Scotland’s former first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who unexpectedly resigned this year and later became the subject of a police investigation, made another unusual announcement on Monday.
“So this happened today,” she said on Instagram. “At the tender age of 53, I passed my driving test (first time!!).”
The experience took her “well out of any notion of a comfort zone,” Ms. Sturgeon added, “but hopefully proves that it’s never too late in life to do something new.”
For Ms. Sturgeon, getting her driver’s license was no doubt a welcome respite from other recent headlines.
She resigned her post as Scotland’s leader in February, citing exhaustion and her status as a polarizing figure as her reasons. Then in June, she was arrested by police officers investigating the finances of the Scottish National Party, which she had led as it dominated the country’s politics.
Ms. Sturgeon was released and has denied wrongdoing.
The driving-test milestone highlighted the sheltered, chauffeured lifestyle of heads of state who often travel in well-secured vehicles. It also was a reminder of just how hard such tests are in the United Kingdom compared to other countries, including the United States.
In the U.S., attaining a driver’s license is generally considered a rite of passage for 16-year-olds, many of whom take a somewhat straightforward road test, completing smooth stops and turns and demonstrating that they can reverse and parallel park.
In Britain, however, the tests appear to be more extensive, and one maneuver sounds particularly challenging for any beginner: The driver is asked to pull up on the right-hand side of the road, reverse for around two car-lengths and then rejoin traffic.
Rob Harper, the chair of the Association of Approved Driving Instructors, told The Telegraph in 2019: “I think it’s a dangerous maneuver, and so do many of my members.”
During the driving test in Britain, prospective drivers will be on the road for around 40 minutes. In California, by contrast, the behind-the-wheel driving skill exam takes about 20 minutes, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles said in an email.
The pass rate for the driving test in Britain was 47 percent from January to March last year, down one percentage point from the previous quarter, according to data from the British transport department. That passing rate prompted a campaign from the department that urged learner drivers to be test-ready or move their test dates back.
Driving examiners, the department said, “had to do things such as brake or steer the car in 1 in 5 failed tests.”
The department also recommended that learners find an approved driving instructor. But in the United States, it’s not uncommon for parents to substitute as de facto driving instructors.
Still, the United States is not exactly an example for driving-test readiness. In California, the passing rate for the driver’s license knowledge test is 41 percent so far this year, and 67 percent for the driving skills test.
Stringent requirements to obtain a driver’s license are also the norm in other European countries. In Germany, the driving exam includes a section on theory, according to Inc. Magazine. Even the cost to get a license in Germany is more prohibitive, ranging from $2,000 to $3,700. In Britain, the cost is about 129 pounds in statutory fees, or about $158.
Ms. Sturgeon’s arrest had deepened the problems that have engulfed the Scottish National Party, which is campaigning for Scottish independence. Ms. Sturgeon’s husband, Peter Murrell, the party’s former chief executive, and Colin Beattie, the party’s former treasurer, were arrested in April. They, like Ms. Sturgeon, were released without charges. At the time of her arrest, she wrote on social media that she was certain she had “committed no offense.”
She clearly welcomed the change of subject and the chance to play social media influencer on Monday. Sitting at the wheel with the booklet of a local driver training company in hand, she posed in a photo with her “brilliant” instructor, calling him “someone I could trust and feel comfortable with.”