Admittedly, when I was 17 and living in the UK, I made the mistake of forgoing driving lessons and refusing my parents’ offer to pay for them. How foolish I was. Seven years later, in the most convenient city in the world, 24-year-old Ryan now feels driving is a skill that he should perhaps catch up on.
Isn’t it all just a bit pointless?
Notwithstanding the sheer convenience of public transport, driving itself is a costly activity in Hong Kong, and that’s not just to do with the cost of a car itself. Add in insurance, petrol costs, and most obscenely, the parking costs, and you have quite a bill that makes an HK$11.9 MTR trip from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island seemingly more attractive (even if you have the sensation of understanding how sardines in a tin feel).
Adding to the bizarre nature of my decision, I don’t imagine I will have cause to drive in Hong Kong in any case, but a little-known agreement between the UK and Hong Kong makes obtaining a UK driving licence possible in the city. If you can prove that you learnt to drive in Hong Kong and obtain a Hong Kong driving licence, you then have the right to later on convert that into a UK driving licence when you return to the UK without taking any more lessons or tests.
So for UK expats with 17-year-old kids, you don’t have to worry about them falling behind should your families return to the UK. If you’re a guilty numpty like me, you’re given a second chance. Rules, however, differ with other countries like the US, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland.
Learning to drive doesn’t come cheap but whether it is cheaper to do it in Hong Kong or the UK seems to be subject to debate. Both the learner driving licence and examination fee costs HK$1,058 (or GBP 110 on current exchange rates), which would be cheaper than the GBP 191 (or HK$1,837) in the UK. Though in some cases in Hong Kong, you may need to hire a car for the exam, which costs in the region of HK$1,500.
As for the course itself, I paid around HK$14,500 for 15 hours of lessons, as well as one session of pre-in-car training, a mock test and a long distance driving lesson at the Hong Kong School of Motoring. They also offer a 10-hour package for a lower price. Both of these fall short of the Department for Transport’s 30-hour recommendation, but that is by no means obligatory.
Private lessons can work out cheaper. Lee Kin Driving School offers lessons for $350 for 45 minutes but for manual training you can only learn in Kowloon.
So, why not go for private lessons? In truth, it would save me money, but embarking on this endeavour is a bit daunting. I’m quite clumsy to say the least, and considering traffic on Hong Kong’s roads, it doesn’t seem terribly appealing for me to start on the road directly.
Having been through three lessons so far, all of which were done on an off-road track, I feel much better. I learnt at the school’s City One track, and I think it’s great. It has facilities to practice three-point turns, parallel parking, hill stops/starts, turns and much more. This is great for learning the basics, and it has personally given me the confidence, especially as I am learning in a manual!
Admittedly, I like some structure as well, and the HKSM certainly does provide that. You know how many lessons you’re getting and you get provided with course materials to help you understand driving, as well as the test. I think I have been lucky as well to have a good driving instructor who has been able to teach me the basics calmly.
The journey so far
Since my coordination on the clutch is not quite up to scratch, sometimes I don’t quite have enough power to get up the hill, which results in me rolling backwards! As a driver, it’s quite a scary situation, but my instructor always calmly reminds me to find the biting point properly first. His calm but firm “handbrake!” also floats around in my mind every time I come to a halt!
I admit, I have to be proactive to get him to explain how to do things, like how to use the clutch properly for example. But overall, I feel I am growing in confidence and I am glad I have done this course.
While driving on a track has certainly been beneficial and I generally have a good rapport with my instructor, I feel the driving schools here are quite pricey for what they offer. The HKSM’s pre-in-car training is also quite useless; the machines are from the 1980s and just require you to keep up with a video rather than operating like a proper simulator.
The next stage for me is to take to the open (or in HK’s case, congested) road. This is where the skills of a good and patient instructor will really come into their own…