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Massachusetts, Taiwan Sign Deal Recognizing Driver’s Licenses

Driving backwards in the shape of an "S" is what many Taiwanese remember most about their island's road test. The reverse S-curve, performed on a closed obstacle course, often elicits a nostalgic chuckle from drivers when they recall the dread they felt on test day as they negotiated the precarious turn.

"That's why many people go to driving school," Kelsey Hsu, who grew up in Taiwan and now lives near Fairfax, Virginia, told NBC News. "If you touch the curb, you automatically fail."

Scott Lai, the director general of the Taipei Cultural and Economic Office in Boston, shaking hands with Erin Deveney, the Massachusetts interim registrar of motor vehicles. Courtesy of the Taipei Cultural and Economic Office in Boston

But now there's good news for Taiwanese who pass their driving tests like the 33-year-old Hsu. Massachusetts will no longer require another test to get a driver's license, so long as you're a state resident.

On March 2, Massachusetts became the 16th U.S. state to sign such an agreement with the island of 23 million off the coast of China, according to Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The deal will benefit Taiwanese workers and students living in Massachusetts, saving them the time, effort, and expense of having to prepare for another written and road test. It will also do the same for Massachusetts drivers residing in Taiwan, the ministry said.

Massachusetts has also entered into license reciprocity agreements with South Korea and France, Judi Riley, a spokeswoman for MassDOT, told NBC News in an email.

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In recent years, Taiwan has signed similar agreements in other parts of the world, including with countries in Asia, Europe, and Central and South America. In the U.S., Pennsylvania was the last state before Massachusetts to grant reciprocity with Taiwan for driver's licenses, the ministry said. Taiwan's government hopes other U.S. states will follow suit.

For Owen Chen, a 22-year-old musician born in Taiwan who is studying music performance at New York University, an international driver's permit is good enough for now. Many countries encourage their citizens to apply for that permit since it verifies in several languages that the holder has a valid foreign license.

While you can still drive in New York State with a foreign driver's license, the law requires such motorists to apply for a state-issued one within 30 days of becoming a New York resident, according to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles website. Unlike Massachusetts — which allows citizens of certain countries who are 18 to drive for up to one year with a foreign license — New York does not have a reciprocity agreement with Taiwan.

"I don't think I need a license here," Chen, who has a Taiwanese driver's license, told NBC News. "It's not necessary because I take the subway to travel to school, so I don't need a car."

Chen, who drove a mini-van in Taipei, Taiwan's traffic-choked capital, said he keeps his international driver's permit handy in case he has to fill in for a friend while on a road trip.

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For Chen, sitting for and passing a driving test in the U.S. is not nearly as important as the experience a motorist gains while driving on the road, he said. Chen added that getting behind the wheel in Taiwan, where motor vehicle rules are often similar to those in America, was what made him more comfortable and confident.

"If I had two years experience, I think it's not necessary for another exam," he said. "An exam costs money."

LIke many Taiwanese, Hsu, a stay-at-home mom, spent a month in driving school on the island preparing for her road test, which she passed on the first try. But in 2008, when Hsu moved from New York to Fremont, California, she had to take a written and road test to receive her state license.

Image: Motorists ride to work on a bridge during morning rush hour in Taipei, Taiwan
Motorists ride to work on a bridge during morning rush hour in Taipei, Taiwan March 14, 2016. TYRONE SIU / Reuters

Hsu faced challenges that were different from when she took her driving exam back home. For one thing, there was no closed course like in Taiwan, where candidates are tested on everything from parallel parking to backing up while turning.

"You don't know where you're going because someone is telling you to go left and right," she added.

Hsu said, however, that in her view Taiwanese shouldn't automatically be given a state license just because they have one from Taiwan.

"I think they should at least take the written test because every state has different rules," she said.

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