I need to get my driver's license
January 3, 2011 1:30 PM   Subscribe

I'm twenty-seven years old and I need to get my rear in gear and get my driver's license.

I am starting to become unhappy with my car-pooling situation into work, and the best solution to that is to drive myself.

I live in Michigan. I have taken and passed the written examination over five times. But when it comes to that actual driving test, I get freaked out, tell myself I need more practice and in the end.. my temporary license expires and I put it out of my mind for six months.

A few years ago I had a private instructor go through the motions of taking the actual test. Michigan requires that the driver pull up to within two feet of a intersection line (that solid white line in front of the crosswalk), from there you back up; making a 90° turn into a garage/driveway, and then pull out of the garage/driveway and parallel park.

This part of the test has plagued me every time I think about taking it. I have especially hard time judging the distance of my car to imaginary lines. When I took the practice test, all he used was polls and traffic cones. I don't seem to have any problems judging distance when I'm on the road.

I play video games, my hand-eye coordination and my understanding of my place in the space surrounding me is great.. so it's possible I'm just psyching myself out of this. I think driving a car is scary stuff, a great burden and responsibility, and even though I am 27, I feel as though I'm not ready.

Mefites, Did you have an especially hard time passing your driving test? Did you do anything to help you get mentally prepared for it? Do you have an suggestions for me or anecdotes to share?
posted by royalsong to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
How many times can you take the actual driving test? If the answer is "as many times as you want until you pass it," just think of each time you take the test as practice for the next time you take the test. Let yourself get freaked out and just take the test anyway, and fail if that's the only option. Eventually it will become old hat and you will just pass it.
posted by not_on_display at 1:34 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was like you! I'm twenty-five, so we're not that far apart. The only thing that made me get over the crushing fear was that my mom made me drive everywhere we went - in NY, driving with a permit means having a licensed driver in the car. She was very patient with me and did not care that I drove overcautiously and extremely slow. Do you have anyone like that that will let you be their chauffeur for a while?

I still don't have my license, I ended up getting a job in a bike and mass transit friendly area and moving. But during the time when I felt I needed to drive, it was just forcing myself/being forced to drive all the time that made me into a good driver. Also, I insisted that the car be completely silent, no talking or music, when I was behind the wheel, so all of my attention was on the road. That was also beneficial.
posted by troika at 1:40 PM on January 3, 2011

Failing the driving test isn't the end of the world, at least in California. I failed it the first time - heck, I failed it horrendously, because I was really nervous and ran both a stop sign and a red light!

But I waited the required 12 weeks and then took it again, and I passed despite some more minor errors. In fact, when I took it the guy was so rushed that he didn't even test me on backing up or parallel parking, which I was extra-nervous about.

My advice is (a) practice practice practice - drive as much as is allowed on your temporary license, and (b) take the test. If you fail, cope in whatever way you have to, wait the required period, and take it again.

I don't want to say, "get over your anxiety", because it occurs to me that maybe your problem is deeper than just regular new driver anxiety? Have you done things like scheduled the test and then backed out at the last second because you were too psyched out? This could be something that you need to talk to a therapist or psychiatrist about.
posted by muddgirl at 1:41 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I didn't drive until my mid 20s. i was just like you - i felt it was a huge responsibility, that i wasn't ready - i was faced with a situation of "learn to drive right now and double your pay or lose your job." as far as motivation goes, it was perfect.

i can't parallel park. i tried and tried and tried when practicing. just couldn't. went and did my test, tried to parallel park twice, couldn't, the instructor had me continue on, i passed everything else and walked out with my license. so - i guess my suggestion is, do you actually know that if you fail the parallel parking part that you'll fail the whole test? because if not - just go, realizing you'll mess that part up and don't let it screw with your head.

remember this - we're in the minority as far as thinking driving is a great responsibility. when i was getting my license, they retested an elderly gentleman who turned on his hazards while trying to reverse, pulled in wrong, and looked generally confused - then when it was time for him to get his picture, he walked up and turned towards the screen instead of the camera - his wife turned him around and it took 4 tries to get an actual picture of him. no one seemed concerned. he walked out as a licensed driver. chances are, you will too.

finally - i can't express to you how much my life and i changed upon learning to drive. you don't realize all the ways it's hampering you, all the ways it's subtly controlling your life. i think you can do this and i think you'll be so much happier once you do.
posted by nadawi at 1:41 PM on January 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

I passed when I was 16, so my advice might not be what you're looking for, but I'd definitely recommend getting some orange cones at Home Depot (or substitute that with old lawnchairs), have someone drive you out to a sprawling parking lot, and spend time practicing while they go inside and shop. It shouldn't take long for you to get confident about the dimensions of the car. This might not be possible at Wal-Mart or malls due to security patrols, but it should be easily doable at Home Depot or Lowes on a weekday.
posted by crapmatic at 1:42 PM on January 3, 2011

You have nothing to lose except whatever it costs for the test. You don't have your license today and you will not have it tomorrow if you do nothing. If you take the test and don't pass, you're no worse off. However, if you take the test and pass, you have a license!

Several years ago I sponsored a buddy for his test. Back then in MA you needed a sponsor with a car to take your test. His first time behind the wheel of a car was on the way to take the test. During the test he went through a stop sign, stopped short and swore at another driver, and did a few other really obviously-wrong things, yet he still passed. So much of it depends on the person giving the test and what sort of day they're having.

And no matter what else you do, always come to a complete stop before a stop sign, then creep out until you can see the intersection.

Good luck!
posted by bondcliff at 1:44 PM on January 3, 2011

What helped me prepare: Well, I failed the first time I took it because I was nervous and because I had developed some bad habits, so I took a lesson and made sure all my weaknesses were fixed, and then I passed easily. Having done the test already made it much less scary. Maybe you should just suck it up and do it? Even if you fail you'll be better off, because it will no longer be this scary unknown thing.

P.S. they never even asked me to parallel park. I practiced it so much and we just skipped it.

P.P.S. Almost every new driver struggles with spatial awareness while doing slow maneouvres like parking. You're not alone in freaking out about this. Also, the bar for passing this portion of the test is likely lower than you imagine; a slight mistakes will not lead to an instant fail.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:45 PM on January 3, 2011

Permit me to suggest what I have chosen to name the "Dambuster Method". The Dam Busters were able to maintain an accurate height above the water on approach to the dams by watching for the convergence of two spotlights (see this link). Similarly, whilst reversing a motor vehicle or indeed conducting any such similar manouever, it is possible to determine the precise rate of turn you are achieving by first finding a reference point in a window. Typically this would be a point on the kerb (that thing immediately between the sidewalk and the road, I'm not sure if Americans use the same term for it as we British do) as viewed across the bonnet of the vehicle or likewise through a rear window.

As you begin the manouever and follow through the turn, that intersection of kerb and window/bonnet should remain at the same point in the window. If it climbs upward (in a reverse), you are turning too sharply and decreasing your distance to the kerb, whilst conversely if it moves downwards you are not applying enough turn. Maintain awareness of your surroundings however, and do not become fixated upon this alignment, lest you make a perfectly co-ordinated turn into a pedestrian. Which would be most unfortunate.
posted by dougrayrankin at 1:47 PM on January 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Hire the private instructor to give you a practice test right before your real test. Like, he gives you the practice test and then he takes you to the DMV. Then all you have to do is what you already did, just minutes earlier.

You could also call around and see if any instructors do the practice test in real conditions rather than on a course with cones. Where I come from, they did it on the actual same streets that the real test was on, so it was literally the exact same test, with the only exceptions being the usual variables. But I'm not sure if that's possible where you are.
posted by lampoil at 2:08 PM on January 3, 2011

I failed my first test, I was so nervous, I almost wrecked the car and the tester yelled at me. The second time was better, I flubbed some stuff and was passed anyway. I worked on my attitude for the second test and tried to be very upbeat and positive. He didn't even ask me to parallel park, which was my nemesis. Funny thing is, I never ever have to parallel park in the real world.

My sister failed her first test, she yelled at the tester and threw him out of the car! For her second test we dressed her up very sweetly, including a high pony tail with a big pink ribbon. I told her no matter what, she could not yell at the examiner. I figured she could get some points for being cute, which she did. She screwed up a bunch of stuff but passed. The tester thought she was adorable, but told her she needed to work on her driving.

For the second time for both my sister and me we went to the "easier" testing place in much smaller towns. We practiced there before hand. I also took a number of lessons from a professional teacher on real roads.

I also drove everywhere after I failed my first test. I was the designated family driver. Same thing for my sister. It really helped with confidence. My mother sat in the back and just ignored everything and didn't yell. I practiced over and over again, by myself in a parking lot. I got to the point I was driving without a license (which I do not recommend), but I was 15 living in a small town and every kid did it.

I have a diagnosed anxiety disorder. I have been driving for 40 years, I have never had an accident. I drive 50 miles or more a day. I cannot parallel park.

Attitude helps. If you can work on confidence the examiner may take minor errors in stride.

Currently, I know of people who fail over and over. A lama I know (complete with saffron robes) failed 5 times. He drove for many years in India on mountain roads, but could not pass the test here. He finally passed!! And for years I thought people were driving him everywhere because he was a Buddhist monk and did not have a car!
posted by wandering_not_lost at 2:23 PM on January 3, 2011

I learned to drive when I was 16 and then took a 25-year hiatus from driving. One of the reasons I didn't drive was that I have very poor depth perception (in my case, probably the result of amblyopia in childhood) and the first time I learned to drive I was rubbish at it.

When I went back to driving, I took lots of private instruction with a driving school that catered to adult learners and re-learners. I spelled out my issues with depth perception very clearly to the instructor. He was super helpful and gave me all kinds of hacks and tricks to help me estimate how to manage things like parallel parking. I recommend being frank about your limitations and concerns.

Good luck!
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:45 PM on January 3, 2011

If nerves are the issue, enter the test without any expectation of passing. If there is no expectation, there can be nothing to concern yourself with. Consider it simply another lesson.

When you return after the test, rejoice in your entirely unexpected success before returning home for debriefing and cacktails!

Suggested music to accompany said cacktails.
posted by dougrayrankin at 3:00 PM on January 3, 2011

if it helps you any with the fact that you feel awkward about the distance of the car from 'imaginary' lines, i think a lot of people feel this way. i have a friend who can drive fine,but can't pull in between parking lot lines to save her life. i think i do alright,but every now and then, i just totally mess it up. everybody does.

and for parallel parking, oy, no amount of explanation could parse that out for me. i did it a bunch of times badly (with cones, etc.) and then one time, it just snapped and i understood what all the diagrams had been trying to show me. to me, the scary thing about pp is that you have to position your car in such a way that you really feel you're going to hit the car in front. and then, you don't. it is a weird feeling, i think.

the other thing is that everybody feels a little weirded out, spatially, when driving an unfamiliar car. i even get discombobulated when my husband has been driving my car (the size is all the same but every alteration to seat and mirror position makes it feel just a little different). right now, if you're practicing with different people in different cars, you'll feel that way in every car (unless you're practicing on the same one over and over). so just think of now as the most uncomfortable you'll ever be and it'll get better. this also is a suggestion that if possible, get a tutor (whether it's a friend, instructor, whatever) whose car you can borrow for practice and then also use on the test.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 3:01 PM on January 3, 2011

Tandem Affinity makes a really good point about using a car you're familiar with for the test. I failed a test in my brother's car because I was so not used to it! Again, a driving school can help you; many driving schools provide both a car and a "sponsor" (i.e., the instructor) for the test.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:21 PM on January 3, 2011

I didn't learn to drive until I was in my mid-20s and I had to do it fastfastfast to land a job that required me to have a car and be able to drive it. I was terrified and through a series of in retrospect hilarious instances of bad luck, ended up seriously traumatized by having to drive on a notoriously terrible road into a blinding sunset in a mass of crazy traffic.
The way I saved my sanity is this. I realized, and then kept repeating to myself as a mantra: moron 16-year-olds can do this.

You'll be fine. Turns out, driving is so fun.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:35 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

In the UK, we don't have driver's ed - you have to learn privately once you turn 17, and insurance is expensive, and we're not as car-oriented as the US. So a lot of people here learn to drive later. My colleague passed her test at 35, and that involved two attempts and sacking her instructor at one point. It's not too late!
posted by mippy at 4:11 PM on January 3, 2011

I posted this question last spring. I went for my road test the first time when I was 18. The examiner yelled at me and I failed within the first ten minutes. I finally got my license in May at 31. I got the same driving examiner I had the first time around (who didn't yell at me or make me cry and was actually really nice). I bought a car a couple of months later and drive tons for work every single day. Looking back, I wonder what all the fuss was about. For over a decade, driving was this big huge thing that I didn't think I could conquer and now it's a part of my everyday life. I just kept telling myself what CunningLinguist says above: if hordes of idiot teenagers can pass this thing, so can I.
posted by futureisunwritten at 5:25 PM on January 3, 2011

I'm in the same boat as you. I'm 26 and license-less despite years of wanting to conquer my fear. This is gonna be the year I take my drivers license test. that's my goal: taking the test. I'm not putting pressure on myself to pass or be the perfect, expert driver. I just wanna take this dang test that has caused me so much anxiety. Try to focus on just taking the exam, not the what-ifs of what could happen. We really have nothing to lose at this point!
posted by rainygrl716 at 7:31 PM on January 3, 2011

I'm 32 and I just got my license a month ago yesterday. I flunked the first test within about 20 seconds, passed with only missing 3 points on the second try. I lost track of how many times I took the written permit test since I was 16.

Who do you practice driving with, and how often? Is it someone who is a chill personality? Do you have someone to regularly work with?

In my case, I was a freaking nervous driver who thought she was gonna kill everyone if I screwed up, so I think a big part of it is just getting over that fear factor. By uh...well, practicing until you are calm behind the wheel. Some days you will have good driving/parking days and some days you will not, but what's important is that you eventually NOT FREAK THE HELL OUT if you screw up the parking or nearly hit someone on the freeway or something. My instructor had me do a 4-hour (one way) road trip up into the mountains and back because she thought driving for a long duration would get me used to things, so that's an idea for you.

Here's two ideas for test taking:
(a) Accept and tell yourself that this is going to take awhile. You may need to take the driving test a bunch of times (I used to have a friend who passed on try #4). Save your written permit tests and study materials so that you can take the permit test again and again if you have to. Tell yourself that you can keep taking the driving test over and over again until you know what you're doing. Really, as long as you don't go all Keystone Kop and constantly screw up, AND avoid the auto-fails, AND hopefully you don't have a biker drive out in front of you like my ex-friend had during her test, you can eventually make it. Take the test thinking that you are doing this for practice, to learn how the exam goes. Don't go into it thinking MUST PASS ON FIRST TRY. After flunking immediately (and then, long story short, I had to wait 8 months to take the test again), I decided that okay, fine, it was going to take me SEVEN tries at the test, and if I passed before then, awesome, but I wasn't going to put that expectation on myself. (It probably didn't help that my permit was about a week from running out by the time I could schedule the first test. It takes 2-3 months to get one in CA.)

(b) The theory of my driving instructor (passed on her 2nd try, she had a phobia originally too) is that if you go into the test and are conspicuously nervous, the tester will look for reasons to fail you because they're not overly comfortable with you being on the road yet. I thought this sounded kind of strange, but I've told that to some other people and they told me they had similar things happen to them. When I took test #2, I was completely freaking calm when I drove, all the time. I wasn't bothered or fazed by whatever the guy was going to tell me to do, I wasn't terrified of the other drivers. My new theory is that you shouldn't schedule the test until you've got a peaceful feeling when you're behind the wheel. THEN you'll do okay.

Good luck!
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:03 PM on January 3, 2011

First off: yes, driving is a significant responsibility. You are driving an enormous hunk of metal around that can kill you and other people if handled inappropriately. You are extremely justified in that view, and I applaud you for it. That said:

I took the Michigan driving test. I had to take it on very short notice(20 minutes!) in a minivan because the Tercel (a seriously tiny car) I was supposed to drive was so old it didn't have a passenger-side mirror. You are supposed to do things like back into a parallel parking spot in one motion. Impossible to do in a minivan, at least as a sixteen year old. I had no freaking clue where the front or back of that thing was.

but. It turns out that the crucial thing about the MI test is that you have points to lose, but that the thing that kills you is adjustments. Go up to each part of the test and stop. DO NOT ADJUST. Every adjustment loses you a point, and you only have six to lose. When I realized this, it was kind of freeing. I could be not perfect and pass! Six boundary encroachments (when you cross a line and also lose a point) are a lot. I just checked the guide, and the rules have not changed- pages 13 and 14.

Example. this is roughly what I did(turns out memories are fuzzy after 10 years):

1) drive up the the line. I didn't come close to the line. One point off.

2) Back in. One motion and stop. Made it, but one corner (or maybe more?)went over on the way in. One or two points off.

3) out and back in to parallel. In and STOP. Drastically out of the space. Back passenger corner over the line. 2 points off.

total points off: 4 or 5, with 6 allowed. Passed the range. Passed the driving part fine. Went on to drive my tiny car (and eventually, many enormous vehicles)for years without incident, in fact, I still do.

If you are still nervous, find a friend with a Yaris or Fit or something similarly tiny. Drive around in it a bit, and realize how small and maneuverable it is. Since there is no hood to speak of, you can practically see the line and the bumper. Parking spaces and other things feel like the Grand Canyon. With a case of beer or other similar bribe, borrow the car and the friend to take the test with. Pass. Feel better about self.

Drive happily. Look out for bikes. And pedestrians. And don't talk on the phone while driving. Ever.
posted by rockindata at 8:18 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older I suspect this trip would be much easier if we...   |   Why did she tell me she was raped? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.