Taking the driving test – An exhausting day but well worth it


Driving Test CenterKenya’s driving test can be a source of great anxiety for learners. Fortunately most will only need to endure it once in their life time. Still, actual events of the day of the test are markedly mysterious. Here is the recent experience of a learner who used one of the largest and most visible driving schools in Nairobi.

The Kenyan driving test is, foremost, a test in patience and humility. Have no illusions, there will be a lot of waiting around – bring plenty of reading material or other distractions to occupy you. And maybe some sandwiches for lunch. This will take the whole day. But it will be worth it if you qualify for the Holy Grail – your Kenyan driving license.

Everything has a beginning

  • Show up at your driving school’s office by 7 am and wait
  • The instructor will spend a half hour with group pop quizzes on road signs of Kenya and the model town and Q&A. Pay special attention if he emphasizes certain signs and model town activities.
  • When they are done verifying everyone’s presence and paperwork, you get shepherded to their open back truck for the drive to their central office.
  • There you will wait, and ultimately get into lines so that they can check your documents, payment status, take your picture, and do other bureaucratic things in the most inefficient way possible. You will need to be patient.
  • Then you will wait some more for everyone to be processed.
  • When they are ready, you get back on the truck for the drive to the test center, which could take a while as the city traffic will be in full swing.

The theory test center – Banish that nervousness in order to succeed

  • Upon arrival to seeming chaos, you will wait around while your chaperones do their thing.
  • Eventually they will gather you to run through instructions about the theory test
  • Then your group will join the line from other driving schools
  • Eventually your line will get you at the doorstep of the theory test room. You are invited in two or three at a time where you find one or two police officers waiting. The room contains a couple of desks piled up with forms. A model town board sits prominently, and road signs of Kenya posters are mounted on the wall. An officer examines your paperwork and then the other launches into a barrage of questions while pointing to the road signs poster. Then they ask you to navigate a model car around the model town board. Try not to be nervous even if you get an answer wrong – they will give you a few opportunities to get it right. One of the people in my group was so nervous that she could not think about another variation of her answers and ultimately failed the theory test. Within a few minutes, the officers pronounce whether you have passed (and mark so on your paperwork) or inform you that you have failed and must retake the test. Congratulations if you passed!
  • Then back to sitting around waiting some more for your colleagues to all finish the test. At least now you are halfway toward your coveted license.
  • Your group eventually hops back onto the truck for the trip to the testing ground for the practical test.

The practical test centerZen-like patience will pay off

  • Upon arrival, you are dismayed to find an unbelievably large group of learners already waiting there. They have already been there for a couple of hours. Upon listening keenly, you realize that your group will have to wait for your driving school’s test vehicle to arrive. And then you will also wait for the testing officer to finish testing the learners who were earlier first – there is only one officer and from time to time, two. You hope your test will be done today.
  • So, you wait some more, all the time keeping an eye on any informational gatherings
  • There is a queuing system, but you start figuring out that it can be gamed to your benefit if you pay close attention.
  • Eventually it’s your turn and you get in the back seat of the test vehicle. The police officer occupies the front passenger seat, the hapless first student takes the driver’s seat and three of you pile into the back. This is advantageous for you as you will be able to observe the officer’s demeanor before your turn to take the wheel.
  • Here’s where things speed up. The first learner drives about 50 meters (really!) and is told to stop. “You have passed,” the officer says, and marks the paperwork. The learner hops out of the car and then it is your turn. Fifty meters later, if you have engaged the clutch and brakes, disengaged the handbrake, shifted to 1st gear, checked both rear view mirrors and then gently released the clutch pedal while urging the accelerator pedal to take off smoothly; then changed to 2nd gear without a hitch, you will also be asked to stop. If you do so gently, shift the gear level to neutral and engage the handbrake, the officer will tell you that you have passed, mark your paperwork and give it to you. Congratulations!
  • Then you exit the car and walk back to the waiting grounds, which could be a distance depending on how far along the circuit you were dropped off. This is where spending some of the waiting hours paying attention can help as you will realize that you might enter the test vehicle quicker if you wait near the places where the tested students alight the vehicle, instead of waiting where the actual queue is.
  • Now you are done, but you need to wait a whole lot more for the other learners from your driving school to complete their tests. Or you can have someone pick you up.
  • Eventually, you are all done. Your chaperone will assemble you all for instructions on the next step, and then you can get back on the truck for the trip back to the drop off point – which may or may not be the driving school office where you started off at 7 am.

The end to a long but fruitful day

  • For a busy test center in Nairobi, it will certainly be close to 6:30 pm when you are finally dropped off. True to form, you will then wait a couple of months for your physical driving test to be ready. Fortunately, you can use your provisional driving license – the one you printed from eCitizen – along with your identity card to drive in the meantime. The best option is to opt to pick it up at the driving school when it is ready. This way, if there is a problem they can follow it up for you.

For all its gravity and waiting around, the actual tests last no more than 45 minutes. There are many obvious areas where this process can be improved. Driving schools can help a great deal by streamlining the way they prepare and process learners for the test – most of the time they were not even trying.

The National Transport and Safety Authority clearly needs to increase test centers’ capacity to deal with the huge volumes of learners. Waiting areas and queuing systems are inadequate and far below the standards that are common in normal government and commercial services. Many aspects of the theory and practical assessments can now be automated, resulting in a more objective, comprehensive and efficient process, thus helping to accommodate the rapidly increasing number of learners. If you are in a hurry and dislike waiting around, you may want to find a less busy test center.

Have you taken the driving test in Kenya yet? What was your experience? What are your concerns? Share them in the comments section below.


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