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January 26, 2006

I Got My US Driver's License

Today I got my US Driver’s License.  I know, I should be so proud of myself.  And in many ways I am.  I learnt a lot, the safe following distances for different driving conditions, the “four-second rule” and, most importantl, that one must give way to a train at railway tracks (I couldn’t have made that up if I’d tried).  However, in terms of actually passing the test, I don’t feel proud of that at all, in fact quite disappointed.  Being the competitive type, I had looked forward to getting tested, to see how well I could score.  Silly me.  I thought this was all about me, but of course it wasn’t. 

The test takes place in a DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) office, and consists of three parts: vision test, knowledge test and driving skills test.  I arrived half an hour early for my appointment so I had plenty of time to do all the paperwork first.  When my name was called for the first test I jumped up and rushed over.  The visual test involved holding what was like some huge goggles up to your face and peering inside them.  There were a number of rows of letters “inside” the goggles.  I as asked to read one row.  I did.  Then there were flashing lights in my peripheral vision and I was asked where I saw the lights.  I identified that I saw them on both sides.  I was asked to go back and sit down.

That was it.  No reading rows of letters which became gradually smaller.  No depth-of-vision testing.  No identification of colours.  I was disappointed, but hoped that the next test would be a better chance for me to prove my capability to be a good driver.

After a very short wait I was called up for the knowledge test.  I was shown a computer screen on which I would select the correct answer for 16 questions.  My computer screen was actually back-to-back with another computer screen, which meant that the other candidate and I were facing each other as we selected our answers.  There was no-one supervising us.  He was having a particularly difficult time with the questions and it would have been unbelievably easy for me to whisper some answers to him.  We were not even in a separate room, we were surrounded by the noise and activities of the DMV.  In fact, when Jeremy went to the bathroom he had to walk right by me.  He asked me what I was doing and I said “I’m doing my test – go away!”

I tapped the screen and began my test.  The guy opposite me was starting to really sweat so I thought it must be very hard.  The first question was, ““If you would like to pass a car in front of you, what should you do?  A – speed up  B – slow down  C – wait for the car in front of you to signal  D – Signal”.  Well, that was easy.  The second question was “Which of the following is correct: A – you don’t have to wear a seatbelt if you have airbags  B – seatbelts are dangerous because they keep you from being safely thrown from the car C – if you have a lap seatbelt you don’t have to wear the shoulder seatbelt  D – you should always wear a seatbelt”.  Another easy one.  Maybe I’m getting lucky because the guy opposite me is starting to look around him and curse under his breath.  The third question was “What do you have to do at a stop sign?: A – slow down  B – stop only if there is traffic in the intersection C – be ready to stop C – come to a complete stop.” 

At this point I wondered if I had been given the right test.  In fact, two of the questions I had been given were the exact same questions on the sample test on the DMV website.  Maybe the guy opposite me had asked for the test in the wrong language?  How could he be having difficulty with this? 

I worked through each question, waiting for the trick question they obviously were setting me up for.  Suddenly the program exited the test.  Hang on, what’s going on here?  I’m sure I haven’t answered 16 questions yet.  A message box appeared on the screen “You have answered 12 questions correctly, please wait for the DMV officer.”  What?  What about  my 4 remaining questions?  Can I only do the minimum required to pass?  Don't you want to see if I get 100% (because I do!)  As I was waiting the guy opposite me suddenly hit the screen and then walked over to the officer.  After he complained there was something wrong with the computer as it had just shut itself down, the officer explained that it had done that as he had answered 5 questions incorrectly (I’m really not sure he got it in the right language).

Without even a “Well done, you got them all right!” I was asked to sit down and wait for my driving test.  “This part will be hard” I thought to myself.  I mean, obviously they didn’t really test you much on the vision and knowledge test because the driving test will reveal everything.  I sat back down with Jeremy (who was shocked I was already done) and waited eagerly for the big one.

After 10 minutes I was called up and greeted by a gruff looking man with “Which side of the road do you usually drive on?”  After my reply he looked whimsically back at his desk before heading out the door. 

We headed outside and he checked my side indicators and brake lights worked berfore we got in (I could almost see his lips whispering prayers under his breath).  As I started up the engine he pointed out all the possible dangers around me in an urgent tone - the pedestrian walking through the parking lot, the SUV pulling in beside me, the passing traffic.  "Wow, this is easy" I thought to myself.  "I don't even need to think, he's doing it all for me!"  As we pulled out to the street he made sure he mentioned the stop sign dead ahead, and as we drove into town he tried to calm himself, whoops I mean myself, with some casual conversation.  We stuck to right turns, don't want to get crazy now do we, and stayed far behind a school bus, just in case.  I did a three-point turn in a wide street with no traffic, and we headed back.  My one left-turn was coming up, so my instructor, whoops I mean tester, told me when to wait and when to go.  Even parking back in the parking lot he made sure I didn't get too close to any other cars, and I just slowly rolled around until I found an easy spot to park in.  He scribbled on a piece of paper and circled "Pass", and we headed inside. 

Wow.  I couldn't believe it.  It was all over.  I didn't have to do anything!  I didn't realise all I had to do was just sit in the car and do what the instructor told me.   I thought I had to actually think for myself.  Silly me. 

See, most people think that when you do the driving test it’s actually testing how well you drive.  They’re all wrong.  It’s actually to test the mettle of the tester, see, to see how long before he craps his pants sitting in a car driven by a native of a left-side driving country.  Don’t worry about making sure if you’re clear to turn left across on-coming traffic.  He’ll tell you when to go, and when to stop too.  If there’s a stop sign coming up, he’ll mention it to you so you don’t kill him.  I wasn't being tested at all.  I was testing him, see, to make sure he was a good tester.  Which he was.  I’m an okay driver too, which he’ll never know, as I didn’t have to make a single decision on my own.  And because I didn’t drive more than 10 minutes. 

Wow, after just 1 hour, including probably 30 minutes of waiting, it was all over!  It was that easy!  And here was I thinking I had to know speed limits and safe following distances.  Hah!  All I had to say was “I’m Australian – do you want to die today?”


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