you supposed to see these hand signals at night in the dark?

  2. Allan Jackson
    | Reply

    A great article Gerald.
    I went for my license while on leave from the army and had the forethought to wear my uniform when I went for for my test. It was just as well because although I did briefly mount the pavement during my test, the examiner let me get away with it – probably thought it would be unpatriotic to fail one of the boys in brown.
    Down here in Brisbane, learner drivers have to keep a log book of the hours they practice and cannot be considered for a licence until they have 100 hours including a percentage at night. For two years after gaining their licences they have to display a provisionary plate and are subject to number of restrictions including the fact that they cannot drink at all and drive. The system works and the accident rate is very low.

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