Will I ever get my license?
June 7, 2014 6:46 PM   Subscribe

I've failed my US road test (in NH) -- twice! The first time, six months ago, I messed up in a roundabout, missing my exit because I couldn't find the street the examiner wanted me to take, and slowing down too much while looking for it. I didn't have a chance to to take the test again till last week, and had very little driving practice in the intervening time.

Once again, the roundabout got the better of me, indirectly. I didn't check for traffic to yield, and when the examiner pointed that out, I got so flummoxed that I cruised through a stop sign -- an instant fail. I'm usually an overly cautious driver, so running a stop sign was super uncharacteristic of me.

I'm extremely dejected and depressed about this. I'm 29, and feel like a loser for not being able to do what almost every 16 year old can. If I fail my third test, my learner's privileges get revoked and I need to attend a court hearing or something. I really do not want it to come to that!

I think my main issue is that I have trouble keeping track of too many things at once, especially in town squares where the tests tend to be. My instinct is to slow down, hesitate, and take a moment to process it all. I'm a bit dreamy and distractible in general, which doesn't help. I'm fine on the highway and country roads where things are more predictable, and I actually enjoy driving then, but roundabouts and confusing intersections send me into panic mode. Besides just getting more practice before my third try, what can I do? Are there video games that will help become a better driver? Mindfulness or medication techniques to keep me alert?
posted by redlines to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The key isn't a video game, the key is replicating the real life experience of driving in the area where you're not comfortable, with someone else giving you directions and taking note of all of your actions.

1) Get lots of practice with someone in the car with you.

2) Practice in the area near the DMV. Know that area like the back of your hand. Try all of the roundabouts (getting off at different streets), turn right and left at various stop signs, practice parking. Know that area.

3) Do a trial run with someone new - another friend or relative. Have them sit quietly in the front, making small talk, maybe with a clipboard. Have them direct you around. Again, this should be in the area near the DMV if possible, or with similar road conditions. Replicate the conditions.

4) Practice more.

5) Become conscious of what you're doing. Maybe practice narrating your actions or thinking about how you should handle different conditions. If you're a passenger, try to pay attention to what they're seeing, and ask them to point out various hazards and other tidbits along the way.

6) Good luck! It's not that weird to fail if you didn't practice much between the tests. The key is more practice.
posted by barnone at 7:03 PM on June 7, 2014 [9 favorites]

Get your eyes checked? If you're having to slow down that much and missing streets and signs, you might not be able to see. I need glasses to drive but not for every day life, it's not uncommon.
posted by fshgrl at 7:04 PM on June 7, 2014 [9 favorites]

Try to get as many hours as you can behind the wheel. It's pretty tough when you live alone, but maybe you can ask some of your friends to let you drive the next time they are running errands.

It's pretty common for people to fail a few times - a lot of your success is determined by how bad of a day your examiner is having. I failed three times with the same guy, it was pretty clear each time as soon as I got in the car he was going to fail me. The final time I took it I had someone that I hit it off with pretty quickly. Maybe try scheduling your test at a different time, or taking it in another town that has less traffic and easier roads.
posted by grizzly at 7:06 PM on June 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Try driving the route that the DMV uses. You can even follow (at a discrete distance) someone else taking their driving test so you can familiar with the various routes that they use. Also, consider taking it in a different town that has driving conditions that suit you better.

However, in the big picture, make sure you practice the town driving/roundabouts that are giving you trouble. You want to build your instincts so you will be safe even if rattled.
posted by metahawk at 7:14 PM on June 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

nthing get practice in a real life automobile with a trustworthy human next to you. This is by far the most important thing you can do.
posted by crawltopslow at 7:20 PM on June 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yeah this isn't something you can lifehack, you just need to get better at driving. Try "adult driving lessons" in your city or state, I'd be surprised if those weren't around and even a short course may be able to help you out with city driving.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:27 PM on June 7, 2014

Have you taken any driving lessons? You can get hour-long refresher lessons that take you through similar routes and guide you through the tricky parts. Well worth the $50!

I've had my learner's permit for nearly 10 years, always been a little anxious behind the wheel in thr city since it is more complicated and parking is scary. Took two lessons with a well reviewed instructor, and practiced a bit with a friend's car I did the exam with. Passed quite easily, and I've been complimented on my parallel parking (which, thanks to my instructor, is anxiety-free and way easier than more "complicated" maneuvers), even though really, I've only done it about 10 times (but consistently well every time!).

Think about less that you're 29 (I'm 26, and still have to wait a year to get my full license where I live) and more of how many hours you have behind the wheel. Still, a GOOD instructor is well worth the money, just for the confidence building. They'll also show you tricks Uncle Joe didn't know, and tell you that Auntie Kim was telling you something illegal the entire time. They also know what the examiners want to see from you....the instructor WANTS you to pass, otherwise it is bad advertising.
posted by aggyface at 7:35 PM on June 7, 2014

Nthing driving lessons. I took Driver's Ed in summer school, which was what every early 80s kid did in my town, after a few stabs at the basics with my mom. But I was still really, really nervous. My parents got me lessons with a driving school -- they came to my house, we drove for an hour and I think after 4 lessons, I was driving on the highway, something that had terrified me before. Then, practice as much as you can, and especially around roundabouts and other things you're not used to. And yes, if you can't spot things like a driveway, parking lot entrance, or whatnot, from far back, do get your eyes checked (if only to confirm that it's not your vision but your experience). Yes, many 16-year-olds can drive, but they are likely getting practice from the day they get their permits, with mom or dad in the passenger seat. The more you practice (after working with a good driving school instructor), the more confident you will be.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 7:41 PM on June 7, 2014

Okay, first off, what is this about you'd have a COURT HEARING if you fail the test three times?! I'm looking at the NH DMV page and they don't even give out learner's permits to revoke, apparently. (Hah, I wish I'd had that in CA, mine expired so many times....)


This stuff just doesn't look like the penalties are THAT SEVERE if you fail three times. But right now, I don't think you are ready to take the test. I had it pointed out to me by a few people that if you are visibly, conspicuously NERVOUS taking the test, they'll fail you pretty quickly. They're looking for a driver to be chill behind the wheel.

You really just do need a lot more practice with driving, period. But regarding your suggestions: Meditation, yes, to help calm you down. Video games, no, they're really not at all helpful. Hell, I did a drunk driving simulator in an LA museum once and it was nigh impossible to drive that thing even on "sober" setting. Video games just don't feel and operate the same way as driving a heavy vehicle does. But doing mediation (especially before the test/driving) should help to chill you out.

I'm 29, and feel like a loser for not being able to do what almost every 16 year old can.

I was 32 when I got my license and thought the same thing. But if I could do it after years of driving phobia and one flunked driving test, you probably can too.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:58 PM on June 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lots of good tips above. Just a few quick pieces of anecdata:

My 31 year-old (at the time!) mother failed her driver's licensing exam twice in spectacular fashion, once driving blithely the wrong way up a one-way street at 30 mph while the examiner shrieked in the passenger seat, and another time driving straight through a red light.

She got her license on the third attempt (and I should note that she'd previously held a license in another state that didn't have reciprocity.

Also, when I was 17, I failed my first attempt to take the driver's practical exam. I was crestfallen. Take heart! You are so much older and wiser than my teenage self, more practice and confidence and you'll do great the next go around.
posted by arnicae at 8:00 PM on June 7, 2014

Can you try a different DMV that isn't adjacent to the pesky roundabouts? Back in the day, I had a number of friends who took their driving test at an office in a small town about forty-five minutes south of the city, where there weren't as many complicated traffic situations to deal with. (I didn't go to that much trouble, but I also failed the test the first time around.)
posted by yarntheory at 8:13 PM on June 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

2) Practice in the area near the DMV. Know that area like the back of your hand. Try all of the roundabouts (getting off at different streets), turn right and left at various stop signs, practice parking. Know that area.

This. They can't just magically teleport in roundabouts to fool you, and they're not going to have you drive a hundred miles out of your way to make sure you test in unfamiliar territory. They tend to assume you know the neighborhood. Traffic circles and roundabouts are not easy-mode driving, but once you've been around them a dozen times, off at all the exits, know where they all go, they're really much less of a big deal.

I was also a late driver, and failed my first time, and it took me a long time to try the second time because I was so freaked out by that, but really, you just need to have someone go with you to drive in that area for, say, another 8-10 total hours of practice, to the point where that other person in the car stops making any suggestions and you can pretend they're just not there.

When you get to the real driving, make sure you have a good GPS. That will free you up from worrying about wrong turns so that you can pay attention to what other cars are doing.
posted by Sequence at 9:19 PM on June 7, 2014

Also, this "very little practice in the intervening time" thing is not an okay thing. You really need to keep driving continuously from now on, however you have to manage that. I know that getting practice can be difficult, but if you've barely driven for six months, you probably aren't really doing well enough to be safe out on the roads alone. 2-3 days a week for a couple months and you'll be fine, but daily is better. Picking it back up because "it's just like riding a bike", even for bikes, doesn't actually kick in until you're a comfortable and proficient cyclist.
posted by Sequence at 9:29 PM on June 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

One thing you could do is think about it differently: not driving when you're a bit dreamy and distractable is a responsible approach to transportation. 40,000 people die every year in the United States from car crashes. Not driving a car can be a responsible approach to transportation even if you're good at focusing on driving.

You have gotten along without driving until now. Consider the possibility that you could continue on that path, not as a failure, but as a bicyclist.
posted by aniola at 11:22 PM on June 7, 2014 [6 favorites]

I was a dreamy and distractable and anxious driver, when I got my license, at 19. Within the next two years I got in, I kid you not, FIVE accidents, totaled my car three times (once into a freeway wall) and finally lost my license. I then took a bus and walked for several years, which I really should have been doing from the start, and when I got a car again the next time around (in my mid-twenties) I was a far, far better driver.

After the first major accident my parents made me take a driving class, which I passed perfectly, but didn't prevent me crashing again less than two week later. Which is to say? If you know you have trouble focusing and that you get nervous in busy areas, you need to NOT be driving in busy areas until you practice a lot more or do whatever you need to do to get your mind/body awareness where it needs to be. For me, that was age, marurity, and being less wrapped up in my head (general situational awareness). For you it could be any number of things. But I would really worry a LOT more about getting the distraction and nervousness itself under control, and a LOT less about passing the test. I am lucky to be alive.
posted by celtalitha at 12:11 AM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Driving lessons from a driving school really helped me because it wasn't my friends or family instructing me--somehow having a neutral instructor was key to getting me to focus yet be comfortable. I used the same car that I had practiced with and that also helped to keep me comfortable.

And yes, just going back and forth along the potential test routes will help to get you used to the roundabouts or other features.
posted by calgirl at 12:11 AM on June 8, 2014

I lost my license at ~ 23 years of age, due to a screwy DWI ticket stemming from an accident (this is a good long story, for another day). I finally got my license renewed last year, at 37, after years of on-again-off-again attempts to find out what happened and straighten things out.

My first attempt at passing the driving test (closed course) was a total failure. My instructor kept telling me -- urgently -- to turn right at the upcoming stop light, which was red. There was a large semi truck, used for truck testing, parked right up on the intersection and blocking the "no turn on red" sign near the light. Therefore, I failed to notice it until I was halfway through the otherwise properly executed turn. He basically flunked me right there, but still made my rattled/disappointed ass take the entire remainder of the test (this happened about 1/3 of the way through). It was stressful and humiliating, and I made several more minor mistakes before I was done.

So. I wallowed for a bit, then got really serious about practicing. I had a friend who was willing to share their vehicle, as long as I paid her in dinner, and a girlfriend (somewhat more patient than the previous one who had helped me prep for the first test) who was happy to lend additional instruction. She drilled me very well.

I also got lucky during the re-test, scoring an instructor who didn't hate her life. We hit it off reasonably well, and I felt relaxed and confident. Failure makes a big impression on me -- I'm a perfectionist -- so I managed to remember most of my errors from the first time around, and avoid them. I passed easily; it was almost fun!

My point is, try to keep a positive attitude, and redouble your practice. This will help you to avoid choking the next time around. Practice everything in your state's testing manual, with an emphasis (not too much, but some) on the roundabout system, or any other errors you've experienced in your preceding tests.

And c'mon, you're no loser; by my lights, you've got at least eight years to go, on that count.
posted by credible hulk at 12:54 AM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it's any consolation, I didn't get my drivers license until I was 20. Both my younger siblings got their licenses at 17.

You can do it. Remember, you're a human being. Remind yourself that your instructor had to take the exam at one point of his/her life, too. Hope that small pep talk helps a bit!
posted by dubious_dude at 4:33 AM on June 8, 2014

You need more driving practice, including in the area where the driving test is.

Also, is your vision okay?
posted by J. Wilson at 6:39 AM on June 8, 2014

Another vote for driving lessons from a professional. Not a friend. Not a family member. A professional, in one of those cars with an extra set of brakes.

I also failed the test twice and didn't get a license until I was in my twenties. What worked was taking lessons from a good teacher who was used to working with adults. And don't be discouraged: I had a slow start too, but since then I've never caused an accident (I've been hit) and I've gotten only one ticket.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:54 AM on June 8, 2014

I should have added I have been taking (a lot of) classes with a professional driving school, but my instructor tends to take me mostly on highways and empty roads, so I just haven't had enough city practice. But I definitely plan to get that practice before I take the next test. Thanks, everyone.
posted by redlines at 2:53 PM on June 8, 2014

Can you request that your instructor take you in the areas near the DMV and have you practice around there - especially around the roundabouts?
posted by SisterHavana at 4:42 PM on June 8, 2014

Yeah, my instructor even had me practice parallel parking in the DMV parking lot, since that's where the test would be.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:25 PM on June 8, 2014

Roundabouts aren't confusing, or shouldn't be. The rules are clear: the cars in the roundabout have the right of way. So all you have to do is STOP when you get to the entrance and wait until there's space for you to go through. And if there's noone there, you glide right through. They're like a stop sign...but the intersection is round. Maybe think of it that way?

And definitely as much practice as possible. That's the only way to get better and more comfortable.
posted by FlyByDay at 9:01 PM on June 8, 2014

Once you've had the lessons with a driving school, what you need to move on to is just getting a friend or your significant other to sit in the car with you while you drive... wherever. By the time you're ready to be licensed, you should have done dozens of hours of that sort of practice. Practice is different from lessons and driving schools aren't really meant to just be your licensed driver companion for the number of road hours you really need to be competent before taking the test.
posted by Sequence at 4:17 AM on June 9, 2014

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