By María José Mateo Polanco
Have you ever dreamt of driving by yourself up to your friends’ house to hang on a weekday? Or maybe arrive whenever you wish to and at your own pace to a certain spot? Perhaps you need to get something at the market but your parents can’t take you because they’re busy and have no time in their hands. Well, a solution to this problem may be the services offered by Uber or Cabify, but a more viable one is learning how to drive.
Most teenagers who live in Santo Domingo count the days until they are sixteen years old in order to get their learner’s permit and finally their official driver’s license. I know I did. The long wait was totally worth it, believe me. The whole thing was such an exciting new ride for me where I made lots of mistakes, asked many questions, and ended up having a car of my own.
To simplify your process, here are some guidelines and advice I’ve learned through the years:
My personal recommendations:
PART I. Learn how to drive. I recommend starting from an early age. If you are already sixteen and you still haven’t taken any lessons or finished learning, that’s okay. It’s very common to learn how to drive when you are already in possession of your minor’s ID. In fact, the reason why you’re allowed to have a driver’s license at 16 is because you have the ID.
If you are 14 or 15, seize the day! Take Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons to develop and practice some driving skills. This will make you feel more confident when it’s time to drive by yourself in the crazy streets of Santo Domingo.
→ To do this…
- Push your parents or any other relative to teach you how to drive. If they aren’t available or are just the most impatient people on Earth, search for Driving Schools on the internet (there are tons out there). My cousin’s friend contacted one and according to her they were very organized.
- Make sure the location where you are first practicing is safe for driving lessons. My dad first took me to the Jardín Botánico to drive around in the parking lot. Minutes later, the watchman told us we weren’t allowed to do that there. Some of my friends took lessons in the Parque Mirador or in the Malecon, but I had most of them in the Estadio Quisqueya’s parking space. Since it is a closed area, there are no cars driving fast and you can concentrate on getting the turns, the stops and the parking right. The days I went, I always saw security guards and other people who were learning too. I had a very comfortable experience each time I went there.
- Whenever you go out with a relative, offer to drive. After getting a handle of the basics, my dad decided I was ready to drive in actual streets. When I got confident enough, I started to ask him if I could be the one taking us to every place we went. If he had to drop by the pharmacy (which is very close to my house), I would drive. Once I got better at it, I started driving to school every morning (which is 9.3km away from my house). I was only able to do this with my dad and sometimes my mom though. The rest of my family didn’t trust me with their lives at the time so maybe try asking only the person who is teaching you.
- Be alert at all times. Even when I felt I wasn’t prepared to drive in the streets, my father told me to breathe, to drive at the transit’s pace, and to constantly look at everything that surrounds me through the mirrors. Though those are remarkable points to be aware of, those aren’t the only things you should remain alert of. Whenever you are parked and still inside the car, be always on the lookout and keep the car locks closed. When it’s time to leave the car, make sure all the windows are up and the car is locked. Security is key.
- Foresee any upcoming event. This means to keep an eye on the road and quickly think of something that may happen in order to be prepared for anything you may need to do in that moment. Prevent dangerous scenarios. For example, picture yourself passing through a street where there are parked cars on the side. From afar, you notice that a man who is getting out of his car isn’t looking at you and you are getting closer and closer to him. If you honk the horn on time, the person will react rapidly and go back inside their car until you’re no longer in sight. This is called having a good reflex. If you don’t have those, learn to develop them; you’ll need them for other related occasions.
- Know that there are some “unwritten rules” in the streets. As you continue to drive more and more, you will notice that in this country some actions are generally accepted and they aren’t formally established. The most common one is: whenever the traffic light is red and you want to turn right, you don’t have to wait until it’s green; you can go. Along the way you’ll acknowledge many more that will simplify your trip.
- Learn the names of the streets. It won’t appear on any test, but to know where you are is crucial. This is how you know what street to take in order to get to place x and which streets are full of traffic at what time (to avoid those). To be honest, this has been (and still is) one of the hardest things I’ve struggled with during this journey. Lots of my friends can’t even tell apart Avenida 27 de febrero from Avenida Kennedy. And other than sad, it’s disappointing. We’ve been carried around the city for over 17 years and we can’t tell you if Agora Mall is in Lincoln or Kennedy Avenue (or both lol). Some of you (like I did in the beginning) may think that Waze or Google Maps is always a tap away. But let me tell you that it’s just not enough. You still need to know where in the city you are located and where you’re headed. East? North? Sure, you can use these apps to your advantage (like I do) and instead of just going where the little map tells you, learn the name of the streets and familiarize them with any buildings, locals, or restaurants you see.
PART II. Getting the learner’s permit. In order to get a license, you first need to have had six months on driving probation. The learner’s permit will allow a documented civilian to drive alongside a person who has a driver’s license with a minimum validity of two years.
→ To do this…
- As I mentioned before, the main requirement is to be 16 years old (or older) and own an ID card. Go to https://ov.intrant.gob.do/#/login for other important documents and resources you will need. The site contains two short books that contain all the information that you need to know to drive (and pass the test). They have lots of images and appealing visuals to keep you reading.
- Once you’re ready to go at the INTRANT to take your theoretical test, make sure you arrive fully prepared.
Organize all your documents (birth certificate, parent permissions…). Then, mentalize yourself to spend approximately 2 hours completing the whole process. It is a bit long, but it is well distributed. As soon as you enter, you will notice signs with numbers and tags on them, indicating different “stations” or steps. This makes it easier to follow along and it avoids walking around the whole place in circles. Once you are registered, they will call your name to run some eye tests. If none of your documents specify what is your blood type (which was my case), they will find out right on the spot. It’s only a pinch on your finger to get a sample of your blood, relax.
- Pass the theoretical test. Easy. *Note: you take the practical test (actually driving next to a proctor) after the six-month period of probation (when the learner’s permit expires). So don’t worry about your driving skills just yet, you have half a year to become a master.
Frequently Asked Questions about the test:
Q- How many questions are there?
A- 20 questions to be answered in 20 minutes.
Q- How is the test taken?
A- In a clear-windowed cubicle located in one of the rooms at the INTRANT’s main office. The cubicle has plenty of space, you won’t feel claustrophobic. The test can only be done on the computer they provide.
Q- Where do I study from?
A- Apart from the two books on their webpage, they give a mandatory talk where they show you a video and the person in charge reviews important terms. Also, if you wish to practice beforehand, you may try the simulator on their Virtual Office all the times you want (link is above). It’s literally the same thing. I repeated the simulator three times a week and when I faced the actual exam, I felt very calm.
After taking and acing the test, you will be told which station to get next to take your picture. In a matter of minutes you will receive your plastic Learner’s Permit.
PART III. Getting your driver’s license. The day is finally here. Six months of many drives have improved your confidence and driving skills. You’re ready to make it official and be able to drive alone. No company required. The steps are much simpler in this phase. I had to do this mid-pandemic so here’s how it went for me:
- Make an appointment. Don’t waste your time on making a call to set it up. Use your technology and make it online. Remember to do the payment online before you arrive at the INTRANT.
- The only things you’ll need is your ID, your learner’s permit, and the receipt of the transaction. Once everything is confirmed by the register, you can go ahead and take the practical test.
- Pass the practical test. Too easy. The man in charge of that area explains what is going to be scored, what to do and what things you shouldn’t do. He was very clear and concise. Don’t be afraid of asking “stupid” questions. It’s only one lap (at least it was like that for me) and it is inside the premises. The circuit is designed for the test so don’t worry about any complicated street stuff. You’re only tested on the basics: stopping on the Stop signs and red lights; turning and driving at a reasonable speed, and lastly, parking between two cars. In the actual setting there aren’t actually two cars, but instead they replicate it with a huge space, making it even easier to park. When you are done and have passed the test, the person next to you will tell you to go to the next step to complete the process. Another picture will be taken, and after a few minutes, they will give you the plastic Driver’s License.
One last thing: perfect-practice makes perfect. Don’t go driving around the city like most dominicans do just because you can. Choose better. Practice as if you are already driving out in the streets and take your lessons seriously. Your brain is going to memorize the little mistakes you choose to ignore so if you dismiss looking at your left mirror before you change tracks, the same thing will happen when you are out there. Driving is a great tool to have, but keep in mind that you are always at risk and risking others when your hands are on the wheel, no matter how old you are. Keep calm and drive safe.