So what if I'm 5 years late for a rite of passage?
August 25, 2009 10:04 AM   Subscribe

How should I prepare for getting my driver's license?

I've decided it's high time I get my driver's license. I'm getting my permit in under a month, and the real deal 30 days after that. So help me:

* What should I do between now and my permit test (and the period from there to my license test) to get ready?

* List off anything that would help me drive better, both in a technical (driving the thing) and legal (not getting arrested) sense.

* And lastly, what sort of cars should I look at?

(For legal context, I'll be 21 when taking the test and live in Louisville ,KY with some crossover into southern Indiana)
posted by ConstantineXVI to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Practice! For your permit, study the driver handbook they give you at the DMV. They often like to ask arcane questions like "how many feet before an intersection can you cross into the bike lane when making a right turn?" You're usually allowed to miss enough questions that not knowing this kind of thing is not a huge deal, but you need to know enough of the details that you're not missing a whole slew. I've never done it in KY, but if it's like any other state, the permit test is not a big deal as long as you've actually read the materials. There are usually practice questions line for most states too.

In terms of the test itself, go to wherever the DMV is and drive around like you're actually taking the test. Get used to the roads nearby and the conditions. You didn't say how much driving experience you actually have (if any), so it's hard to give much in terms of advice. If you feel shaky, you could sign up for one or more lessons at a driving school. The instructors will know the DMV test in your area and can basically give you a practice test on the same roads. You could do one refresher lesson for not that much money if you want, or a longer course of lessons if you haven't had as much driving experience. Good luck!
posted by zachlipton at 10:11 AM on August 25, 2009

Practice driving as much as possible, in as many different conditions as possible. So go to crowded places where you have to find parking spots and not hit people darting out from between cars.

Also, spend some time screwing around in a nice empty parking lot, one without those little islands and parking spot bumpers. (Churches are the #1 place in my neighborhood, but grocery stores are good too.) Try wheeling around in the car so you can get a feel for how it cooperates with sudden stops, fast turns, etc. Learn how the car reacts to things. (If you can do this when the weather gets shitty, even better.)

As for cars, I love Honda Civics.
posted by sperose at 10:13 AM on August 25, 2009

The biggest deal with the driving test is remembering that it's not

- tricky
- about being a "good driver"
- except how good driving is essentially following every single rule of the road.

I had a friend who failed a driving test by driving above the posted speed limit. I had another friend who was instructed to make a left turn just past a "keep right" sign and thought hte instructor was trying to psyche her out and she just kept driving. I almost failed my test because I was taking it on a stick shift car and I wasn't so great with the clutch. The best thing you can do is practice driving in the car you'll be taking the test in. Learn to parallel park, stop and start on a hill, drive while checking your mirrors, follow road signs, know how fast to go if there aren't signs, and do all the stuff like buckling your seatbelt etc.

The car question is totally separate. What do you need a car for? DO you need a car? Can you drive stick? How much money do you have? My general rule of thumb is to get a car you can mostly afford, not go into debt for a car, keep it maintained decently and drive it until the wheel fall of, then repeat. If you have specifics you are looking for in a car, please let us know them.
posted by jessamyn at 10:15 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Take a driving course. Get the driver manual, fully read it. ALWAYS be aware of your surroundings. Always signal, make sure you know how to parallel park. Learn some of the basics of maintenance, such as checking/filling tire pressure, checking oil/coolant/washer levels. Find a good mechanic for anything more severe. Get a cheap car as your first, should be cheaper on insurance.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 10:16 AM on August 25, 2009

Always completely stop before a stop sign, then creep forward until you can actually see any traffic in the cross street, then go.

Sure, in the real world most people slow down, roll past the sign, look for cars and then either go (if there's no traffic) or stop completely a few feet beyond the sign to where they can actually see traffic, but during your test they want you to obey the rules, no matter how silly.

I took a friend for his test (in MA you need a sponsor, or at least you used to) and told him this rule but I left out the "then creep forward part." So he stopped before the sign, didn't look, and then drove right across the cross street. Fortunately there was no traffic. The DMV cop administering the test scolded him for it but still let him pass. There's no way in hell this kid should have passed since his first time behind the wheel of a car was on the way to the test.

Practice 3-point turns and parallel parking. For some reason this is key to being a safe driver.
posted by bondcliff at 10:27 AM on August 25, 2009

Seconding taking a driving course. I just went through the whole process in Illinois except I'm sixteen. I got my permit when I was 15, took a driving class, and then a year and a couple months later took my licensing test. In Illinois I had to get 50 hours of driving time before they'd let me get my license. Honestly, without that much time behind the wheel I would not have felt comfortable taking the test.

A couple tips:

Make sure you don't drive to far below the speed limit. An older person who took the driving test ahead of me failed because she was only going 30 or so when the speed limit was 45. That shows that you're not comfortable driving.

Practice parking. It's harder than it looks, and you definitely will have to do it on your test.

Make sure you know how your car works. You're going to have to be able to put on the headlights, turn signals and possibly the air conditiong or windshield wipers before you start the car. It won't look good if you can't do some of those.

At least in Illinois the written test was really easy and there weren't really any super specific questions, but that was after taking a month long class so maybe I'm biased.

Don't stress out if you don't pass the test the first time, you can always take it again, no big deal.

Feel free to memail me if you want more details.
posted by kylej at 10:31 AM on August 25, 2009


When parking up on a hill, you turn the wheel away from the curb and put on the parking break. (remember up up and away!) This got asked on my test and most of my friends'.
posted by kylej at 10:32 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd drive on the permit for at least 3 months. You need to be comfortable driving in the area where they do the driver's tests. Talk to friends who have taken the test in your area for what the routine is, and practice that.

Know the driver's handbook inside and out. My insane driver's ed teacher had us take practice tests daily with all kinds of trivia for months, and that really stuck. eg. 15MPH in an alley!

And as for cars, get something used. My first car was $25,000 new 9 years ago and I just had to put a new engine ($5000) in it. Shoulda just got a used car and done the same thing if & when it needed it, the new engine woulda been free.
posted by @troy at 10:39 AM on August 25, 2009

Practice at night and practice on a highway. Remember that "merge" does not mean "stop first." When the time comes, practice in snow, sleet, or ice - perhaps with a friend, in their car, in a parking lot.

Of course, that's a big "perhaps."
posted by jgirl at 10:40 AM on August 25, 2009

Look where you want the car to go. Don't look where you don't want the car to go. You will tend to drift towards whatever you're looking at.

For example, if you are driving on a super twisty mountain road with a 1000ft drop off to the side, look at the center line of the road and not the imminent death off the side of the road.

Also, once you get your license, try an autocross event with a friend. You'll get tons of confidence in what you and your car can and can't do. Read up on the prep work required on your car to make sure it's safe. You'll also need to wear a motorcycle helmet.
posted by Diddly at 11:24 AM on August 25, 2009

Hey, LouKY here.

Pretty much seconding what everyone else says.

I highly recommend ABC driving school. Worth it.

Louisville and Indiana specific issues - Without knowing what area you will be in, it's hard to say. KY police have been more laid back in my experience - BEWARE WHEN CROSSING INTO IN. Especially via I-64. The IN police do NOT SCREW AROUND, and there are many speed traps. That being said, just don't be a lone speeder and you should be OK - but as you are just starting out, you really shouldn't be speeding anyways.

Avoid the Gene Snyder expressway if possible while you are starting out - Not only do people generally drive crazy on it, the surface is really unpredictable, and gets very slippery very quickly. I STILL don't drive it unless I absolutely have to. The IN side of 265 is better.

Cherokee park is a good place to learn how to take curves. It will be intimidating. Take it slow. ABC will probably make you drive through it...but it has a slow enough speed limit that you will be fine. Just be mindful of others.

Getting the permit is cake, but there are some gotchas with the license test. Be aware that while your test area will look like a one lane road (They are seriously tiny lanes) that it's possible to be in the left "lane" without realizing it, which is an instant fail. The lanes are not marked. This has not only caught me, but several people I know. Look for surprise crosswalks. Everyone is scared to death of parallel parking- Learn how to do it in ONE CAR - The one you will use for your test.

As far as cars go here: You are old enough that the insurance hit won't suck too much, but get a insurance quote for everything before you consider it - KY has notoriously expensive insurance rates. Civics are always a good choice, but they go for a premium around here, and are expensive to insure. Check out the prices against and KBB, of course. There are a couple of really reputable VW shops here who can put you in one of those, if that's your thing - and insurance is cheap. Volvos used to be the first time driver car of choice, as our used market was flooded, they are cheap to insure, you can drive them through a brick wall, and we had a great shop which has unfortunately fallen from it's greatness... I wouldn't worry about it too much, as long as you can buy from a reputable person or place - GET IT INSPECTED if it's private party unless you just get it for so cheap that you don't care.

One thing to keep in mind is that if you learn how to drive on a larger car, you can easily drive a smaller one later. Harder to go the other way around.

DO NOT BUY a used car from around UofL, Germantown, or the South End unless you are 100% sure that it has not suffered flood damage. Period.

Good luck, and if you let me know specifically what areas you want to be in, I can give you some better advice.
posted by MysticMCJ at 11:27 AM on August 25, 2009

i've found that the written test is generally geared to a 16 year old. so don't skip reading about the penalties for underage drinking and any curfews and such just because you're old enough that they don't apply to you.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:27 AM on August 25, 2009

Can't stress this enough - hire a professional driving instructor, and have him/her give you several lessons.

Also, make sure you get some highway time as part of your lessons. A lot of driving schools just don't bother with that part, and you will need to get the hang of highway driving, as well.
posted by Citrus at 11:43 AM on August 25, 2009

I'd also recommend figuring out what the driving test is like in your area. In mine we just drove on a neighboring road and an industrial park, parked, and that was it. I didn't have to parallel park, but you might have too.
posted by kylej at 12:08 PM on August 25, 2009

In Illinois I had to get 50 hours of driving time before they'd let me get my license. Honestly, without that much time behind the wheel I would not have felt comfortable taking the test.

Yes, this. If you really want to get your license 30 days after getting your learning permit, you had better plan on fitting in a LOT of practice time.

The driver's training course I took included 4 hours of behind the wheel instruction; it was valuable, but a mere four hours was nowhere near enough practice for me. Not even close. You will need access to a car and a very patient licensed driver who can accompany you, for a lot of hours. Good luck.
posted by trunk muffins at 2:28 PM on August 25, 2009

Hiring a driving instructor was very valuable for me, because the guy was very no-nonsense, unflappable.

My dad gave good advice when I was just starting out. I was constantly overwhelmed because I didn't know what I could ignore, so there were too many things to keep track of. If you feel this way, remember that you can mostly ignore the people behind you. Yes, you can see them in your mirrors, but you don't need to continually pay attention to them. You only need to know where they are if you're going to change lanes. So: focus on what's in front of you, not what's in the mirrors, for a start. Gradually it will become easier to keep tabs on the people in the lanes next to you and behind.

Remember your blind spots when changing lanes, and the correct ways to check the blind spots to be sure you're not merging into another car.

Slow down for yellow on your driver's test, unless it would be dangerous to do so because you're going so fast. Even if normally you might try to make the light, slow and stop during the test.

Foot on brake, buckle your seatbelt, check/adjust mirrors, ignition, remove parking brake. That's your startup sequence for the driver's test. Don't hit the ignition without having your seatbelt on, don't try to drive off with the parking brake on.

As to the paper driver's test: The ones I've taken were 1/3 common sense, 1/3 things like "how many feet from a fire hydrant can you park, how far back from a school bus must you stop", and 1/3 questions about alcohol and criminal penalties for different offenses. So: you should memorize the factoids about how many glasses of wine are equivalent to how many shots to how many beers. Know the legal BAC, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:19 PM on August 25, 2009

Get a driver training guide from your local DMV and study the heck out of it. Get some sort of driver training if you can afford it and ask a friend or family member (as trunk muffins said above) who is patient and willing to spend a lot of time with you to take you out for practice on a regular basis. Get your license when you're comfortable driving, which might not necessarily be the date you're hoping for. Also, the person you're practicing with will likely need to be an experienced driver (with X number of years of driving under their belt). Be an observant passenger. Before I got my permit, as a passenger, I didn't really pay attention to what other drivers were doing.

Take some time when you get in a car you've never driven and figure out where everything is before you set off. Practice in all kinds of weather and on all kinds of roads. Spend a lot of time practicing parking. Learn to park on hills. Learn how to change lanes and merge. Learn how to back up. Always know who has the right-of-way. And learn how to drive at night.

On preview, LobsterMitten makes a good about the permit test questions. The first time around, I neglected to remember stuff like that and failed.

Good luck!
posted by futureisunwritten at 3:46 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Find some people (sadly, you may have to ask teenage relatives of adults you may know) who have taken the drivers test recently. Ask if they still have copies of their written tests. I know in CA at least they let you take the copy home. There are usually only a few different versions.

Also find out what the exact driving route is, and practice it a few times right before the test.
posted by radioamy at 4:57 PM on August 25, 2009

You asked for what kind of car you should look for. I recommend "cheap and used", and offer this slideshow as evidence.
Corollary to the "cheap and used" theory, make friends with a mechanic and get a Haynes manual for your cheap used car. If you can do your own maintenance and repair, you'll save a lot in the long run.
posted by leapfrog at 8:28 AM on August 26, 2009

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