Quite recently, the Canadian Government decided to recognise the fact that, although we use the other side of the road, and measure our speed in mph, UK drivers are not really as bad as all that. Therefore, you can now exchange your UK driving licence for a BC licence without all the fuss, stress and expense of retaking possibly the most terrifying exam of your life.
Of course, this was decided about 9 months after we arrived, and 3 months after we realized we could put it off no longer and would have to run the gauntlet. Mr Smug passed first time (because his examiner was too embarrassed to admit he had his eyes closed). I chose to perfect my technique with a practise run (during which the examiner was forced to scream “Stop!”, as I failed to stop at a Stop). Luckily I passed next time round, and I am very pleased no-one else from the UK will be put through the ordeal (can you hear the forced smile through gritted teeth?)
What I love about driving around Vancouver, apart from the wide roads and ever-present danger of running over a skunk and having to torch your car to get rid of the smell, is the manners. Here, we have road signs like “Merge In Turn”. And they do – each car takes it in turns to slow to allow the next car into the traffic queue. I also love 3 and 4 Way Stops. The idea is, the first car at the white line can go first, then the next etc. At a busy intersection, you all take it in turns, waving and smiling at each other, and tutting at the occasional lout who can’t wait. When the traffic lights fail, everyone immediately adopts the 4-Way Stop procedure. How civilised is that? I realise that I have been commuting over 2 hours per day for over a year, and I have seen perhaps 3 instances of road rage and poor manners. Amazing.
Next thing to worry about – to snow tyre or not to snow tyre? We debated long and hard last year, then there was no snow and we were happy we had not spent $800 on snow tyres. This year is an El Nino year, which apparently means crazy snow. My brother-in-law is from Minnesota and has driven on packed snow most of his life, and never used snow tyres. Many Vancouverites have never driven on snow, but religiously change their tyres every November. You can buy Tyre Racks for your garage (pronounced grage), and store your All Weathers during the winter, and your Winters during the summer; all the tyre places will swap them round for you for a small charge. If you hope to get to Whistler or across the Coquihalla Pass after October, you must carry chains (it is also wise to carry blankets, shovel, boots, sand, emergency rations, lights etc etc).
Cars cost more than we expected, and we miss being able to tell the age from the licence plate. When you buy your first car, you also buy your plates and keep them when you change the car. ICBC insurance is mandatory, although you can get extra insurance from brokers if you want it, and your licence plate carries a sticker to show you are up to date with payments. We also found insurance very expensive, despite the fact that we brought over evidence of our No-Claims Bonus from our UK insurers and so qualified for some discount here.
Where do you go to buy a used car in the UK? Autotrader or the classifieds, right? Not so over here. We get 3 free papers a week, and not a single car in any of them. Cars are either bought from friends or through dealers, and although there are a lot of huge trucks around, small economical cars are very popular too (this is a city after all). Hybrids are the in thing right now.
So, remember to give way, go slow and keep smiling!