You'd think that in such a nice and free land as Sweden, getting a driver's license would be easy-peasy.
What I am about to describe to you can be one of the most time-consuming, excruciating and horrible times of a swede's life - or one of the best (not counting first sex, of course). Anyway, let's move on.
The first things to do
As a citizen of Sweden, once a you reach the worldly age of sixteen (16), be you male or female, you may start trying to get yourself a driver's license. You can't actually take the final tests before age 18, but unless something is in the way (such as your name in swedish police's list of known criminals) you can start something called "övningskörning" (practice driving) at 16.
To do this, you need a piece of paper called a "körkortstillstånd" (permit to have a driver's license). To get this, you need to go get another paper which testifies that your eyesight and hearing are as good as they should be. Naturally, you also have to be free of any major handicaps or other physical/psychological disorders. After taking the proper exams (can be done at the optician's) you send this paper to the authority in control of roads and traffic in Sweden, "Vägverket". A few weeks later, your "körkortstillstånd" arrives in the mail.
Driving school or parents?
There are two ways to get the skills and education necessary to pass the final exams. Either you have your parents teach you, or you go to a driving school. Let's review the options.
Driving School: While this is a fool-proof way of getting the license you so desire, it does cost money. The normal price for one driving lesson is SEK 430 - rougly USD$41 / GBP£32. This is very expensive by Swedish standards. The cars used are generally cheap but easily-driven ones, for example Volkswagen Golf or Volvo S40. They always have an extra set of pedals, as well as extra rear-view mirrors - this is required by law. Most driving schools also offer courses which span weeks or weekends, during which the theory behind driving is taught - traffic signs, rules and common sense are some of the components. It also includes a fair share of psychology to help would-be drivers understand, among other things, why some of their peers have such problems keeping below the speed limit. The school also provides exams that help the pupils assess their own abilities.
Parents: Anyone who feels put off by the price tags on getting a proper education in the art of driving will take comfort in the fact that is is possible to have ones parents teach you how to drive. This requires you to fill out one form for each parent, which they also have to sign, and wait a few weeks for it to come back. It doesn't have to be your parents who teach you; any person over age 25 who has had his license for at least 5 years and does not have a history of traffic crimes will do. The above-mentioned authority on traffic ("Vägverket") will happily provide your teacher with information about what to teach and how, and of course, there's a multitude of programs and books for sale, all offering the wannabe driver the quickest and cheapest way to the driver's license imaginable. Luckily, you may use any car to practice drive with your folks in, and without adding any weird things like double command, extra pedals or mirrors, etc. And better yet, should you have an accident, it's their responsibility, not yours - but anything serious will put off your license for 2 years or so - that's how long it takes until they trust you to operate a moving vehicle again.
It is a sad fact that most of those who go with the cheap way (parents) will fail on their 1st, 2nd, and possibly 3rd shot at the final exams. Cases of over 15 re-tries have been reported - luckily, driving school students and "private" learners don't stand in the same lines to take the finals. Of course, may aspiring drivers go to driving school and have their parents help them practice at home. This is much more financially sound than choosing to only go to a school.
Before the finals ...
Eventually, the day will come - when you go to what we swedes call "halkbanan" (the slippery track). Basically, this is a 6-hour exercise in the art of avoiding death, injury and skidding of the road because it's slippery and you did something you shouldn't have. After paying a price of roughly SEK 1050 (USD$102 / BRP£78) you take the bus along with a bunch of other soon-to-be drivers to the track - there are a number of "halkbanor" (slippery tracks) in Sweden, and they operate in winter as well as in summer. The objective of going to "halkbanan" is to recieve a certificate that you've been there and acquired the skills necessary. These are acquired by successfully completing a series of tests - all of which take place on the track itself, in a small car with huge lights on the roof. Tests include such things as "avoid crashing into that obstacle at 50 kilometers per hour" and "try to bring your car to a full stop as quickly as possible". It's funny as hell, trust me. Once done with "halkbanan", you are all set for the finals.
The Finals: Written exam
And so, the big day comes, for the first of the two final exams: The written exam - or "det skriftliga provet" as it is called in Sweden. This test consists of 70 questions - here follows a few examples:
(image of a street with kids, cars etc, four coloured fields marked A,B,C,D)
You are going to make a left in the next intersection. On which of these fields should your attention be most focused?
A) Field A
B) Field B
C) Field C
D) Field D
(image of traffic sign)
What does this sign mean?
A) Pier ahead
B) Railway crossing in 100-150 metres
C) Airport ahead
D) Speed limited to 50 kph
Pretty straight-forward. There is always only one correct answer to each question, and they're all A/B/C/D style - and you don't really have to write anything, as it's all point-and-click on a computer. Once you finish the test, it will process your answers and you will be notified immediately whether you succeeded or failed. You are allowed to have between 7 and 13 wrong answers depending on what dummy questions you happen to miss - every test includes five questions to which your answers don't matter, they're included for only for statistical purposes. If you fail the test, you have to wait (on average) between 2 weeks and 2 months to try it again.
The Finals: Practical exam
This is where the massive shivers start. Oh yes. After waiting in the waiting room for a few minutes which feel like hours (especially since the TV is always showing Sailor Moon), a more or less happy-looking person - the inspector, arrives and you are taken to a car. He asks you a few questions, you get to tell him what every single fscking thing underneath the hood is good for, and a similar procedure ensues once you're inside the car - "what does this button do?" etc. Eventually, you get underway. This bit is fairly easy, or should be; the inspector tells you what to do, in the style of "turn right at the next intersection". If he likes the way you drive, you will get your driver's license - if he finds flaws in your skills, you don't. Usually however, you get a second chance if you do something wrong - statistics show that overall, practicing drivers drive 10-20% worse when under the pressure of the final driving test.
After the finals
Now you've done it. Or not. If you have, then you will immediately recieve a temporary driver's license which you can use until the real (plastic) one arrives. The temporary license is valid for one year. Once the real license has been printed for you, you have to go pick it up at the police station of post office - they don't send them directly to people's mailboxes for obvious reasons.
If you are one of the unlucky circa 30% who don't make it on the first try, you are in for a waiting period of anywhere between 2 weeks to the better part of a year before your next shot. Time well spent practicing, of course.
That's it - I hope that this write-up has been an interesting read. And yes, I got my license on the first try. Damn close call, though :)