Friday, March 20, 2009


It’s hard to believe that it was exactly a year ago yesterday that I arrived here and I still haven’t got my Green Card yet. According to the rules the use of my UK driver’s licence is only allowed for up to a year, but I cannot apply for a Pennsylvania licence without the Green Card. I then shall have to get a learner’s permit and take a test designed for 16 year olds - I hope I pass it!!

This snippet of news brings me nicely to the main topic of this letter, owning a car in the USA. As I have said, the minimum age for car driving is 16, somewhat lower than the UK, I understand that the minimum age is being raised to 18.

The main thing is the total difference in political attitude towards the motorist. In the UK the politicians have always taken the attitude that any motorist is using his car to take the family out on a picnic or some other leisure pursuit and have taxed him accordingly.

Over here the attitude is the complete opposite. Cars are cheaper as is petrol. There is no road tax as such, each vehicle has an annual registration charge which costs only a few dollars. This is shown by a small sticker on the windscreen and there is an annual safety inspection which can cost anything and that is shown by a small sticker on the licence plate. Incidentally, Pennsylvania is one of the states not to have front licence plates and it makes those cars which have a space for one at the front look rather strange.

The options for licence plates are vast, there are literally hundreds of options in this state alone. Veterans of any conflict can have them, as can universities, fire companies, animal protection and in fact Bobby, who served in Iraq, recently bought a new pickup and his plate shows “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. Then of course there are the disabled plates which we have on the Impala (Joanies). We do not get 2 hours free parking at meters but there are designated spaces at all the mall parking lots.

Here, the licence number belongs to the individual and not the car

The business of personalized plates is incredibly cheap - $20 plus $18 for the actual plate. You can have anything you want, providing it is not offensive of course, up to seven characters. For instance I could have ME HENRY or BE NICE but not **** OFF if you get my drift. You can also have anything you want on the front, one day I expect I shall get round to fixing my former cherished number to the Impala. I have already written on how rules are arranged to help traffic flow, 4-way junctions, turning right at red lights etc (must remember not to try that when we come over!!)

Anyway to other matters, the weather is warming up and is now mostly in the 50’s but there are still piles of ice to be melted in the mall parking lots. The main news item is about bonuses of many millions being paid to employees of AIG, who has received billions from the Federal Government. Congress is passing legislation to tax these people at 95%, and the President is not exactly best pleased. There has been a major scandal in Luzerne County. Two judges have been sent to jail for corruption and the FBI is investigating several other county employees. Makes such a change to encounter a bit of good old fashioned graft and corruption!! The other big story is about Bernie Madoff who has pleaded guilty to swindling investors out of billions but he won’t say where all the money is hidden. At the moment he is in jail pending sentencing.

Apart from that, life goes on, President Obama is maintaining his popularity, we are all looking forward to the summer and I am hoping the exchange rate will improve in the very near future.

Until next time


Henry Dallimore