kolmapäev, august 21, 2013

kükita, alabama

The road that winds between Ardu and Mäo in central Estonia must be among the country's most treacherous. It is snake-like in its ominousness, curving and wriggling off and out in unexpected directions, lined by dark, conspiring trees.

The official speed limit is 90 kilometers per hour, but Estonian traffic tends to dictate a speed of at least 100 km per hour, unless you want to get passed by every other vehicle, even trucks hauling lumber. Sometimes drivers will pass you two or three at a time, even on a curve. At night, when all one can make out it is the white cascading lights from these vehicles and the forest shadows, the road can become quite disorienting.

I was tired last night, and felt comfortable driving BELOW the speed limit at about 80 km per hour on those turns. Occasionally, the car moved a bit too much toward the middle, or toward the edge of the road. When I saw the flashing police car lights, I thought they were after somebody else, maybe one of those other cars that went zooming by at 140 km per hour. Instead, they told me I had an ebaühtlane sõit, which I interpreted as "unusual" or "inconsistent," though it was the first time I had heard the word ebaühtlane.

What I can tell you next involved the back of a police car, lots of paper work, questions of which I understood maybe 75 percent of the content. "How long have you lived in Estonia?" Good question. I don't know. I told them I had first come to Estonia 11 years ago but had lived in other places in between. In the end, I was informed that I would not be able to proceed on my way, as my license, from New York State, is not recognized by the Estonian State.

It wasn't an entire shock. I'd heard recent tale of foreigners being stopped for driving with foreign documentation, and made a mental note to look into it. At the same time, I had no idea of where to begin, or what the laws even were. To what agency should I address my queries? The police in Kükita told me I should go to ARK, the traffic registrar. I did go to ARK, the first thing this morning, but was not provided with a definitive answer of what my fate would be. I could obtain an international driver's permit, or there may be a driving test in my future. They said that they don't even know. They need to look into it and get back to me.

It is this ambiguity that had perhaps kept me from looking into the matter further. I had been pulled over before and shown my document with no comment from the officers. I had even gone to ARK with my New York State driver's license to register a vehicle, and was not informed of any urgent need to acquire new, Estonian documentation.

I have heard some stories about adults with decades of driving experience being obligated to retake driver's education in Estonia, but again, I wasn't sure in which circumstances that led to those examinations. Was it just for certain nationalities? According to some information online, licenses issued by EU countries are recognized in Estonia. Which means that the document issued by my state (New York) which has about 18 times as many people as Estonia is not recognized by the Estonian State, but the driving document of, say, Albania, is. Or maybe it isn't.

Anyway, according to the law, as interpreted by the officers in Kükita at 3.30 am, I did not have the right to drive my automobile any farther than the Kükita Cafe. "Don't you have any friends who can come and pick you up or drive you home?" I was asked. No, Mr. Officer. I have no friends in Kükita, Estonia. I have no friends in Paide, no friends in Järvamaa, and least none I felt comfortable enough with to call up at 3.30 am and ask for a lift to Viljandi.

Sitting in the parking lot in Kükita, I tried to think of how to get myself, my nine-year-old daughter, and her 15-year-old cousin back to Viljandi. Were there any buses at 4 am? The woman working at the cafe didn't mention any when I discussed the option. Paide was seven km away, but how was I supposed to get to Paide? Walk? And even if I did hike through the mist to Paide, how did I get my passengers there? I called to a hotel in Paide, but was informed that nobody could come to pick us up as there is no taxi service in Paide. So our only option was to sleep in the car. And then what? It could be hours before anybody would come to pick us up.

The police had meantime convalesced at the Kükita Cafe where they sat in a back room eating an early morning breakfast of potatoes and sauce. I was willing to accept responsibility for my ignorance and stupidity, but the idea that I would be allowed to drive straight home, or even that they suggest some solution to my very big problem, was met with cold stares. My wife tried pleading with them on the phone, but their decision was final. I was not authorized to drive myself and family members home, even though I have been driving since 1995 and have held a full license since 1996, valid in a country that has been a pretty staunch ally of the Republic of Estonia. I had provided that document to a German rental car agency, driven with it on and off the ferry into Finland, and, yes, Estonia, too. But as of that night, or morning, it was entirely useless to me.

The whole scene began to take on a surreal veneer. Here I was, almost 34 years old, stuck in a parking lot of a non-village called Kükita, which translates into English as "Squat." I was in a country far away from the one of my birth, trying to communicate with officers of the law in a language I have tried to learn for 11 years, but still am pained to understand. I thought of how an Estonian might feel somewhere in the US -- say, Alabama -- when informed in a thick, Southern drawl that he could not drive himself or his family away from a parking lot at 4 am, and instead was asked by the local police if he had a friend who could come and pick him up, maybe from Tuscaloosa or Bessemer. "Don't you know anybody around here who can help?"

I won't comment on how I did get home in the end, but will say that it was one of the worst nights of my life. The best thing that could be done for foreigners like me in Estonia is to make the local rules regarding driving licenses clear, simple, and easily accessible. Perhaps a public information campaign is warranted. Maybe such a booklet could be provided to any foreigner who obtains a residence permit. I am sure I am not the only foreigner who has found himself in a place like Kükita at the mercy of the local traffic police.  It would be good if I was one of the last ones to have to go through such an experience.

43 kommentaari:

7e7ac04e-0a5e-11e3-a62c-000bcdca4d7a ütles ...

Well chalk one up to "reality check" and "story for the grandkids".
You really didn't think that perhaps after 10+ years in a new locale you might need to get a proper, local drivers license?
I did a simple Google search "Estonia driving permits" and the first item was the Tallinn US Embassy with a detailed description of what needs to be done.
http://estonia.usembassy.gov/driving_est.html
Shame on you Giustino. Shame on you.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

Your story placed me in a tight spot: between you and the hard-working Estonian police, both having my respect. Read about your ordealon Delfi's front page (carefully avoiding the comment section helps a lot). Be strong.

Giustino ütles ...

I used the words "stupidity" and "ignorance" to describe my actions. I also didn't say the police did anything wrong. I just told my story.

As for Delfi, in this country, I have come to expect a lack of empathy. It's part of the national character.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

The stupid document they were after you could have gotten for $15at your local AAA office.

You could have told them you just got here three days ago. How they gonna know?

Estonian cops are idiots. You should have given them a bribe if oyu had cash on you or just plain curse them out and just leave. Just like that. Leave.

They don't use force. (Remember Viljandi incident where they were all beaten down)

I feel for you.

TM ütles ...

Hi, the rules regarding driving licenses are clear, simple, and easily accessible. http://www.mnt.ee/index.php?id=15504

As a rule of thumb you’d need to hold drivers license from the place where your primary residence is. Other than that in case you have Estonian Driver’s License and want to drive in Alabama, you'd need to get international driver’s license from ARK in Estonia. If you have driver’s license from the US and want to drive in Estonia, you'd need to visit your local AAA club and get international driver’s license- valid for one year. In case you live in Estonia and you have driver’s license from the US, you’d need to get med exam, then go to ARK, tell them that you'd need to exchange your foreign driver’s license to Estonian. You'd need to take the theory test and road test. Then give up your US driver’s license in exchange to Estonian. It works the same way vice versa with foreign license in the US. (just saying as someone who has just come from the local AAA office in the US because I need to drive a car using American license in Estonia tomorrow, who has had to exchange his European driver’s license to American and American to Estonian, Estonian to American etc..)
Good Luck!

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

TM - You had to "give up" your Estonian license?

Really?

Btw, you can only get a US driveers license for the period indicated on your travel visa or green card. You dont have to "give up" your Estonian license ... :-)

Giustino ütles ...

Those rules aren't clear or simple. According to what you wrote, as an American resident in Estonia, I would have to relinquish my own license, which is an important document in my country of origin, then obtain an international driver's permit from ARK in Estonia (!) so that I can go back and drive a car in the US, where I already have/had a license.

So, I am abandoning my US license to obtain an Estonian license, then converting that to an international license so I can go back and drive in the place where I already had a license to begin with.

TM ütles ...

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

depends of the state I guess, the only state that didn't take away my previous license, just punched a hole into it was California, All other states, Georgia, Illinois.. have demanded my previous license. Alternative has been going to a local traffic school.

Estonia wants to have your foreign license for sure. That’s the reason I don’t have the Estonian one and keep getting the International from AAA because with Estonian license there’s no car insurance in the US.

Giustino ütles ...

You know, it wasn't really the legality of the situation. I can accept that I messed up. It was the cold stares, "you're distress is not my problem," range attitude that disturbed me. It reminded me of the film Libahunt, where they whip the woman and everyone in the village watches and does nothing.

TM ütles ...

Giustino ütles ...

yes it's very clear and simple. "an important document in my country of origin" doesn’t matter unfortunately. What matters is the address of your permanent residency. In case it’s in NY, you need to get the International license from AAA if you want to drive abroad. In case your permanent residency is in Estonia, you'd need to notify your local DMV in NY within 10 days I think, about change of address. In case you tell them that you have moved from NY to Estonia, do they issue you a NY driver’s license with the Estonian address on it? I don't think so.

TM ütles ...

Giustino ütles ...

"you're distress is not my problem,"

I bet they enjoyed it. I mean if you think of it, the Estonian Police, taking about 500 euros home monthly, the only fun they can have is to make someone's life as miserable as theirs. Let’s show some empathy to these guys as well. ;-)

Giustino ütles ...

I have to maintain an address in the US for business purposes. I cannot, for example, maintain my long-existing savings and credit accounts in the US without that address. My US bank will not accept a foreign address. Most of my income comes from a US firm, and is sent to my US address, and deposited into my US account, because they cannot do international, direct deposits into my account. So, in some ways, I maintain two residences. There are a lot of people like me in the world with scattered lives. The rules are the rules, but sometimes it's hard to know which ones matter.

Giustino ütles ...

I bet they enjoyed it.

Who could tell.

Alex ütles ...

I got my Eesti license in 07 and at that time went to 3 ARK's and got 3 different answers as to what I had to do. So I did the easiest one which was a computer test (in English) and a quick drive with an instructor (who also spoke English). Passed those and had to surrender my US license. I've only been back to the US once since 07 and rented a car with my Estonian license with no problem. Some people also just claim they lost their US license and get a replacement copy (can be done online in some states.) Then they have both. Oh, and I was told at the time if I didn't get an Eesti license within 12 months of registering to live in Estonia, I would have to take driving lessons just like a brand new driver.

Giustino ütles ...

I travel frequently to the US. I've spent two months out of the past eight there.

Giustino ütles ...

Anyway, discussing laws is fine. But my post isn't about how unfair the law is, or that I was mistreated. It's mostly about how alienating it can be to be an alien. When that police officer picks up the phone and you can't understand a fucking word he's saying (even though you use Estonian every day of your life), and you realize that your fate is up to this guy. Think about it. I could still be sitting there in that parking lot. Irretrievably lost.

TM ütles ...

Taking driving school in Estonia might be the best solution for Giustino. That way you could keep your US license and have brand new Estonian license, and everything would be legal in both countries. The only alternative is to get international license from the US every year.

Giustino ütles ...

The only English language school is in the Big City, and I live out in Mayberry.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Speaking of "enjoyment", I make them speak to me in English. On two occasions the cop gave up, handed me back my license and walked away. No goodbye, no nothing.

I enjoyed it.

TM ütles ...

Giustino ütles ...The only English language school is in the Big City

you only need to register to school and have a paper showing you have completed it, all tests, everything is available online and in English. Also the official test can be taken in English. So you'd only need to communicate in Estonian with the local driving teacher perhaps... since you know how to drive and know the traffic rules, you should have no trouble completing your driving school in one day perhaps. Just go and talk to your local driving school.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Marko ütles ...

Omg. In Britain it's common knowledge that Americans can't drive in Europe. European licenses are accepted in America but not vice versa. How did you not know that?

Mind you there is a problem with some peoples attitudes in Estonia. I had never any problems, well maybe a raised eyebrow or two now and again, with my Estonian ID in Britain. But when these expired and i moved back to Estonia and the only thing i had was my British driving licence, people in Estonia did not accept it. They could obviously understand that I'm an Estonian and it even says so on the license but apparently it's not a valid ID in Estonia!!

I don't drive in Estonia by the way, for the very same reasons and experiences that you have encountered.

Martasmimi ütles ...

Whether or not you had a valid Estonian drivers license you had a drivers license.
What disturbs me is that these yahoo cops were willing to leave you my 9 year old granddaughter and your 15 year old niece on a dark road at 3 am...
WTF were they thinking?
It's indefensible... You need to surrender your New York license ...why, some BS nationalistic Estonian law.
If they didn't make it so ridiculous for you to get a Estonian license, last night would have never happened.
Walk 7 K's seriously???
It's just crazy.
Not enough Lawyers in Estonia...
The Italian Mimi is very angry !

Martasmimi ütles ...

Marko:

American can't drive ? That's total bullshit .
Ask Justin, his father drives all over Europe ... all through Germany, on the autobahn and all over Italy (including Rome) in a bus size van.
I am so tired of all the ignorant stereotyping that gets written on this blog... You people live in small and think small.

Marko ütles ...

Martasmimi, jumping the gun much? I said that American licenses are not widely seen as valid ones in Europe. This is something you can take up with your local congressman and maybe they can come to a reasonable agreement with their counterparts in European Council. I just stated how things are, not if they're good or bad.

Obviously this case should go to court.

Martasmimi ütles ...

Marko:

* "In Britain it's common knowledge that Americans can't drive in Europe"

Seriously, how was this "jumping the gun?"

TM ütles ...

Martasmimi ütles ...

What disturbs me is that these yahoo cops were willing to leave you my 9 year old granddaughter and your 15 year old niece on a dark road at 3 am.

I agree with this. That's where the civilized world differs from an ex soviet republic. I'd imagine anywhere in the west the police would have driven the family home in such a situation. Or at least would have chosen not to enforce the law to such an extent where a family is on the road in a middle of the night.

LPR ütles ...

They gave Justin a riddle. They could not answer it. The answer was right there. Hence the empty stares. The right answer was: you drive home after we are gone.

They did not take your car keys, confiscate the car or probably even write you a ticket.

It was a riddle and they were probably wondering how come you cannot see the answer.

Could it be?

It was a sort of an IQ test, was it not?

And the jackassery tolerance test as well.

I think you did good in the end.

How come it ended up in the news? Never mind. It's Estonia. Everyone knows everyone.

LOL

Marko ütles ...

Martasmimi, *can't drive* as in *not allowed to drive*. Sorry, in British English can't and not allowed are interchangeable terms.


It's nothing to do with these coppers being from Soviet generation. Why can't you just call a spade a spade. You can meet unprofessionally behaving officials all over the place. I'm sure there's a disciplinary procedure in place, Justin just has to make sure it will be followed through.

Kristopher ütles ...

The comments above are a little confusing.

Americans *can* drive and rent cars in Europe with their US licenses. Germany and Sweden are no problem, but there are quite a few countries (even Italy is one) where you will need an international driving permit, which is issued in the US by AAA. They do tend to be the ones with former Napoleonic legal systems, so why Estonia is behaving this way is odd..

I have successfully rented cars in Italy and Austria without the IDP so it appears to be loosely enforced, if at all. Estonia used to be cool with it too, but in 2006 I was pulled over in Põlva County for doing 106 in a 90. I was fined 600 kroons for driving without a license and told I couldn't drive any further. Luckily my wife was in the car. I'm trying to track down why the change in policy happened, but they are certainly being strict about it. My information is that no other country in Europe is so strict. Giustino's point about why this is is well taken. I suspect a misunderstanding in the mid-level bureaucracy.

Ever since, I have driven with a Virginia license and an IDP and I have been fine, but have not been pulled over by Estonian police, so haven't really had a chance to test it. Was pulled over in Austria (a country that requires the IDP) but the cop was confused and uninterested when I proffered it to him.

luize ütles ...

Marko, Eesti juhiluba ei ole siin ka aktsepteeritav dokument, see tõendab sõiduõigust ainult, mitte isikut.

Kristopher ütles ...

I'd accuse the officer of record of not being lenient enough only if it's certain that the stop was not documented. It might be HIS job on the line - we don't know that.

I do see why there IS some confusion with US licenses. It wasn't until recently that there was a national database of driver's licenses IN the US. Asking a foreign country to deal with 50 different license designs is a little unreasonable. On the face of it. Doesn't excuse what happened, of course.

It just sounds like a bureaucratic problem. Maybe Estonian police officials don't take enough trips to Interpol conferences where they can learn about best practices and how these things are done in countries like Germany and Britain.

Martasmimi ütles ...

*We rented a van in Roma... and drove all over Italia for 10 days with a New York Drivers License...

* rented for several days in Germany no problem.

*Switzerland for a week no problem.

* Ireland no problem

*UK No problem

St John VI no problem

Tortola VI no problem

Canada never a problem

They always rent to us and we don't have international licenses.

So is there a problem ?

Martasmimi ütles ...

*We rented a van in Roma... and drove all over Italia for 10 days with a New York Drivers License...

* rented for several days in Germany no problem.

*Switzerland for a week no problem.

* Ireland no problem

*UK No problem

St John VI no problem

Tortola VI no problem

Canada never a problem

They always rent to us and we don't have international licenses.

So is there a problem ?

7e7ac04e-0a5e-11e3-a62c-000bcdca4d7a ütles ...

I rented in Tallinn with my NY license and the problem that arose was with insurance coverage, not Estonian motor vehicle regs. Seems that the insurance carrier did not want to accept my NY license without an IDP - which I didn't have at the time.
In the end Europcar wanted my business more than they wanted to worry about their insurance carrier.

Katlin ütles ...

I personally feel like the drivers license system in Estonia is quite complicated, especially for foreigners. It is yet another example of being stuck in old ways and making travel and living in different places on earth hard.
I live in GB currently and I did my drivers license in Estonia. I drove for 2 years with my "beginners license" and then moved to GB. The whole confusion on the topic was just stressful. I went to visit Estonia during winter and wanted to apply for another license again, because Estonian beginners license works as a full license in UK, when I was told in quite a "I really don't care" manner that you can't have a license anymore, before you go and do the ice driving test. Apparently the laws had changed in the summer and you couldn't get another beginners license.
So I just felt let down really, because I had paid a huge amount of money for my drivers lessons and exams and then after two years I am apparently not a capable driver in Estonia, because I haven't done some winter driving test. Yet I was allowed to drive during two rough winters with my beginners license. It really makes me feel like it is all for just making some extra money.
Gladly though, I could change my Estonian license which had expired, into UK drivers license with a little bit of money and I didn't even have to do any tests or anything, although people in UK drive on the other side. If I ever wanted to go back to Estonia again, I could change my UK license into FULL Estonian license, without having to do any ice driving tests. So there are loopholes in the laws too.
I wish things were made easier, it is 21st century and people do travel and move to other countries for various reasons, I don't see why it has to be made so hard. After all, all I want to do is just live and have a normal life, without being pulled around and having to pay extra for everything, just because I am foreign.

Unknown ütles ...

If a tourist rents a car in Estonia or anywhere else in EU, usually there's no problem with U.S or any other driving licence, but law acutally requires international driving permit which is basically a translation of driving licence. But in Justins situation, it doesn't help because licence has to be changed to Estonian driving licence if a person lives in Estonia more than 185 days a year.

Justins problem was that maybe he was trying to be to honest. Don't say to policeman more than you are asked and everything will be fine. You gave yourself away when you said you've lived here for 11 years. From this moment, policeman saw the probable violation and he had to act like he is required. You should have said that you live in NY but you visit Estonia quite often. Other thing is that don't ever try to speak estonian with any policeman, it shows that you aren't just a tourist and you'll be treated as a local.
Have you ever driven a car with foreign licence plate in Estonia and then switched to car with local licence plate? Then you see how other drivers treat foreigners and how they treat locals. It's the same with policemen attitude.
Policeman was just doing his job and he had to drive your attention to this violation. Otherwise if he starts to treat people by choice, he wouldn't be a policeman anymore. In your case, he turned his head away later to let you go, you just were to honest again and didn't understand it. Estonian traffic law in english, answer to your questions is under § 99 s6'1. It's odd that ARK clerk didn't know it. http://www.legaltext.ee/et/andmebaas/tekst.asp?loc=text&dok=XXXXXX10K4&keel=en&pg=1&ptyyp=RT&tyyp=X&query=liiklusseadus

Lihtsa Elu Taavi ütles ...

Not sure about NY laws, but in Estonia you cannot legally drive if you're so tired you cannot stay in your own lane and have to go 20 below the speed limit. Especially with 2 kids in the car, didn't it occur to you that stopping and resting a little bit might be a better solution than potentially going off the road and getting all of you killed? Maybe you should take local traffic school?

Lihtsa Elu Taavi ütles ...

That said - the rule that you have to give up your existing driver's license to get one in Estonia is beyond ridiculous. I can't think of any reason why that would be necessary.

Suva Ahv ütles ...

Lot of Estonia(ns)hating by patronising foreigners going on here. That Liivimaa guy should go and try bribing Estonian police few times, moron would end up in jail real quick.

Funny how everybody forgets what Justin himself honestly is saying, how he was dead tired riding dangerous Tartu road. police was informed by another driver, who obviously was pretty worried about his reckless driving style (trust me, Estonians dont call police just because someone is driving a little slow or a little fast, usually, when they see real danger to other drivers).

i agree police could have had a little more empathy, but kind of funny of potential road murderer to whine about it :) Did you have any empathy for the children you were putting in danger?
Btw, police comment on this (did you Justin or your wife go to Delfi.ee to shove it on them?): https://www.facebook.com/politseijapiirivalveamet/posts/583814251665510

Giustino ütles ...

Yes, I am the new Libahunt. No, I am not whining about it.

Kr K ütles ...

I googled Martasmimi's last question and got a forum post with a possible answer: "Remember, an International Driving Permit is required in Schengen countries for Americans. You may never get asked for it if you have it with you. Then again, if you do get asked for it and don't have one, you will have problems."

Estonia is also a Schengen country.
As with the police's attitude.. I agree it's a cultural thing, you may experience super friendly service or the opposite - very cold or impassive.
If a cop would suggest to drive a middle aged or older Estonian to home in the US for the same reason, this Estonian would be embarrassed by it. Not in front of the cop, but in front of the neighbours etc. It's the dead hand of the past: fright to act wrongly.

But it is said, driving while being tired is the same as driving while drunk. 80 km/h would not make things better, maybe only worse for those cars who follow you with 90 km/h.