Getting a Driver's License
January 23, 2012 9:36 AM   Subscribe

Adult (26) getting a driver's license for the first time. How should I do it?

I've managed to go my entire life without getting a driver's license, and been pretty happy about the decision. However, as I prepare to move from Washington, DC to Richmond, VA, I'm ready to admit it's time.

What's the process, as an adult, for getting a driver's license? Right now I have a state-issued ID from North Carolina, and my girlfriend and I are buying a car from her sister in late March.

Should I get a license in DC? VA? NC? Do I need to get a permit first? Car insurance? How much does this tend to vary state-to-state?

I know how to drive, and I plan to ask a few friends if they'd let me get some practice with them. Do I need a permit for that first?
posted by Vhanudux to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The rules vary wildly state-to-state, but it is almost certainly true that a) you will need some sort of license/permit if you are going to be behind the wheel on public streets, and b) legally, wherever you live will require you to get a license from that state within some short time frame (60 days or whatever) -- you should thus probably wait until you move and then get the license in your new state, because it's expensive in each new state. I'd say that c) insurance is the most variable, as some states insure the driver and some states insure the car (to oversimplify it), so that one you will have to look into more carefully.
posted by brainmouse at 9:39 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's the VA DMV site.

If you are age 19 or older and you have never held a license issued by any state, U.S. territory or foreign country, you must hold a learner's permit for a minimum of 30 days. However, the permit may be held less than 30 days if you complete a state approved driver training course while holding the permit.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 9:41 AM on January 23, 2012

Best answer: Some of this totally depends on the state you're going to get it in.

Steps for Getting a Driver's License in DC
Steps for Getting a Driver's License in VA

Both require a learner's permit before you can take the driving test.

And yes, you need a permit to drive anyone's car. In michigan, you also need to have a already licensed person in the car with you. You can't drive on your own. So you might want to look into that too.
posted by royalsong at 9:42 AM on January 23, 2012

Also, here in Michigan, the driver must prove they can back up with a 90 degree turn and parallel park or they automatically fail the test. We also have to answer two questions: If it looks like you're going to hit someone else, what do you do? (swerve to the right) and if it looks like you are going to hit something, what should you aim for? (Something soft, like bushes vs something like a tree).

So look into the DC or VA requirements for passing the test too.
posted by royalsong at 9:50 AM on January 23, 2012

Industrial and commercial parks are empty on weekends and are good places to practice without many other cars around. You can take a couple boxes to stand in for other cars and work on your parallel parking, too.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:57 AM on January 23, 2012

As a 28 year old getting my first license in IL, the process was:

a) go to DMV and get learners permit
b) take driving lessons until good enough to pass driving test
c) take drivers test enough times to pass (took me two tries)

I would recommend that you not skip step b. The instructors will make sure that you meet all the legal requirements for driving as a learner, and will also be able to determine if you have the ability to pass the final drivers test.
posted by baniak at 10:00 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I should also mention that the lessons I took were paid lessons, not lessons from friends or family. Driving instructors are (hopefully) professional drivers, and they know the rules of the road, and they know the ins and outs of the area where you are driving in, including taking you to streets around the area that teach you a lot about driving - windy streets, streets with interesting challenges, etc.

Driving around in a parking lot is all well and good, but it doesn't teach you the essentials of driving in traffic - how to perform a left turn when there is oncoming traffic, how to react at 4-way stop signs when there is traffic, etc.

Driving instructors also have cars specially equipped to get you out of trouble - i.e. they have a brake on their side, and that can help save your ass if you make a beginners mistake. Also, having a driving instructor yell at you for doing something stupid is a lot less painful than having a loved one yell at you.
posted by baniak at 10:07 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

1. Get the permit/license in the state you will be living in. Yes, you need one before you start driving--or at least, should you crash the car, the cops will be asking you about that permit. Yes, I did that. If you do permit-free driving, stick to someone else's private property in the country or something, not public roads.

2. Get their DMV handbook, practically memorize it. Use flash cards if necessary. Where I live had excellent resources with practice tests and YouTube videos and apps-- I don't know if that would help since you don't live in CA, but I found them helpful anyway.

3. Note that real life driver's logic is NOT the same as DMV logic. Just memorize the questions by rote, do NOT try to logic them out, 'cause I failed many a test that way. For example, "you must drive at the same speed as the other drivers on the freeway or else you cause traffic problems" is something that comes up. Along with "the speed limit is 65, period." Don't try to logic it out as "If everyone around me is going 75, then I'd better go 75" and mark that on the test.

4. Save all of your test notes and the like in case you end up having to take the permit test again. For example, due to budget cuts, it took me several months to be able to book driving test appointments. I failed my first driving test and then my permit ran out, so I had to start the process all over again.

5. The picture they take of you for the permit may end up being your driver's license pic, so dress accordingly.

6. Driving school fucked me up for years. I hate driving school and don't trust them to deal with new/scared drivers worth shit, so keep that in mind that I am biased with this answer. You're paying for 6 expensive hours and you're still going to need a lot of practice with a reliable licensed driver who's willing to teach you anyway, so rely on finding the right person to learn form rather than "driving school will learn me." You need someone who is calm and not inclined to yelling, because the last thing you need is someone screaming at you while you're already in a state of panic and in charge of tons of car.

7. Don't learn from your girlfriend. It will harm your relationship.

8. Take a long time to learn to drive. This is NOT a fast process. Start out slow and gentle. It should probably take you at least 6 months to a year to get in the swing of things, if you are able to frequently practice. (It took me about 2.5 years to finally "really" get a license, but I did not have the frequent ability to practice.) Work your way up to the freeway driving. Work your way up to bad weather or night driving.

9. Do not take the driving test until you are super calm while driving. DMV test people red flag you if you are conspicuously nervous on the test--happened to me, other folks have told me it happened to them too. They'd rather fail you now than let a super nervous driver on the road, so they're more likely to nitpick you.

Here's the level of calm you want before you take the test: if you accidentally do something bad while driving that used to freak you out, but you calmly correct it and move on and are relatively unfazed. You want to be in a state of tranquility when driving regularly.

Related links I had bookmarked:
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:04 PM on January 23, 2012

Here's something that caught me by surprise as an adult license-getter:

Insurance! I'm not sure how much this varies from state to state, but you will pay a big premium on your insurance for the first three years you have a license. In California I found that some companies wouldn't cover me at all (State Farm, Allstate) and once I found one that would, my premium was almost double what it was after I passed the three year mark. I didn't end up buying a car for awhile after I had my license, so the pain was lessened by that much time.

Beware that many online auto insurance quotes (or actual in person agents) will either not ask for the date that you were first licensed or infer the information from your DOB (age - 16) .. but once the policy gets underwritten they ask and the price is adjusted accordingly.
posted by everybody polka at 7:21 PM on January 23, 2012

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