The process and time required to obtain a driver’s license varies in each state and territory. Young novice drivers tend to need a longer period to get their license, whereas mature drivers or those with an existing overseas license can often speed up the process.
Getting a driver’s license in Australia can be a lengthy and costly exercise.
This normally starts with an eyesight test when applying for a test or license, followed by a Driver’s Knowledge Test. New South Wales residents can sit the Driver’s Knowledge Test in Arabic, Chinese, Croatian, Greek, Korean, Serbian, Spanish, Turkish and Vietnamese.
If your language is not in the list, you may be able to request an interpreter service for the test.
"I advise in the beginning to drive with a driving instructor so they can pick up a good habit from the beginning".
“The Driver Knowledge Test covers the road rules. There is a special book they can buy or they can find information on internet so they have to study the rule first before they go for the knowledge test. After they pass the knowledge test, they have to practice little bit on the road with a driving instructor or a family member. I advise in the beginning to drive with a driving instructor so they can pick up a good habit from the beginning”, according to New South Wales driving instructor, George Hany.
Drivers are issued with an L-plate after passing the Driver’s Knowledge Test, this allows drivers to start taking lessons on the road.
Hany says the number of lessons required depends on how quickly a person can learn.
“From my experience between 5 and 15 lessons and it would make it shorter if they have someone at home who have a full license and who can help.”
Before progressing to a practical test to obtain a restricted or probationary license – learners are required to pass a Hazard Perception Test that judges their ability to recognise potentially dangerous situations.
Most states and territories need young drivers under 25 to log between 50 – 120 hours of supervised driving by an instructor or a person with a full license and the number of driving hours required vary in different states and territories.
Drivers are then able to apply for their full license after the specified probationary period. Mature drivers, on the other hand, generally do not need to follow the same rules as long as they pass the driving test.
“Usually in a driving test, they cover traffic light, they cover roundabout, they cover reverse park or three-point turn and lane-changing as well.”
Foreign nationals holding a current license from a recognised country or an experienced driver recognised country can convert their overseas license to an Australian driver’s license usually within three months after arriving in Australia.
The only exceptions are Tasmania where drivers will need to apply for an Australian license within three months from the date when their visa is granted, and Victoria, within six months from entry into the country or from the date the visa is issued.
Drivers holding a full license from ineligible countries are required to sit a driving test generally within their first three months in Australia.
But Hany says even seasoned drivers may struggle to follow the local road rules.
"The major thing is observation".
“The traffic law here is totally different for many people. They drive on the other side of the road. The major thing is observation. They are very strict here in terms of observation, looking at the road, how you look at the road when you are driving. For example, when you are crossing an intersection and you have a green light, they have to check the right or left before you cross the intersection even if you have right of way.”
Hany suggests that overseas license holders consider taking driving lessons before their practical test to avoid unwanted consequences.
"It’s very important for people having an overseas license to pass the first go otherwise they will go on their L".
“For someone who has an overseas license and they went for a test and failed, they are not allowed to drive by themselves on the road. The RMS (Roads and Maritime Services) issue a learner license meaning they can’t drive by themselves on the road. They have to have someone supervising them with a full license so it’s very important for people having an overseas license to pass the first go otherwise they will go on their L.”
Not everyone can afford driving lessons nor find friends or family to practise driving with.
Logan-based Access Community Services has come up with an innovative Women at the Wheel program with funding from Queensland road toll company Transurban.
The program teaches theory and offers between 10 to 20 practical lessons for women from refugee and migrant backgrounds.
Access program manager Kenny Duke has noticed a boost in the confidence of participants from Afghanistan, Burma and Somalia from the training.
"One of the things we realised was that women in particular needed more support not just to get the road rules but also to be able to get lessons".
“One of the things we realised was that women in particular needed more support not just to get the road rules but also to be able to get lessons. So, many of them are single mums or mothers who it’s not a priority for them to get a license but they really needed to get a job. When I say priority, it might be more important for their husband to get their license or their young kids to get license and the mothers sometimes feel that’s not a possibility for them.”
Afghanistan-born Behnaz Sadeghi settled in Logan almost five years ago after living most of her life in Iran.
As a mother of three, Sadeghi had never contemplated driving until she was offered a chance to take lessons through the Women at the Wheel program.
“No, I never think about that but yes just my friend said to me don't worry one day you can drive but it happened to me. I’m so happy.”
Sadeghi is now on her provisional license after 14 lessons with a female instructor.
The freedom to navigate her way without asking for help has opened up new possibilities for her.
“It’s very important to get a job for me yes and drive for my children and maybe my life change.”
CEO of Access Community Services Gail Kerr says sometimes it is simple things like not having a license or a car that prevents one from getting a job.
Whilst programs like Women at the Wheel are rare, there may be other support services available in different states and territories for those who cannot afford lessons.
"Often, local councils are also great places to find support, and FECCA - the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council Australia would have a website that can also link you to their state agencies".
“If people went onto the department of social services to their website they would be able to see who the federal government funds as settlement service providers. They would be able to work with you and talk you through what’s available in your state, in your community with other services, other programs, and then often, local councils are also great places to find support, and FECCA - the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council Australia would have a website that can also link you to their state agencies.”