Help me pass my road test mefi!
April 26, 2009 3:45 PM   Subscribe

Help me pass my road test on Wednesday this time around.

The last time I took my road test was sometime last summer. I failed because I drove straight into the first set of cones when trying to parallel park. I had a panic attack right before the test because the person taking me to my road test, had gotten lost on the way there and would not ask anybody for directions how to get there, and it was in the middle of nowhere! Note, I parked perfectly the three times I tried parallel parking the day before. I've never driven straight into a pair of cones before the test, EVER.

This time around, I'm trying to not have an anxiety attack but I keep thinking about how I failed the first time around, so that's not helping me right now.

I'm trying to get some practice time in, but I get criticized by the method [the way my instructor that I did my required 6 hours in NJ taught me how to parallel park.] I'm trying to parallel park by the person who's taking me out to practice. I don't even get practice driving on the roads, just parallel parking [and even that's not happening!]. I like to think that I am a decent driver, I follow signs, the speed limit, and practice in pro-active driving whenever I actually DRIVE on the road.

So I'm looking up to you mefi users; help me pass my road test this time around, tips to how to parallel park [or on/about the road test in general!] without having someone chastise me the way I'm parking with, will be loved and put into good use [hopefully].

Bonus points for tips to get rid of my anxiety/fear of failing the test this time around!
posted by QueenHawkeye to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I failed my driving test 2 times before I successfully completed it. One time I was this >< close to hitting another car. They had to swerve to avoid me. I know at the time I felt like I was the ONLY person in the world who hadn't nailed it first time out.

It sounds like whoever is taking you out to practice is criticizing your parallel parking method. If this is true, it can't be helping. Can you politely ask that person to just let you practice with commentary or criticism? If you learned a method that usually works for you, then probably just need to try a few more times to get comfortable.

Parallel parking (and driving in general) is something you pretty much learn by doing. When I was learning to drive a manual, I finally just had to tell my then bf to shut up and let me figure it out. The running commentary of "do this, no that, no a little more this" was NOT helpful.

It also sounds like your test day was pretty stressful. If possible, make sure you know where you are going for the test, give yourself plenty of time, lots of rest and a good meal beforehand, etc. I know some of that can be tough when you are depending on some one else to get you there.

Best of luck!
posted by jeoc at 3:54 PM on April 26, 2009

Do you remember the route the test goes? Or does anyone else? I practiced the actual route several times before the test, which really helped.
posted by radioamy at 4:03 PM on April 26, 2009

I failed my first test. My driving instructor recommended that I take some mild pain killers (like paracetemol) beforehand, as she said it takes the edge off a little. I ignored this advice, and then also became slightly panicked when the tester had to start making up the route in the middle as a truck was blocking the usual route.

The next time, I took the painkillers and passed.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:15 PM on April 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

No advice, cause I can't really parallel park that well now (driving a big ol' station wagon doesn't help), but just some support. I didn't learn how to drive until I was 29 due to a severe phobia, and I passed the road test. Of course, I found a location that didn't make you parallel park, but your state may vary. Just try not to freak out about it beforehand. If you find yourself visualizing negative outcomes, change that and visualize yourself parallel parking perfectly. If you know you can be a good driver, take confidence in that. The road testers also gauge your confidence level with the car. Take your time and don't try to get it done fast, just follow what your instructor taught you and you'll be fine.

Also, you can parallel park under stress. I was pulling into a party, had to parallel park, and it was behind a coworker and his wife who were watching me do it. Totally stressed that I would hit their car, I did it perfectly, and got compliments on my ability. Just remember the steps your instructor taught you.
posted by twiggy32 at 4:16 PM on April 26, 2009

Ok, I guess that was advice after all. Best of luck, and remember, it's just simple geometry.
posted by twiggy32 at 4:18 PM on April 26, 2009

First off, try not to worry between now and then. (Easier said than done, of course.) As I'm sure you know, anxiety will not help your performance. Do something non-stressful and fun Tuesday night, something that you know will make you feel calmer. Visualize passing the test. What helps you in general with worries?

Second, with driving tests, a lot will depend on who your examiner is, where you take the test, etc. I got my license in NJ at 17 (in 1996), and I *ran off the road* (no, really) during the test, but they still passed me. I did the on road in Rahway, I think, where there aren't any other cars (it's a track), so nothing much to worry about, other than the required things. I also even hit the cones a little parallel parking (to this day, I do not like to parallel park and will do almost anything to avoid it, because it makes me so anxious -- and I have a VW Golf, not exactly a big car). They still passed me. If i can pass, anyone can! I also know lots of my classmates at the time did not do a spectacular job parallel parking, but if you followed the form correctly (pull up to the driver's side door equivalent on the right, turn the wheel all the way, pull back at that angle, turn the wheel all the way the other way, back up the rest of the way in, straighten wheel) and didn't actually run the cones over, and had no other faults they were counting during the rest of the test, they would pass you anyway. No speeding, do the hill parking correctly, signal at the right times, stop fully at the stop signs, etc.

Lots of nice calm breaths. (Breathe from your abdomen, not your chest.) Remember to look and signal to pull away after parking on the hill, and, unlike me, turn the wheel *back* towards the road before driving so that you too don't have to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting the edge of the course!

Best of luck to you! You can do it!
posted by lysimache at 4:48 PM on April 26, 2009

Here's some parallel parking advice, passed on to me from my mom (who prides herself on her parallel parking abilities); of course this assumes that you start one full car-length in front of the space into which you want to pull (in other words, your rear bumper should be next to the rear bumper of the car in front of the spot you're trying for):

1. Reverse halfway into the spot, with your steering wheel turned toward the curb
2. Once your rear wheels have almost (but not quite) hit the curb, STOP COMPLETELY
3. With your brakes on, turn your steering wheel as far away from the curb as you can
4. Resume moving in reverse, until you have well and fully claimed your spot

Now, while in theory this technique will work pretty darned reliably, in practice I must admit that I find it works best when nobody is staring at me ... no matter how good you are at it, parallel arking really IS challenging to when someone is judging you! As such I think the advice above about relaxing is very, very important, too - but in case you needed some 'technical' advice as well, well, here ya go. Good luck and I hope you update to let us know how it goes!
posted by DingoMutt at 5:03 PM on April 26, 2009

Okay, here's some advice, and it's not about your driving: find a different practice/take-you-to-the-test buddy.

When my father would take me to practice for getting my license, I was a mess, a wreck. He criticized me, and even when he didn't, I was afraid he was going to. As a result I'd get nervous, and do stupid things, like pull out in front of oncoming traffic that was way too close, because i was afraid he was going to criticize me for waiting. Stupid stuff like that.

One day, he has me drive myself, him and my mom to a store, and when we get there, there's only one spot of parallel parking on a busy street. He tells me to park. I pull ahead of the spot, but traffic's heavy, and cars squeeze next to me so there's no way I can back up without hitting it. He starts yelling at me to go anyway. I finally hit my limit, throw the car in park, and get out and walk away. While he's fuming in the store later, my mother tells me that he's the reason she never got a license -- and that in fact she got out and walked away in the middle of a busy intersection while waiting to make a left turn because he wouldn't stop yelling at her. Like mother like son, in this case.

So I found other people to get my practice time with, and ended up passing the test without a problem. After two years (and four accidents!) I finally hunkered down and became a good driver. But I digress.

Fast-forward around ten, twelve years -- I haven't driven with him in all that time -- and I'm a confident, reasonably skilled driver. Then I have to drive him somewhere, and immediately I'm nervous, and almost get us into a big accident, less than a block from picking him up. The whole trip I was a wreck.

In short: it sounds like, as with me, you're being sabotaged by your practice partner, whomever they are. Get a new one, and if you can't, sign up for a school with trained instructors. You need to be calm and focused behind the wheel, whether you're testing for your license or just driving to the store and back. Make sure the person(s) in the car with you don't prevent it.
posted by davejay at 3:51 AM on April 27, 2009

Oh, and: as casually as people in the US take driving, you'd do well to take a lesson from certain european countries and get a lot more training than is required. After all, unless you use a firearm it's unlikely you'll do anything more dangerous to yourself or others than driving a car. Taking it seriously and getting trained so that maneuvering the car is second nature BEFORE taking it to the streets will help you in the short term -- otherwise, you're learning to control the car AND deal with traffic and pedestrians and laws and so on, at the same time. Risky business, that.

Finally: this to help you realize that parallel parking a car isn't the hardest thing you could be doing.
posted by davejay at 3:57 AM on April 27, 2009

I would not take drugs to pass a driving test. You can't be certain that you'll have those drugs when a real-life driving scenario occurs.

Practice until you have the skill. (And getting lost on the way to the driving place isn't a great sign- part of driving competence is knowing *where* you are aiming the car, not just how to aim it.)

My advice would be to take another driving course from an instructor.

Parallel parking is hard because it is different from the majority of driving we do. It's an instant shift from controlling the momentum of the car to a precision geometry exercise, backwards.

But. It's not that hard. What you have to do is visualize the whole scene, and what the wheels are doing. When you are going forward, the front wheels (in essence) "drag" the rear wheels in the direction of the turn. But in reverse, the front wheels "push" the rears. When you are parallel parking, visualise the car and the spot you are trying to get into from above. Don't get caught up in the "left is right and right is left" rule of going in reverse- that's an abstraction. Visualize what the car is actually doing when you turn the steering wheel- when I turn it this way, the wheels pivot that way. So, you pull up in line with the forward car- parallel to it and lined up with it. Throw it in reverse, and picture the lines the wheels will take. You want the rear wheels to go backwards for a moment, then pivot toward the curb and proceed so that they end up next to the curb and in line with the wheels of the car behind you. To start the process, you point the front wheels "out" so that the rear of the car pitches into the spot. During the process, you adjust the direction of the front wheels so that as the rear tires are getting toward their desired position, the front of the car slips right into the spot. The front wheels are making a sort of a lazy 'S' pattern, and the rear wheels are making an even lazier one. In fact, picture the path of the car's rear right wheel almost like an N. You see a spot, stop next to it and make sure the car can fit. In that position, the right side of your car forms the left side of the N. Now, you pull forward, and your rear, right tire goes up that leg. Now, as you are pulling into the spot, you want that tire to follow the diagonal of the N. Once you are in, the right side of your car forms the right leg of the N.

(A good way to practice is to find an empty parking lot where the parking spaces are marked and square. Pull into a spot, as if you had backed into it. Then, try to back into the spot behind you and next to you. Heck, get an experienced driver to do that, and watch what the cars wheels are doing while they do it. )

(Do not take the advice of whoever said to stop the car in the middle of the maneuver and turn the wheels- this ruins tires and suspension parts. The car should always be moving, albeit quite slowly, when you are turning the steering wheel.)
posted by gjc at 6:08 AM on April 27, 2009

Practice the test several times. Have someone go out with you, and act like an examiner; they should take notes and give directions, but otherwise not comment. Even if it's not the test route, it will help.
posted by theora55 at 8:40 AM on April 27, 2009

Thanks for all the tips guys!

I got to practice for a bit on Sunday night, with my mom [who has no idea how to parallel park anymore] so she couldn't really give me any tips & suggestions.

I'm also having a driving instructor take me to the road test, and I get to practice for a bit before the test. Hopefully my nerves will calm down before then! I promise to update tomorrow if I pass or not!
posted by QueenHawkeye at 6:03 PM on April 28, 2009

I'd just like to update to say that I passed :D
posted by QueenHawkeye at 1:31 PM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

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