learning to drive on somewhat short notice
January 11, 2013 10:58 PM   Subscribe

I took an internship without realizing it required me to drive. The folks who interviewed and hired me assumed I knew how, only after I'd moved across the country and started work did they discover I didn't. My position won't require me to drive for the next couple of months, and my supervisor is confident I can get a license before then (she is also willing to give me lessons). I'm a little skeptical - is it reasonable to think I can learn to drive and get a license in this span of time?

I'm from Pennsylvania and the internship is in San Francisco, so I'll be getting a California license. The actual driving required by my job doesn't involve city traffic, but it does involve driving a pickup truck within the Presidio. I'm 23 and first drove a car this past summer, for a total of 2 hours over a couple lessons. I think I know the CA law/signs stuff well enough to pass the written test, and I'm getting my learner's permit next week.

Any pro-tips or encouragement would be appreciated, or warnings of bureaucratic traps to watch for in getting a license in a new state.
posted by DoktorFaustus to Travel & Transportation (42 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can make appointments online through the DMV website. Do so! It will save you a tremendous amount of time.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:07 PM on January 11, 2013

Yes, it is reasonable to think you can learn to drive in a very short time.
posted by The World Famous at 11:19 PM on January 11, 2013 [9 favorites]

Yes, I definitely think you can do it, as long as you practice every day!
posted by Joh at 11:29 PM on January 11, 2013

In theory, it's totally possible. It totally depends on how much time and (possibly) money you can put into it. Caveat: I can't drive a pickup truck. Manuals (stick shifts) are harder to learn than automatics, because it's just another thing on top of all the stuff about paying close attention to your own speed, road position, traffic lights/signs, and what other cars/pedestrians/bikes are doing.

If your supervisor is a naturally good teacher it will be faster and more pleasant. You should get some professional lessons too though, either way. It's *really* important to learn some 'defensive driving' skills and a non-professional probably won't teach you those (in fact, neither will a lot of professional driving instructors). Driving teachers vary a lot. I went through at least 3 or 4.
posted by 8k at 11:31 PM on January 11, 2013

If you can avoid texting or making phone calls while driving, you're already better than half the people on the road.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:32 PM on January 11, 2013 [12 favorites]

The main hitch to you getting a license might be more about proving you're eligible for one and less about learning to drive (which I'm sure you can do as well as any 16 year old).

You should make sure that you have original copies of all the proper documentation now. When I got my first license in Louisiana, I needed my original birth certificate, various other pieces of paperwork I forget, and also proof that I had resided in the state of Louisiana for a certain amount of time. When I changed my license from Louisiana to New York, I again had to supply piles of ID and documentation. I anticipate further piles of documentation when I get around to changing my license to California, now that I live here.

If you don't have all the documents California requires, you should start getting them now.

I'm sure you'll be able to learn to drive. I'm not sure you really need to seek the counsel of three or four driving instructors in addition to your boss. A few hours with one might not be a bad idea, just in case there's something your boss is forgetting or you don't mesh well in that particular relationship (teaching someone to drive can be pretty intense).

I learned to drive in a minivan and drove SUVs and trucks pretty easily as a teenager. I don't think driving a pickup will be a problem, especially if you learn in a larger vehicle. That said, if the pickup has a manual transmission, that might make life more complicated.
posted by Sara C. at 11:39 PM on January 11, 2013

You'll be fine. Also, the Presidio is basically a lovely park with a few high-traffic roads but mostly pretty deserted ones. And yes, make an appointment at the DMV to save time.
posted by judith at 11:40 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I learned to drive (manual) in about that amount of time, with four lessons or so a week. But DO NOT take lessons from your supervisor. OMG no. That is asking for another metafilter question about how you crashed the car (worse: your supervisor's car) with your supervisor in it and injured them, and now they want to fire you, and what are the legal ramifications, and also whose insurance pays?

Or best case scenario, a lot of awkwardness where you feel super stressed about learning something not-really-job-related in a situation where your professional competence might be judged.
posted by lollusc at 11:44 PM on January 11, 2013 [20 favorites]

My driver's ed course was a week long and I got an hour a day at the wheel, which not only made me completely qualified as far as the state was concerned but got me a fairly good discount on my insurance. On my first day of driving he took me across the local expressway, which was six lanes wide each direction going roughly a million miles an hour.

Now, I wouldn't have you go out driving in a severe rainstorm or massive snowfall with a few hours behind the wheel but you'll probably be fine for tooling around San Francisco (which doesn't have much in the way of severe weather, save fog, but you'll be terrified driving in thick fog anyway so you'll be driving slow which is what you should do).

Definitely do check what paperwork you need, though, I remember California being a pain.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:52 PM on January 11, 2013

You're going to need to read and memorize some weird stuff from the CA handbook to pass the written exam. My husband had been driving ten years when we moved to CA and nearly failed the written test, and he's a great driver. You can't miss many questions to fail, and they ask you stuff you wouldn't know by merit of being able to drive. For example, maybe you don't smoke so you don't care or know about whether you can smoke with a minor in the car, even if it's your own kid -- but it's usually on the test. You might not drive a motorcycle, but you'll need to know laws related to it. You might not drive an electric, but you need to know what it would mean for blind pedestrians if you did. You may not have kids, but you need to know what age children MUST ride in the back, when there are exceptions, and how old a kid can be before leaving them unattended in a car.

Parallel parking is on the CA driving test as well, and roads in San Fran can be confusing (I think of them as hydras, each road turning into three more). If you feel comfortable driving before you take the test, that's probably going to go okay.

For most people in CA, the written test is the hard part. But I've usually gotten 100% on it (weird stuff sticks in my head) and I've failed the driving exam three times and still have not gotten a license. To be fair, I don't think I'm a good driver (only started learning at 26) but my driving instructor and my husband both thought I would pass and others have told me I've had bad luck with getting hardasses to grade my tests. So I honestly don't know what to think about how easy it is to get a CA license, but I can tell you they are generally very strict. I found failing three times too discouraging to try again even though I probably should, but maybe you're a better driver and/or will get reasonable graders.
posted by Nattie at 12:13 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think I know the CA law/signs stuff well enough to pass the written test

Unless you studied the drivers' handbook, you probably don't.
posted by ryanrs at 12:25 AM on January 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Take the test at the Daly City or San Mateo DMV, not SF.
posted by animalrainbow at 12:28 AM on January 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yep, you can do it.

If you cherish your job and want your supervisor to always be nice, do not take lessons from your supervisor. Take professional lessons. Take lots of them. You will never regret it.

I found learning easier once I understood the mechanics of geared engines.
posted by Kerasia at 12:28 AM on January 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

And parallel parking is NOT on the CA driving test (I've taken it recently.) It's worth hiring an instructor to get inside info about the test like that.
posted by animalrainbow at 12:30 AM on January 12, 2013

Get professional lessons.
posted by jbenben at 1:02 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

IANA California DMV expert, but I got a CA drivers license about a year ago (I had a license from another state, though, so I didn't have to take the driving test, just the written test).

First, the written test is somewhat tricky, so definitely study, especially thins like what different color curbs mean, how many feet you have to stop, and the details your instructor won't necessarily teach you. They seem to recycle questions, though, so if you can get access to other people who have recently taken their driving test and still have copies of the exam it's worth looking at.

Second, I don't remember the identification requirement being that awful (and I was even changing my name from my other license). IIRC, I just needed my license and passport. I'm sure you can look online for the requirements, but I would guess it wouldn't be that bad if you have a passport already.

Finally, again I don't remember all the details, but I think you may need to show proof of insurance to get the license. Will you be insured through your internship or get your own? will they reimburse you if you have to get your own. It's something worth thinking about, especially since California car insurance (or at least car insurance in LA) is not cheap.

Good luck!
posted by McPuppington the Third at 2:29 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't worry! You'll be able to learn how to drive quickly. The first day after I got my learner's permit, my dad took me to do circles around an empty parking lot. The second day, he had me drive on normal suburban streets then made me drive for a few hours on a 2 lane country highway where where cars going the other direction were whizzing at me with probably less than a foot to spare.

The biggest part about driving, I find, is all about confidence. Learning how to steer and press pedals and observing traffic rules are the easy parts.
posted by astapasta24 at 3:59 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Learning to control the vehicle takes almost no time. Passing the written test and navigating the DMV will probably be harder.

But I would suggest learning with someone who is experienced with teaching drivers. If your supervisor is, great. It is MUCH easier to learn to drive from someone who knows how to teach.
posted by gjc at 4:44 AM on January 12, 2013

I think I know the CA law/signs stuff well enough to pass the written test

Yeah, I went into my first written test with that assumption. I failed.

I posted this thread before my road test. There were some awesome suggestions in there and I passed with no issues.
posted by futureisunwritten at 4:48 AM on January 12, 2013

Study the driver's manual available at the DMV.

Don't take lessons from your supervisor.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:07 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine did a one week intensive driving course (in the UK) about 10 years ago, starting on the Monday morning, sitting the test on the Friday afternoon. He passed the test but went straight home and slept for 48 hours. So yes, it can definitely be done.
posted by humph at 5:17 AM on January 12, 2013

pay for a driving instructor, they'll be used to teaching people to drive, and have a car (and maybe insurance?) to use.
posted by TheAdamist at 6:42 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you were really dedicated, you could learn to fly an airplane in that amount of time. Driving a car should be no problem.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 7:09 AM on January 12, 2013

You can do it. But don't take lessons from your boss. Get a professional to teach you.

Don't take lessons from your boss. Contact DMV for a handbook and spend a few minutes each day getting to know stuff. The devil is in the details.

Don't take lessons from your boss. Get a professional to teach you. You will need a car in which to take the driver's test, so ask for a course that will provide one for you.

In case I forgot to mention it, don't take lessons from your boss. Okay, you can, but wait until after you get your license.
posted by mule98J at 7:42 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

You could probably learn to drive in a weekend if you really needed to. A couple months to learn how to operate a car and you should be fine.

I can't emphasize enough the advice above to NOT learn from your boss. My dad and I were not compatible when it came to teaching me to drive. I usually ended up crying and he ended up yelling (and I'm not a crier and he is not a yeller). Whereas my mom was fine, I learned easily from her. This is not an experience you share with your boss.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:57 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, and that written test is harder than you think it is going to be. It isn't a common sense test, it is a "How many feet before a turn do you use your turn signal? 50 feet? 60 feet? 75 feet?" kind of test. So yeah, study.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:59 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

If this pickup is a manual (pickups don't universally have manual transmissions), learn on a manual if you can. (However, people assume people can't/don't drive stick, so if they haven't told you that already, it's probably an automatic.) It's probably better to just learn to drive with shifting included than to be a new driver and suddenly have to worry about shifting. That hour or whatever you'll spend stalling in a parking lot is really frustrating, but then it's done with. (I managed to not stall on my first try and then proceeded to stall like fifteen times in a row.)

The documentation requirements boil down (for most people anyway) to a passport or a birth certificate (unless you happen to have a military ID). The phone numbers for requesting a copy of your birth certificate for various states are below.

Finally, again I don't remember all the details, but I think you may need to show proof of insurance to get the license.

You have to show the car you're taking the test in is insured, which is distinct from you having insurance. (There's no requirement that you be listed as a driver on the policy of any car to have a license.)
posted by hoyland at 8:01 AM on January 12, 2013

Yes, you can. Especially if it doesn't even require city driving (SF @ rush hour can be hairy). Practice often in the Presidio with the truck, so you are comfortable with its dimensions.
posted by honey badger at 8:08 AM on January 12, 2013

Yep, you can do it!

I learned the mechanics of driving over the course of 20hrs of drivetime. It took me about 2wks of studying the driver's manual to feel confident in also understanding the less obvious rules and laws and trusting my recall for the test.

Driving challenges that require practice and focus, in order of difficulty, from my perspective:
1. Merging onto the freeway - analysing and matching speed without losing confidence is really important.
2. Parallel parking - processing a calculus problem while other cars are trying to do their thing around you really is kind of difficult...but practice makes perfect and it becomes loads easier.
3. Proper turns - turning into the correct lane when turning from a corner or intersection isn't always as intuitive as it may seem.

Manual was waaaaaay easier than I'd assumed. I'd had a few experiences in automatics before I actually learned to drive on a manual, and I felt foolish for having previously determined I'd never drive a stick.
posted by batmonkey at 8:50 AM on January 12, 2013

FWIW I was 15 when I earned my Driver's Ed Certificate (at that time in Michigan my high school offered free Driver's Ed classes during the summer months; the difference between a Driver's Ed cert and standard Learner's Permit was that instead of just any licensed driver in the front seat, I had to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.) Anyway, my Dad, it turns out, loved to travel but hated to drive (no wonder he used to be so cranky on our family vacations when I was a kid). The minute I had my Certificate he let me take over the driving for our summer vacation that year, as he sat blissfully in the passenger seat, commenting on the scenery and futzing with the radio once in a while. We drove from Detroit to northern Michigan on that trip, and that included some very foggy rural roads as well as busy interstates along the way. Mom was in the back seat worrying herself to death the entire way - "George, she's only a kid! Look at this traffic! You should take over..." and Dad just sighed in road-trip contentment, fascinated by such trivial things as burned-out barns and odd little downtown areas that he'd never been able to really see when he was the driver and told her "She's got to learn some time. She's doing fine. Just relax."

Obviously we made it back home safely, and I passed my road test a few months later with flying colors. So being thrown in head-first, so to speak, was probably a good education, especially with a passenger-mentor who always assured me I was doing OK. So I think you'll be just fine. After a few good driving experiences as you're learning you'll feel more confident and will eventually be able to relax a bit behind the wheel.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:41 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

My experience with written tests - when I last changed states I went in to take the drivers test cold. The questions I failed where all about how far away from someone must you dim your brights (I always assumed it was farther than it was) and what were the penalties for drunk driving (getting impaled on a steering column was not one of the options). These very precise how bad can you be about this before you're actually breaking the law type questions and which way should you cut your wheels when parking on a hill are tough to do cold but if you make a little study sheet with the 20 or so numbers of this sort that are in the rules of the road book they put out and read it once a day you will be absolutely fine on the written test.

For the actual driving test - in my experience, these are done on actual streets. It probably behooves you to do a little scouting of where the various offices do their testing and pick the one with the least insane traffic and be a little familiar with the surrounding streets.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:50 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you decide to learn on your own (or with your boss), the best place to practice driving in the Bay Area is at Point Richmond, along the Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline. Open road, few people, long straight-aways, parking lots, etc. It's here.

It's totally possible to learn in that amount of time.
posted by guster4lovers at 11:03 AM on January 12, 2013

You can absolutely learn how to drive in this amount of time!

A few things to note:

Yes, you should study for the written test, but I think people are going overboard in how hard it is. My only studying was literally reading through the manual/sample test questions while taking the bus to the DMV, and I was totally fine. Your memorization skills may vary, but really, they're not choosing from a super enormous bank of questions. (To me, the weirdest was what way to turn your wheels on a hill, because I grew up/learned to drive in a totally flat place...hill parking was totally non-intuitive to me!)

You do not need to be insured to get a licence - I am not. I use Zipcar or rental cars occasionally, and get the insurance they provide when I do, but I do not carry a separate policy.

Try to take a test in a less-busy suburb...tends to be an easier driving test and also less in the way of lines, etc.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:13 AM on January 12, 2013

The Presidio is beautiful and super easy to drive around compared to the city. Parking is easy, there aren't any truly evil hills, traffic is light, and most of the roads are wide.

Take a driver's ed course which will make you more able to be aware simultaneously of your vehicle and the things around you.
posted by zippy at 11:18 AM on January 12, 2013

I recently switched my license back to CA and they required a written exam. There are some weird questions! Go to the DMV and get the handbook, and do all the practice tests/tutorials on the website.

I doubt it's required for people over 18, but I would still recommend doing your first 6 hours or whatever with a professional teacher.

In CA you can legally use your cell phone while using a "hands free" device (bluetooth headset) but I really would recommend having a personal "no phone" policy period when you're in the car.
posted by radioamy at 11:43 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Driving schools do intensive with new drivers who are older ALL THE TIME! Call a driving school and do at least three and preferably five lessons with them before working with friends or with your supervisor. It'll be a really worthwhile investment, I promise.

Good luck!
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:14 PM on January 12, 2013

My fiance got his CA drivers license last year. There is no more parallel parking requirement but you do need to pull up to the curb and reverse in a straight line parallel to the curb.

He has test anxiety so it took him a while to feel prepared and even though he is a good driver he was upset that he "barely" passed the driving part. He got 100% on the written with much studying and quizzing.

If you are good at taking tests, just read and re-read the drivers handbook. It is available as a pdf on the DMV website. Definitely make an appointment. It saves a lot of time.
posted by amapolaroja at 3:53 PM on January 12, 2013

I learned to drive at 26 years old, and paying for four private lessons with a driving instructor (who showed up with a car with brakes on the passenger side as well) was the best thing I ever did. I learned to drive in two weeks, learned be a really good driver in a month. My driving test was a breeze and I was driving my car on my own the next day.
posted by crunchysalty at 7:13 PM on January 12, 2013

I nth getting the assistance from a professional. At the very least have a driving instructor show you the ropes for the test... s/he should be able to take you on the route for the driving portion of the exam.
posted by oceano at 10:06 PM on January 12, 2013

Emphasizing to please please please not take the test in SF. Go to Daly city or San Mateo (where I did if and where it was easy) but the city itself is a nightmare
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 12:19 AM on January 13, 2013

Matildatakesovertheworld comment about taking the test in San Mateo is exactly what I mean about insane traffic in the testing area. It's hard enough to drive in an urban area without the added bonus of test anxiety.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:44 AM on January 13, 2013

I recommend asking the company to pay for a driving course. Can you use their truck to take the exam? Also, talk to them about insurance, as you have no car and no coverage. Driving well enough to pass the exam with an automatic transmission is absolutely do-able. A manual transmission would be more challenging on the SF hills, so you'd need more practice.
posted by theora55 at 4:49 PM on January 13, 2013

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