How to avoid the wait for a driving test in France

France first-hand: Learning to drive - we speak to Libby Abel, who moved to Brittany as a toddler, about her learning to drive experience

Traditional driving schools can offer earlier test dates
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I first thought about learning to drive when I was 15. Some of my friends started the AAC system (apprentissage anticipé de la conduite), learning to drive with their parents, but I felt I was still a bit young.

At 17, it became an issue. My parents lived in a rural area where the only way of getting around was by car, so it was essential to get my licence.

In France, you start with the Code, which is the theory aspect of driving.

In September 2020, I had just started at university in Brest and did not have much spare time.

For that reason, I chose the online company Ornikar, which offers theory lessons on the internet and driving lessons in person.

‘Less than half the cost’

At around €30, it was less than half the cost of theory lessons in a traditional driving school, and I could learn whenever I had free time.

The online lessons were easy to understand and the final exam for the Code looked exactly like the mock tests I had studied, so there were no nasty surprises.

I passed on my first attempt in January 2021.

After that, I felt pressured to start the practical lessons as soon as possible.

I wanted a summer job and knew I would need to drive to and from work. That gave me six months to do the lessons and pass the test.

During the first lockdown in 2020, my mum had taught me the basics of driving, so I knew a little before I started lessons.

The instructors were friendly, understanding and very patient. I could choose my instructor, as well as the time and place for each lesson.

8 months to get driving test date

The only problem was that it took eight months to get a date for my driving test because Ornikar operates on a candidat libre system.

This means you apply as an individual and provide all the paperwork and insurance yourself.

When you learn with a traditional driving school, they can get a date within about a week!

However, when I finally received a test date, I learned that my previous instructor was on holiday for the whole month so I had to change to another one for my last lessons and for the test.

This also meant getting used to a new car, so I didn’t feel very confident when the day came.

It was nerve-wracking because you obviously want to pass first time and not go through it all again, but the test wasn’t too bad.

My instructor was in the back of the car and the examiner was in the passenger seat.

He was really friendly and explained everything clearly.

The routes were mostly ones I had already been on because the instructors usually have a good idea of where the examiners take you.

When you finish your test, the examiner just says thank you and goodbye.

‘No idea if you have passed or failed’

You have no idea if you have passed or failed – usually you find out within 48 hours.

I ended up failing the first time and was told that I would have to wait five months for another date.

I did not want to wait that long, so I switched to an intensive course with a driving school in Quimper.

Having already done 30 hours of lessons, I only needed 10 hours on the intensive course, which I did over two weeks.

I got a date for a new test one week later and passed. Licence in pocket, I felt ready to drive alone.

One benefit of learning in a city was that country roads felt a lot easier!

New challenges

The first big challenge was parking.

Even though I had learned a lot during my lessons and practised often, I still struggled.

The second challenge was being the designated driver on a night out, because driving with drunk people in the car is a very different experience.

It can be difficult to focus.

Now that I have done it a few times, I am more used to it.

There are some aspects of how I learned that I liked and some that I didn’t.

If you want to begin learning to drive in France, I suggest doing plenty of research before starting the Code: contact the school, read reviews, and check how long you will end up waiting to get a test date.

I would recommend learning the Code online and then doing an intensive driving course for faster results and an earlier test date.

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