Driving sans licenses

BY LI DAI | FEBRUARY 23, 2015 5:00 AM

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Driver’s permit, driver’s education, driver’s license — these are the steps most people go through to get behind the wheel. Despite the process, some international students are skipping the steps and heading straight to the road.

University of Iowa students Ling Wang and Jing Zhou, whose names have been changed, told The Daily Iowan that among international students, driving with just a driver’s permit is commonplace.

Both Zhou and Wang have passed the written test but currently drive without having passed the driving test.

A licensed driver over the age of 25 must accompany a driver with only a permit.

Zhou has taken the driving test nine times, and Wang twice. They failed each time.

“It is easy for me to pass the computerized test because I have the answers,” Wang said. “But I think it is easy for others because everyone could find the answers online; just Google it, you can find it.”

Wang said she has a Chinese driver’s license, so she didn’t expect to fail the American test.

“The road test in China is really hard to pass because it has many specific requirements to a driver’s skills,” Wang said. “Like it requires the applicant to park while avoiding laser motion detectors. So I practiced hard to obtain the Chinese driver’s license, and I am confident of my driving skills.”

One UI student said the tests are completely different in nature.

“The road test here is different from the Chinese road test,” said UI junior Yu Yao, whose name has been changed. “They emphasize different points. The Chinese road test focuses on the driving skills, but the American road test focuses on the safety awareness.”

Both Wang and Yao bought luxury cars last year with their driver’s permits from Carousel Motors.
After buying her car, Yao then avoided driving before passing the test because she thinks it’s dangerous to drive without a license.

However, Wang still drives her car without a license.

“I know it is illegal to drive without a license,” Wang said. “But I have already bought my car, and it is expensive. If I don’t drive it and just park it in the garage, it was a huge waste for me. And my apartment is far away from campus, so I need to drive to go to class due to the convenience.”

Wang said while students such as her may be driving without a license, they’re still attempting to pass the test, but some places can’t be reached by bus or walking.

Harvey Ireland, the business manager at Carousel Motors, said he’s seen a big increase in international students buying cars in recent years.

“… We see probably 20 international customers a month,” Ireland said. “We have a lot of customers, but we see more and more international business.”

A report released by the UI International Student and Scholar Services shows that since 2007, the university’s international student population has more than doubled.

The current international student population at the UI is 4,360, or nearly 14 percent of UI students.

Some of the negative consequences possible from driving without a license can be fines from tickets or the potential costs of an accident.

“Not if you get into an accident, but when is how you can think of it,” said Dave Visin, the interim director of UI police. “You don’t want to have tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills if you get involved in an accident. You may be sued if you are not a licensed driver.”

He said police don’t target international students when pulling people over, but if they’re driving without licenses, they take appropriate action.

UI junior Yi Zhang, also not his name, was pulled over, ticketed for driving without a license, and was fined around $100, which wasn’t a big enough deterrent for Zhang to stop.

He said he was told one of the potential consequences coming from driving without a license is suspension of the permit and to be potentially barred from taking the test.

Visin said police officers give a traffic ticket if they find the driver doesn’t have the license.

“The situation now is we have a lot more international students and a lot more international drivers in Iowa,” Visin said. “I don’t think officers really know who they are pulling over until they do. We look into people who have probably violate the law somehow in their driving, and we pull over and find what’s going on and get an explanation.”

Wang said she’s still fearful of getting targeted by police.

“Once, my car was pulled over by a officer,” she said. “Fortunately, it was my friend who has the driver’s license driving my car that day. And the officer told her that there was no problem with her driving, but he checked this car’s plate on his machine, and it showed that the owner of this car doesn’t have the driver’s license, so the officer pulled over my car to check the license.”

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