VILSECK, Germany — U.S. personnel often return to their home states to obtain driver licenses, but some say it makes more sense to take the German drivers test.

Although the process takes a bit longer and costs more, there are advantages.

Selina Dornheim, a 20-year-old U.S. military dependent who recently got her German driver’s license after taking lessons with a German instructor in Vilseck, said she liked the convenience of taking classes and the test in Germany.

"And you learn a lot more," she said. "They go into detail whereas in the States you don’t have to take so many classes. That’s why we (Americans) get in so many accidents."

Driving instructor Bernhard Rappl, 45, said he’s been teaching people to drive in Bavaria since 1987 and started his own school in Vilseck in 2002.

Thirty to 40 Americans, mostly soldiers’ spouses or teenaged children, train with Rappl each year, he said. To prepare for the German test, a student must typically train for nine weeks, which costs 1,200 to 1,300 euros with a VAT tax-exemption form, he said.

Not all his students are young military family members. Some U.S. personnel who leave the Army but stay in Germany need to obtain German licenses within three years, he said.

Others are older soldiers like Spc. Anthony Carter, 50, of the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, who has been taking classes for several weeks.

"I’ve tried to go back to the States to get a license but I have always had other things that got in the way," said Carter, a resident of Pittsburgh, Pa., who arrived at Vilseck in August 2007 and has spent 15 months downrange since then on his third deployment to Iraq.

Why did it take him so long to try for a driver’s license?

"My family owns a couple of car dealerships back in the States. I think I’m the only one in the family who doesn’t drive. My twin brother has three cars. But they have a pretty good bus system in Pennsylvania," Carter said.

Not having a civilian driver’s license didn’t stop him from driving Humvees and other military vehicles downrange, so he already knows the basics of driving. Now he’s spending two nights a week studying the complex German driving code and preparing to head out on the road with an instructor.

Americans can benefit from learning European driving skills, Rappl said.

"In America it is easier to drive," he said. "It is important for me that you drive more exactly in Germany. The streets are narrower here (in Europe)."

Most accidents involving Americans in Bavaria occur at country road crossings or stop signs, he said.

"Some American people have not the feeling for the small roads that we have here. They drive too fast and too much on the right or left," he said.

Speed is also a factor in accidents involving Americans, he said.

"I see people driving 140 to 150 kilometers per hour on the (country) roads. Americans (and Germans) overtake me every day driving fast," he said.

"Soldiers will drive carefully for the first four weeks. Later they begin to drive like racers."

Most accidents in Bavaria happen in winter or spring. Many Americans make the task of winter driving harder by not equipping their cars with winter tires, Rappl said. American 4-wheel-drive tires that say "all weather" are not suitable for Bavarian roads in winter, he added.

And Rappl advised drivers who own rear-wheel-drive cars to weigh down the back end in winter to get better traction in the snow.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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