In order for me to get a motorcycle endorsement put on my Panamanian driver’s license there are several hoops I have to jump through. 1) I have to complete a course at a driving school 2) I have to pass a written examination (in Spanish) 3) I have to have a letter from a doctor, either a gerontologist or an internist saying I’m physically and mentally fit to drive (of course being nearly 71 one has to question the mental state of anyone that old wanting to ride a motorcycle) 4) I have to pass a practical hands-on test on the motorcycle. There are a couple of other things like a hearing and eye test that you can’t study for and shell out $40.
I’ve been going out and practicing on my bike down the road a ways at a new, and mostly vacant, housing development. Doing a lot of stopping and starting and making right hand turns and staying in the proper lane without going over the center line. I’ve watched dozens of YouTube videos about practical motorcycle exams that are given in the United States. They include weaving between cones in a sort of slalom course, driving figure eights, making slow-speed U turns, making fast stops, etc. It all looks rather daunting.
Last week I stopped by the driving school located at the Chiriqui Mall where the driving license office is also located. I wanted to ask them some more questions about the practical driving test. It turns out that they don’t offer the motorcycle study course at that school. The instructor, though, took me outside and we met with a gentleman who was grading the aspirants for licensing today. He spoke English and told me that I had to go to a different school and filled me in on where it’s located. I then asked him what I needed to know in order to take the practical, “driving” portion of the test.
“Have you ever ridden a motorcycle before?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, “but it’s been about 30 years.”
“Do you have a motorcycle?”
“Yes,” I told him.
“Then it shouldn’t be any problem. Don’t worry about it.”
I asked him about doing the weaving and U turns and all that stuff. “Oh, yes,” he said. “We need to know about your equilibrium.”
“Okay,” says I to myself. “I’m going to need to do a lot more practicing.”
But I stuck around for a bit while two people took their automobile tests which, when compared with tests in the States, was a joke. Then a young lad put on a helmet and was going to do his motorcycle test. Great! I’ll get to see what they put him through and then I’ll know what I need to work on.
Below is a photo of what his test consisted of:
This is no joke. This is what he had to do. You can see he started out in the top right corner. Went in a straight line and made a left hand turn, another straight line to the next road, then a left hand turn into one of the parking sections where he rode down to a cone and made one circle then went back, in a straight line to the road, another left turn and ended up where he’d started from.
Wait a minute!
“That’s it? That’s his test?” I asked the examiner.
“Yes, that’s it,” he said.
No slalom weaving. No tight right turns, which is far more important, I think, than being able to make a sweeping left turn. I guess you could consider circling a cone to be a test of one’s ability to make a U turn, though. And no fast stopping test.
It sort of reminded me of the practical driving test I took in Fort Lauderdale when I returned to the States after having been gone for nearly four years, during which time my driver’s license had expired. At that time I’d been driving for 35 years. I drove up to where the examiner was standing at the curb outside of the DMV office. He got in to the passenger’s seat with his clip board and said,
“See that empty spot by the curb up ahead?”
“Yes,” I said, noticing a spot some 40 feet or so from where we sat idling.
“Pull in there.”
So, I checked if any cars were coming up behind me. It was clear. I engaged the turn signal as the book says you’re supposed to do and pulled out into the lane. I drove the 40 or so feet and parallel parked the car in the empty slot. The examiner put down a few check marks on his clip board, handed me the sheet, put his hand on the door handle and said, “go park the car wherever there’s a spot,” gesturing to the parking lot over on the left, “and take this inside.” The whole test took under three minutes.
That’s what it looks like the practical motorcycle test is going to be like here. We’ll see. I’m going to go to the school next week.