Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Passing the Tochigi Driving Test

Its been some time since I wrote of the Tochigi Driving Test. Well the good news is I passed the test. The bad news is I still don't have a clear set of rules to deliver on how to do it. I swore, if I ever passed that I would write the best guide I could on how I did it, so here it is.

Preparation is covered in Applying for a Driver's License in Tochigi

Please keep in mind some of this might be wrong. Its just my best attempt to dump everything I thought and knew when I passed the test.

General Advice
Its not a race.
You should try to speed up a bit on the long straight parts, apart from that there doesn't appear to be any minimum speed. There is lots and lots of indicating, head checking and mirror checking to be done. Drive slowly.

Be twitchy.
You want to make sure the instructor sees you looking in the mirrors and doing your head checks. So move your head around to make sure its obvious you are doing it.

Be confident, but not arrogant.
You want them to see that you are fully in control of the vehicle in a relaxed comfortable way. But not see that you think the test is below you because of your vast driving experience. (this part was tricky for me). Some people think instructors can fail you on attitude or if they don't like you so act accordingly.

Do lots of checking mirrors and headchecks.
As far as I know you cant fail for checking the mirrors too often or doing headchecks too often. So if you're not sure if its necessary, do it. Do it twice! By headchecks I mean actually turning your head to look at something (like blind spots, traffic entering from the side, pedestrians or oncoming traffic.)

Be aware of whereabouts you are in your lane.
When turning you should be 1m from the left of the lane or 1/2m from the right hand side of the lane (for left and right turns respectively). When I move to one side or the other in the lane I always accompany it with a check of center and side mirror and a check of my blindspot. But in most cases I move to the correct part of the lane as I turn into the road.

Take your time in the S-bend and Z-crank.
If you run over the curve you fail automatically. But if you just hit the curve you can back up and try again. So go slowly so you can stop if you hit the curve. (most experienced drivers will never hit it, but it can happen).

Be conservative, polished and well mannered.
I'm not sure how much water this holds. Wear neat clothes, brush your hair and act very politely. I passed on the one time I was running late, didn't shave, wash my hair, wear a jacket or even put on deodorant. On the other hand I heard of somebody being penalized for chewing gum. So it can't hurt to be on the safe side.

Course Map, thanks to My Beloved Sushi for allowing me to use it.

Step by step (Still quite messy, will keep working on it in the coming days.)
1.) Your fist job will be to be the passenger for the driver in front of you. Check for traffic before you open the door to enter. Put on your seatbelt. Enjoy the ride. You might watch the instructor. You can see when he marks a deduction for the driver and maybe work out why. When the ride is finished check for traffic before opening the door and exit the vehicle.

2.) While waiting for your turn walk around the car paying careful attention for any damage to the vehicle or rubbish, small animals or pedestrians caught under the vehicle. Take this and every other step seriously!

3.) When the other driver is finished talking with the tester, check for traffic, then open the door and get in the car. Lock the doors, adjust the seat forwards/backwards and put on your seatbelt. Check your passenger is wearing their seatbelt(some say verbally). Check your mirrors. Actually put your hand on the central mirror, even if its perfect. Check the transmission is in Parked and the handbrake is on by actually touching and jiggling them. Check the center and right mirror, indicate right, put you foot on the brake pedal, put the car in Drive, disengage the handbrake, check mirrors and headcheck left and right, pay special attention for any other vehicles starting at the same time as you. And off you go!

4.) Leave your indicator on as you approach the dotted line that signifies the start of the road. Check middle and right mirrors and headcheck right then enter traffic looking ahead. Turn off the indicator once you are on the road. Accelerate fairly hard here. I tried to hit 40 km/h on the straight. As soon as you do hit 40 (or thereabouts) slow down because you have lots to do before the first turn).

5.) The instructor will tell you to turn right. So check middle and right mirrors then indicate. Now you must wait 3 seconds before changing lanes. After 3 seconds, check middle and right mirrors, headcheck right and then move into the right lane. By now I was always about 30m from the turn so I left the indicator on and moved to within 1/2m of the right hand side of the right lane (another mirror check and headcheck can't hurt here if you have time).

6.) As you approach the turn you should be to the right of the lane check center and right mirror and check over your right shoulder. Check oncoming traffic and slowly turn into the turn. Your next turn will be to the right so turn into the right hand side of the lane. Hold the indicator on.

7.) Immediately, check center and right mirror and headcheck right. Check oncoming traffic and then turn right again. Your next turn will be left so go to the left of the lane (but not less than 1m. this one will be a tight turn).

8.) As you approach the turn check center and left mirrors, headcheck left and slowly enter the S-bend. You want to be going nice and slowly here. Slowly enough to stop if you do hit a curb. As soon as your into the S-bend turn off the indicator.

9.) When you're about 2/3 of the way though the S-bend check center and left mirrors and indicate left. Slow down here, you don't have to stop, but as you approach the intersection check center mirror, left mirror, headcheck left, look right, left and right and check for traffic entering from across the road. Then turn to the left.

10.) Your next turn will be right so as soon as he tells you, check center and right mirrors, indicate right, check mirrors again and headcheck and move to the right of the lane (you want to be on the right hand side nice and early and frankly, I'm not completely sure of the order, but I try to get on the right pretty much as soon as I indicate). Stop at the intersection, you should be 1/2m from the center line and less than 1 1/2m from the stop line. Don't go over the stop line. I stop for one full breath in and out.

11.) The check center and right mirrors, headcheck right, look right, look left, look right and enter the traffic. This is your first right hand turn at a T junction. Its hard to describe but go just a little bit straight then turn right. Don't cut diagonally across from where you are stopped till you are in the lane. You want to end up on the left side of the left lane.

Walking the course before the test

12.) Slow down and look for pedestrians at the crossing. Go around the corner. Now speed up a bit, but you don't have room to go too fast here.

13.) The instructor will tell you to go right up ahead. So check center and right mirrors, indicate and wait for 3 seconds (thats why you can't be going too fast here, 3 seconds will take you a long way if you are going fast). Then check mirrors again, headcheck right and change lanes, you want to finish up to the right of the right hand lane. (I do 2 headchecks here, but its probably unnecessary).

14.) As you approach the intersection check mirrors again, check the right hand blind spot, check oncoming traffic and turn right. Your next turn is right (and very soon) so make sure you end up in the right hand side of the lane and hold the indicator for another right turn (I check mirrors center and right mirrors as I do that).

15.) Now right away, check center and right mirrors again, check your right hand blind spot, check for oncoming traffic and turn right. Your next turn is left so end up on the left (its a tight one so don't be less than 1 m. from the curb).

16.) Immediately, check center and left mirrors and indicate left. Then check mirrors again, check your blind spot and enter the Z-crank. Drive slowly here. Don't indicate on the corners in the crank. As you enter the last leg, check center and right mirrors, indicate right, then check your mirrors again, check your right hand blindspot, look right, look left, look right and turn right. There are lots of little streets entering here. Be twitchy and look at them all. Finish up on the left hand side of the road.

17.) When you are 30m from the intersection check center and left mirrors and indicate left. The next intersection is the blind one. There are big barriers up to prevent you from seeing traffic to the left and right. So start by checking left and right before the barriers obstruct your vision. As you arrive at the blind intersection slow right down check center and left mirrors and look over your left shoulder. Now lean over the steering wheel and creep forward checking left and right for traffic. Make sure you keep to the left as you go around the corner.

18.) Now continue on the road, slowdown to go around the left hand corner and check center and left mirrors and then make sure you are within 1m of the left hand side of the road. As you approach the corner check mirrors and blindspot and take the left hand turn. Your next turn is right so be on the right hand side of the lane.

19.) There is lots to check at this intersection. If the light is red stop within 1 1/2 meters of the road marking. When the light turns green (or if its green when you arrive) check mirrors and right hand shoulder. Now check right, left, right and oncoming traffic then turn to the right. Stay just to the right of the diamond marking in the middle (don't touch it.) Your next turn is left so end up within 1 meter of the right left hand side of the road.

18.)You need to check center and left mirror pretty much right away and then indicate. As you approach the turn check center and left mirror again, headcheck left and then turn. You should end on the right hand side of the lane.

19.) Immediately, check center and right mirrors and indicate right. As you approach the intersection check center and right mirrors again, headcheck right. The check for traffic right, left and right, check for oncoming traffic and then turn right finishing up on the right hand side of the lane.

20.) I've heard different accounts of how to handle this intersection. You should already be on the right. Now check center and right mirrors and indicate. Pull up at the stop sign. You should be within 1/2 a meter from the center line and within 1 1/2 meters from the stop line. Pause for a breath in and out. Now check center and right mirrors, look right, left, right and enter the intersection slowly. After you pass the divider check center and right mirros, headcheck right, look right, left right and turn. Finish up on the left hand side of the road.

21.) Immediately check center and left mirrors and indicate left. The tester will tell you where to stop the car, this is the only place where you really need to understand what he says. He'll say (number1) no (number2), meaning lane number1, position number2. Check center and left mirrors again and then move to the left until you are heading for your appropriate stopping location.

22.) Slowly approach the stopping point. Keep an eye on the left hand mirror and be within 0.3 meters of the curb. Stop the car nice and close to the stopping point. I use front of the car within 0.3 meters of the marker pole. Bring the car to a stop, turn off the indicator, put the transmission into parked and apply the handbrake. Do not turn off the engine.

23.) Wait patiently while your tester gives you some advice. Even when I passed he told me something I did wrong. My wife once got 0% and was not offered any hints. When he's done check for traffic before opening the door and exit the vehicle. If the next person is the last person in your group you'll need to be passenger again.

See you all next week

Thats it. You're done. Now you just need to wait till 3:30, 4:00 for the results to be announced. If you do pass you have to take your form to the cashier and get some more stamps, then listen to the guy give you some more instructions, get your photo taken and take possession of your passport. Counter number 1 downstairs will sell you a beginners sign for your car.

I'd greatly appreciate any comments that could improve this entry. I'm quite sure its less than 100% correct. But I'm pretty sure it contains pretty much everything that was in my head the day I passed.

Good luck!


tornadoes28 said...

Wow, they have a closed course just for the driving test? You don't get tested out on the actual streets?

What do they do in more crowded places like Tokyo?

davidfromoz said...

Yup! Its the same in Tokyo. Though the content of the test seems to be different in each prefecture.

Most people have plenty of time to hang around and see the course in use (I have spent 5 full days at that site in the last 20 months). You can see them conducting tests for trucks, motorcycles, construction vehicles and busses too.

It seem that driving school and the test here are joined at the hip. I _think_ that if you do the full driving school course then you don't have to do the practical part of the driving test. But thats very expensive.

Alberta Oil Sands Investor Abroad said...

The one thing I can't understand is how Canadians (like myself) need only fill in a few forms to get our license - although we drive on the opposite side of the road.

However, other nationalities that may drive on the same side as Japan need to go through all the rigmarole? It makes no sense from a safety aspect.

I can't tell you how many times I have had the heart stopping thought at an intersection "Now which lane do I turn into again??"

Jimbo said...

That seems like a tip-top rundown of the course. It is exactly as it was when I took it. I would also recommend bringing something to do between registration and your test... then again while waiting for the results. On the plus side, their cafeteria isn't half bad. They dish out some pretty decent soba noodles and curry dishes.

davidfromoz said...

Thanks for dropping by Jimbo. Too bad our paths didn't cross while you were over this way. Would have been fun to have a blogcentric gaijin as a neighbour in Tochigi.

Carey said...

I'm about to take my test in Osaka and have a question - you don't need to indicate in the s or crank, except for the turn out of the bend and crank? I have heard conflicting instructions about this part. :(

davidfromoz said...

Hi Carey - I believe you should indicate to enter the S and crank and when leaving, but not within them. - cheers, david

Chad Brick said...

Thanks for the advice, but I just want to warn people that the pass rate for the Tochigi driving test is probably less than 10%, and a colossal waste of time and money. I've spent three days at the driving center and only two people out of about forty passed. Of the dozens of foreigners I have met here in Tochigi, the average number of attempts (with or without a pass) is around 8-10, the least I have heard of was a pass on the fifth attempt, and the highest a whopping twenty two failures and counting.

Do whatever you can to get a driver's license in a different prefecture or an exempt country, or plan to live without a car once your IDP expires. Unless you are going to be living in Tochigi for many years, it is not worth spending two weeks of your time at the menkyou center.

Frankly, the entire foreign license conversion system is an embarrassment to Japan and is by far the worst thing I have ever encountered when living here. It is capricious, Kafkaesque, corrupt, and apparently deliberately designed to waste as much of your time as humanely possible by requiring you to take a full day off of work for each test, even though they are only 15 minutes.

davidfromoz said...

Thanks for the comment Chad. Sadly, I'm long gone from Tochigi, so my comments will be increasingly out of date.

I believe at one time Tochigi had the highest fatal traffic accident rate in Japan. Those of you who have been in Japan for any amount of time will be aware of the single minded overreaction that Japanese are capable of sometimes. I believe this test to be one of those cases.

It is possible to pass the test in Tochigi. But I am aware of many who drive illegally. I've heard second hand that you're in big trouble if you get caught. I always imagined that the police could hit the jackpot if they setup a license check at the gates of the test facility on test day.

I got caught speeding just after I passed after a period of driving illegally. I reckon its worth percevering if you will be there for a while. There is lots to see in Tochigi and surrounds that is hard to access without a car.

Chad Brick said...

Actually, your comments are the most valuable thing I have found on the internet related to passing this test (attempt #3 is tomorrow). I really appreciate you laying out every detail - it's great review the night before the test. Here's to hoping that I don't forget anything tomorrow.

In my case, I can live without a car (I can walk to the train station, take the bus to work, and my wife is Japanese has a license and a car), so there is no reason to consider driving illegally. But I can certainly understand why some people do.

You would think their "over-reaction" would involve developing a test that actually tested anything approximating relevant, real-world skills rather than trying to memorize an entire sequence of ballet moves that no one agrees on, can communicate properly, or even judge accurately, that you must happen to do simultaneously with an otherwise absurdly simple driving test.

Anyway, thanks for writing this post. It is invaluable, and still accurate.

davidfromoz said...

Good luck on the test Chad. I'll be mighty impressed if you pass on the 3rd time!!!!

Chad Brick said...

"Do lots of checking mirrors and headchecks. As far as I know you cant fail for checking the mirrors too often or doing headchecks too often"

Apparently this myth is now busted. I failed today for spending too much time looking in mirrors and not looking straight ahead enough...*facepalm*. Apparently I need better "balance".

For the third time in a row, no one passed. I've seen two people pass out of approximately 50-55 attempts. At least a couple of us were close today - and miracles of miracles, they are actually open during Obon, so I don't have to waste nenkyuu! That's the first positive element of this experience I have encountered.

Oh, another pointer: If it is raining, just leave the wipers on for the next person. You shouldn't have to touch them unless you are first or last. I am not sure when the first person is supposed to turn them on in the sequence, but it should be before you move.

davidfromoz said...

Gosh Chad, I'm terribly sorry. Feels bad to know my advice contributed to your fail. From a safe distance the word "balanced" was a bit funny. A group of friends used to joke about the zen of the driving test (usually over Wednesday night beer).

Chad Brick said...

Oh, I certainly don't blame you. This post is invaluable. In the spirit of keeping it constructive, here's what I learned today at my fourth failure.

1: Someone actually passed, on his 13th attempt. He'd scored 50 or 60 about a half dozen times in a row before passing.

2: After talking to him and a few others with many, many attempts, our combined experience indicates about one person passing every three days. About fifteen people take the test each day, so we are looking at a pass rate that is likely under 3% by our experience, and almost certainly below 5%. That's just nuts, but it is what it is.

3: I got Naoi-san as the proctor again today. He is older, but not the oldest (the "chief" - I don't know his name - is the oldest of the three proctors I have seen). Naoi-san failed me today and on my second attempt for the same reason - not being far enough to the left. This, of course, is not true, but I did get some specifics out of him.

First, he expects you to be within 50cm of the left curve at all times, not one meter, except just before you turn right. Second, THE 50cm RULE INCLUDES THE CRANK AND S-CURVE. I specifically asked about this. Of course, this is obviously physically impossible, but Naoi-san is your gatekeeper on the days you draw him so you just have to learn to defy the laws of physics if you want to pass.

Strangely, he passed the guy before me (I was in the back) despite the fact that he made two clear mistakes that both Naoi-san and I caught (missed head-checks on left turns). I have no idea what Naoi-san nailed him for the other four times he marked him down, but he passed with a score of 70.

Ok, I am taking off to write my Senators and the State Department about Japanese human rights abuses. I am 100% serious.

Cheers and thanks,


Chad Brick said...

"17.) ....There are big barriers up to prevent you from seeing traffic to the left and right...Now lean over the steering wheel and creep forward checking left and right for traffic. Make sure you keep to the left as you go around the corner..."

I and two others received a novel complaint today. At this point, we were all dinged for "stopping" more than once as we moved through the wall area. Apparently our proctor wants us to be very "smooth" as we move through this area. I was kind of jerky because I messed up my mirror checks and partially repeated them.

Best of luck to all who read this.

Stetson said...

If anyone reading this would like a detailed map and instructions on said map leave a comment with a way to contact you and I will gladly send it to you.

I passed on my 3rd try and gathered everything I learned from the testers and others and put it on a map for step by step detailed instructions.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stetson, I'm going to take the driving test soon, could you send me the detailed map that you made. My email address is Thank you so much.

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