Getting a Drivers License in Honduras


by Gary Carlson

Another installment of our insanely popular “ Honduras” series.

I grew up in the United States of America, a long long time ago the staff will tell you. Back in the previous millennia, while struggling through the secondary education system I reached the age of 16 at which time it would be possible to obtain a driving license that would allow me to operate a motor vehicle on the nation’s roadways, if I passed a semester long Drivers Education course.
With no lack of arguments and pleading involving the parental units, I enrolled in the course. For the next four months twice weekly the rules of the road, the concept of Right of Way, and driving defensively were hammered home. In car driving experience took place in a car donated to the school with a local car dealers advertisement on the side, and a large sign on the top proclaiming the driver of the vehicle as being a student and to beware. The dealer had also installed a second brake pedal for the front seat passenger. This passenger was always the driving teacher who I remember as a red-faced, nervous, and excitable sort of man prone to knee jerk reactions when it came to that extra pedal, and who understandably carried a touch of antiseptic smell in the mornings.

The classes seemed endless. There was no situation involving cars on the road we did not cover, along with the appropriate driving techniques to be used when they were encountered. Passing this course qualified you to go to the local government enclave and submit your name, and nominal fee for testing. After a thirty minute written exam, you had a practical exam in your own vehicle (Dad’s) with an officer of the Department of Motor Vehicles. This officer, who had the same temperament and aroma as the school’s teacher, took you through t he skills needed to drive in the city, like parallel parking and backing up, and all that. 
The short of it is that I passed. I had a card that let me drive on the roads with the permission of the government.

After the toil, it was really pretty easy. Entering the nation’s byways you realize that everyone knows the same rules as you do. There Is no question how you are to operate your car in any given situation and the drivers of the other cars have the same knowledge. Traffic moves smoothly, fast, and safely. For over 20 years I pursued the career of a migrant builder which involves a fair amount of driving, and logged over a million miles in the pilot seat of various motor vehicles across North America.

Then 10 years ago I moved to Honduras, the island of Roatan to be exact.

It was evident from the start that things were different here driving wise, but initially as a passenger I concentrated on the passing countryside, and let the local driver deal with the road issues. Eventually I had to become a licensed driver, so I started the process.

I was told that I needed to go to the police station to get a license, only to find out it takes two people to get one. The reason given was that the license machine has a double negative system that handles two pictures at once. Rather than use just one of the exposures, it became the rule that if you needed a license you had to get someone else with you that wanted one also. Luckily John wanted one too, so we paired up for documentation.
Back to the station where we are given two documents (in Spanish) that need to be filled out. One by a medical doctor, and one by an optometrist to certify our vision.

Off to the recommended optometrist we go. On the way John expresses his concern that his vision isn’t the best. The eyes change slowly over time and typically vision changes with age. John had been getting by with cheaters, squinting, was in general denial about his declining vision, and had gotten used to living in a fuzzy world. Personally I had gone through all that earlier and accepting my fate, I had taken to wearing prescription glasses with bifocals. “I’ll go in first and let you know what’s up” I said with bespeckled confidence.

I am called into the examining room to find the usual accoutrements of a couple of chairs, phoropter, and eye charts. My task was to read one of the eye charts for the optometrist beginning at the first line which is as big as a truck, to the last line which is really tiny. We’ve all done this, right?

“Read the first line please” I am instructed. “S” I respond. “The second, please” he says. “S-T-O” I answer. “Now the third” he continues. “S-T-O-P S-T-O-P” “Can you read the fourth line?” I am asked. “S-T-O-P S-T-O-P S-T-O-P”, I respond correctly. “Can you read the last line Mr Carlson?” I look him straight in the eye and say; “S-T-O-P S-T-O-P S-T-O-P S-T-O-P” “Thank you” He signs my form, stamps it, and tells me to have John come in. Vision certified, I saunter out to the waiting room to a nervous John who asks how it went. “Go in there, look to the left and memorize the chart. You’ll do fine.” “Memorize the chart?!?!”

He did fine, and off to the recommended doctor we go. The doctor is in a little combined office with a small pharmacy attached. When told of our need of a physical for a driver’s license, the doctor says, “May I have your passport?”
Relinquishing said documents the doctor turns around to an old mechanical typewriter and bangs out two forms certifying us as healthy enough to navigate the roads of Honduras. Truth is he never even checked to see if we had legs.

But we have our forms! Just the one last hurdle of testing at the police station, and we are licensed drivers in Honduras. We go up to the counter and present our forms. The nice lady checks them over noting the signatures and stamps ( they are really into stamps here) and asks me to step around a wall and sit down. She takes my picture, shoos me away and gets John for his picture. “It will be a couple of minutes” we are told, and as predicted she appears a few moments later with two drivers licenses freshly laminated and presents them to us. We are now licensed to drive cars, taxis and busses.
Later to extend my driving privileges I returned to the police station to get a license to drive a motorcycle. This was much easier, as they accepted my drivers license as proof of my physical abilities. I am now licensed to drive motorcycles, tractors, and large trucks as well!. Not even once was it so much as mentioned which side of the road to drive on, which turns out top be pretty vague as there are no lines….. We will cover the experience of actually driving in Honduras in a future posting.

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