Saturday, December 15, 2012

Renewing Thai Driving License for Foreigners

It does not really matter if one drives around with an expired license here, because it does not really matter at all. But being a most of the time law abiding citizen, I choose to renew mine. It’s already a linguistic challenge to get license renewed at the nearest land transport authority just hunting for the right building and the right counters. With the recent change in regulation, it became a treasure hunt like experience for us foreigners.

Thai regulation changes at a rate the mood of the person sitting on top of authority swings. Driving license used to be lifetime but some years ago, we new license holders will have to renew ours once every five years. Renewing it used to be just going to the nearest Land Transport Authority and getting it done after taking a picture, printing a new card and paying a fee. This year, someone decided to add a battery of reflex test and a mandatory one hour refresher video session to it.

Again, back in Chatuchuk Land Transport Authority I was. Be advice, do not drive there for errands which had to be done there. There is simply not enough parking. Take the BTS to Chatuchuk. It will be wise. All signs are in Thai and technology advances had not produced glasses that do automatic word recognition that infused Google translation. Fortunately, memory served me well and I remembered where Building Four was. I reached Building Four just like how birds followed the Earth’s magnetic fields to their nesting grounds.

Went to the second floor, told them I am foreigner and asked for “foreigner service”. Queued at the counter, the not so friendly staff spent excess time filling Thai forms which I could never. Was then told to approach the “foreigner counters” 17 and 18. Normally, these counters will be very free and things are done in a matter of minutes overtaking the nominal long queues at the sixteen other Thai counters with their crowd. But that day, there were ten of us or so. After having the staffs checked the forms and scribbling more Thai scripts onto them, I was told to sign Thai forms which could as well be donating both my kidneys when I am still alive. They took my passport and I never knew when I will be getting it back.

From second floor I was told vaguely to go to the third floor. Looking silly standing lost, I was guided to join the queue of Thais for what could be entering the gas chamber. There we took a number, was handed my passport back together with more forms, and was asked to watch a Thai video with no English subtitles. But I could understand Thai fortunately so I got to know the sequence of test that I will have to undergo that followed. There were four tests.

We were asked to move into a room in batches of twenty following our queue numbers. Test 1, shouted out the color of the lights, red yellow or green, as they were flashed. Test 2, used a controller, moved a stick in a box some distance away forward and back till it looked like it is next to the other. Test 3, stepped on the brake in time when the light turned red. Test 4, positioned head on strange apparatus and shout the color of lights that appeared at the sides, looking forward all the time. There were people who were color blind I could tell. They kept getting the color wrong and gotten a scolding. There were people who did not brake when the light turned red. They were re-queued and re-tested until they passed.

And then I needed instinct to know I need next to go onto the fourth floor. There, I had to endure a one hour educational video. It was not all that bad. The first ten minutes or so of the video was the most interesting take awoken everyone from our dull transition from counters to counters. They showed a program “Reality via TV” (loosely translated) which featured horrific accidents of motorcyclist with their pillions crashing into speeding vehicles at traffic junctions. Oh man, there was one case where the riders flew so high towards the traffic cameras after the smash. The rest of the session was about watching how Khun Amnat was such a bad driver in contrast to his traffic law abiding perfect neighbor. Khun Amnat was in a wheelchair at the end of the show, his son became a comatose. You could well predict what was in between without me blogging.

After one hour getting to know Khun Amnat, back to “foreigner counter” 17 and 18. Took my picture, printed me card and paid 605 Bath. And so they had changed the rules recently and force drivers to so call undergo a “refresher” course by watching a B grade movie every five years. This is not a bad thing considering the colossal number of bad drivers out there. But still they do not teach Thai drivers about the most basic things such as right of way, how to negotiate a circle and that we should let pedestrians cross at zebra crossings, not run them over. And what about the remainder of the drivers who are holding on the lifetime licenses? Done, till five years later falling on my birthday. Thai licenses are set to expire on birthdays so that one could easily remember.

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