Driver's Test Screwups
June 30, 2004 6:38 AM   Subscribe

So I'm 27 years old and taking the road test to get my (New Jersey) driver's license this week. Since most everyone I know took it, oh, about 10 years ago, I'm feeling a bit nervous when it comes to the little details of the test. If I mess up parallel parking, I can't make a single other error; so tell me, mefites, what did you screw up on while taking your driving test?
posted by bcwinters to Travel & Transportation (45 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Because of miscellaneous family issues, I had to take my test in a stick shift car which I wasn't very good at driving yet. I messed up on hill starts but the driving test guy basically said if I promised to work on my clutch control he'd give me my license. Other friends of mine have variously screwed up and not gotten their license for: speeding, failing to look at mirrors while driving, trying to overthink the test and failing to turn left past a "Keep Right" sign [thinking "this must be a trick"], failing to wear a seatbelt, and not knowing hand signals for left turn/right turn/stop. Not being insanely nervous helps with all those things, so if you have a good technique for relaxing that doesn't involve alcohol, I'd say paractice that as much as you practice paralell parking. Good luck!
posted by jessamyn at 6:47 AM on June 30, 2004

when I took my test, the only thing I botched was four-way stops. I came to one and not knowing exactly what to do, I just stopped and waited for the other incoming car. my evaluator snapped at me, "what the hell are doing, this is a four way stop? you can't be stopping and waiting on the other car, go already." so I did! I lost a bunch of points, but I still passed. and, I shot my evaluator with a tiny poison dart, who dropped to the ground and convulsed several times before finally passing away.
posted by mcsweetie at 6:55 AM on June 30, 2004 [1 favorite]

I blew parallel parking, and I failed to stop smoothly at a sign (I was nervous and I hit the brake too hard, erp!) but I still managed to pass after a lecture about how the driving proctor would have been afraid to try to have me back into a parking space after how badly I did on the parallel parking. No mention of the hard stop, though!
posted by headspace at 7:00 AM on June 30, 2004

I actually drove too *slowly* in the test (but still passed). The test site was not regular highway, and was very tightly designed, so it didn't feel like a place to go 30, 40 mph.

As far as the parallel parking goes - it helps a lot to have a car you can see the front and rear ends of. Not being able to judge the endpoints of the car takes the parallel parking experience to a whole new level of fun.
posted by whatzit at 7:03 AM on June 30, 2004

Parking uphill/downhill with and without a curb. My instructor had me pull over on a flat residential street and told me to park like I was uphill without a curb. Remember to put the parking brake on after you get the wheels in the correct position.
posted by pieoverdone at 7:05 AM on June 30, 2004

Wow, I thought I was the only person taking the driving test at 27 (in California, though). I haven't set an appointment for the behind the wheel test yet, but when I went in for my written test, one DMV employee looked at my age on the forms and somewhat formally welcomed me to the state I've lived in all my life.
posted by Acetylene at 7:06 AM on June 30, 2004

A couple of pointers:
  • For parking uphill: just remember "Up, Up and Away" from the curb (like the song)
  • Occassionally they will try and trick you from the start of the test by having a STOP sign right after you start driving. Keep an eye out for it!
  • For parallel parking: They'll use cones, so pull up next (give yourself a couple of feet) to the cone until it's about even with your passenger door. When you reverse, cut the wheel all the way, before you start backing up! Too many times I've seen people turning their wheels after they've already started backing up.
  • As whatzit mentions, don't drive too slowly... but obey the speed limit!
  • Try and relax!! Millions of Jersey kids do this every year (I remember when it was me!) You'll be fine.

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:13 AM on June 30, 2004

I was failed on my first attempt for not stopping to let some people cross at a crosswalk. Of course, as I remember it, they were about 10 feet back from the curb. (Yes, I'm still bitter).
posted by Otis at 7:13 AM on June 30, 2004

I failed my first test for speeding. I was going 27 MPH in a 20 MPH zone down a steep hill. The next day, my father and I went to another county for me to take it, which wasn't against the law, but frowned upon. I passed it easily. I was 19 (and I felt old).
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:25 AM on June 30, 2004

My driving test (NC) was incredibly easy. Drive a few hundred yards and then do a three point turn.
posted by corpse at 7:30 AM on June 30, 2004

I failed my first test because I turned right on red at an intersection where turning on red wasn't allowed between 8 and 5 on weekdays. It was the kind of thing where I saw the sign but was nervous enough not to figure out what time it was.
posted by hyperizer at 7:36 AM on June 30, 2004

Congratulations on taking the big step. I just turned 29 and got my driver's license on Saturday. I'm out in AZ, so there was no parallel parking, just the three point turn. Things I got marked down on: missing a turn where the street sign was obscured by branches until 3 seconds before the turn (not likely to happen to you, but you should know that they DO try to trick you). Also got marked down for getting confused about the tester wanted when I was trying to get back to the intersection I missed--so if you don't understand something, make sure you get them to explain it clearly before you act. It's a good idea to check out the area around the DMV just before you go for your my case, there was construction, and at one point, I was instructed to go "between the knocked over sign and the big orange bag." Knowing about this stuff before you take the test can help make you less nervous. Good luck!
posted by gokart4xmas at 7:36 AM on June 30, 2004

I used to know someone who failed her seventh test for foul and abusive language. Someone cut her up and she let them know her displeasure in no uncertain terms.

I've failed mine a few times - my concentration tends to wander. It's quite possible the roads are safer without me.
posted by biffa at 7:37 AM on June 30, 2004

I failed my first in Michigan because I pulled into the right lane of a 4-lane road, too soon after making a left turn on to that road.

This was a questionable error, since the manual clearly stated that you must drive in the right lane except to pass (not that people usually do that in practice). As there was no traffic preventing me from doing so, I simply moved into the proper lane right away.

I am facing another driving test sometime soon, either in England or South Africa. My American license expired while living in a place that wouldn't simply convert it.
posted by Goofyy at 7:44 AM on June 30, 2004

On my first left turn of the test, I made a left turn a bit too wide. Proctor told me to "watch that." So, of course, the next left turn I cut a little too tight. Still passed though.
posted by ferociouskitty at 7:51 AM on June 30, 2004

I had a little trouble with the parallel park but, living on Long Island at the time, it wasn't particularly necessary. There was a bit of a "trick turn" on the test, though: the evaluator asked you to make the next left, only the next cross-street was one-way (no left turn onto it). Other than that, it was easy-peasy.

Of course, that was nearly 8 years ago, and I haven't driven much since, although I still have a valid license. I'm actually a bit nervous about driving again (I will probably need to within the next year), but I'm sure it'll come back to me.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:53 AM on June 30, 2004

I failed twice. The first time was for a 'rolling stop' (I disagreed, but couldn't argue with the blind examiner). The second time was for failing to back into a parking space properly (I ended up crossing it diagonally).

The third time I went, I made damn sure I was capable of putting that stupid Toyota anywhere they wanted it. In retrospect, I probably became a much better driver because of their general pickiness.

Frankly, I wish other DMVs were that touchy about driving tests. They ought to put a surprise into every one, like Crackerjacks.
posted by Kikkoman at 8:04 AM on June 30, 2004

Don't shift in intersections. This is a pain when you're working through a long left-hand turn from first, but it's apparently something that you're not supposed to do, since you're supposed to have continual accelerative control of the car in intersections.

Plus, use the engine brake to slow down. I didn't want the car to shudder as it sometimes did when downshifting, so for the test I'd just clutch in and ride the brake. This is a no-no, obviously, but I didn't think the instructor would pick up on it—she did.

Also, make sure you know how to parallel park on the left-hand side of the street. I've only done it once, and that was during my road test.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 8:06 AM on June 30, 2004

I failed once.

Everything was perfect during the test, and when we were done with all the formal procedures, the instructor said "turn right at the stop sign and then turn right into the parking lot".

Well, I was sitting at the stop sign with my right signal indicator going. Another car came up behind me and honked his horn because I was taking too long. As a result, I lurched a bit into the intersection and an oncoming car had to swerve a bit (not much, but a little) to avoid me.

He failed me right there. I deserved the failing grade, but at the time I was FURIOUS.

I passed it with flying colours the next the snow.

Oh, and I think I've parallel parked exactly twice in the 16 years since I got my licence.
posted by grum@work at 8:31 AM on June 30, 2004

I second XQUZYPHYR's suggestion about taking it on a course rather than on the roads. I took mine in Rahway about eight years ago. I would bring myself up to speed on K-turns, parallel parking, and angling the wheels when parking on a hill (you're supposed to point them either toward or away from the curb depending on whether you're pointing uphill or downhill, so if the car rolls backwards the curb stops it before it does much damage). Also, make sure your instructor buckles his seatbelt before you do start moving.

I'm very surprised by how little everyone here seems to parallel park. I probably wind up having to do it at least once a week, and have had to do it on the left side many times. I'm from New Jersey, too.
posted by alphanerd at 8:46 AM on June 30, 2004

Also in Jersey - I was petrified about parallel parking, executed it perfectly, then failed the 3 point turn as I ended up in the other lane - still passed the test.

One Jersey-specific tip (though this was 17 years ago): If it's not too late, schedule your test in Trenton, rather than at your local DMV - they have a closed road course, so you take the test without any other traffic to distract you.
posted by jalexei at 8:51 AM on June 30, 2004

I almost ran over a mail carrier.

I was taking it in another town that I wasn't familiar with and a truck parked on the street blocked the stop sign. I saw it in time, but a mail carrier was stepping off the curb and freaked out, dropping a bunch of mail.

My advice is to take it in an area you know or find out the route of the test course and do a "dry run" so you know speed limits, stop signs, etc.
Good luck!
posted by Coffeemate at 8:52 AM on June 30, 2004

I second XQUZYPHYR's suggestion about taking it on a course rather than on the roads. I took mine in Rahway about eight years ago.

Didn't realize you could do that anywhere other than Trenton - good to know... And as far as I recall, parallel parking was one of the tasks you could fail, though that may have changed...
posted by jalexei at 8:58 AM on June 30, 2004

Here in Toronto they try and get you turning from a two way street into a multi-lane one way street.

Last time I checked, here, parallel parking wasn't madatory as it's something people don't *have* to do in order to drive safely (they can park elsewhere).
posted by dobbs at 8:58 AM on June 30, 2004

I took my exam with a group of about a dozen others when I was sixteen. One of the kids in the group hit a cat, and still passed.

Of course, one of my brothers friends also failed it about 5 times because of little things each time.


Best of luck to you!
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:05 AM on June 30, 2004

A great link appeared on Fark the other day giving the mathematics of parallel parking, although some of the symbology is a little confusing to me. I'd hit it.
posted by alphanerd at 9:15 AM on June 30, 2004

Response by poster: Wow! Thanks for all the great tips so far. I'm taking my test in Lodi, so it will be on a closed course. I drove around it a few times to see what it was like--there were a half dozen other people doing the same thing, despite the big signs saying that practice driving wasn't allowed. The parallel parking space was gigantic, so I'm not worried about hitting the cones. However, to parallel park, I usually stop in the middle to turn the wheel in the opposite direction--anybody know if you're allowed to stop in the middle, or if you're required to do it in one smooth motion? The handbook naturally doesn't mention it.

And I'll make sure to have 1. a poison dart 2. a big flask of whiskey and 3. a slide rule on hand. JUST IN CASE!
posted by bcwinters at 9:42 AM on June 30, 2004

Watch for blind intersections at a stop sign or signal, especially if the directions include a turn. Stop at the white line, then ease forward with a stop, then make your turn.
Good Luck!
posted by thomcatspike at 9:56 AM on June 30, 2004

Apparently you should wear a short skirt - though its never worked for me.
posted by biffa at 9:59 AM on June 30, 2004

I got my license in NJ. They had me do the perpendicular parking part in the actual lot of the DMV. I actually hit the car next to the spot. That counted as a failure for some reason.
posted by smackfu at 10:03 AM on June 30, 2004

A couple of other tips...

Don't roll stop signs. As in, stop completely, don't do 5 km/h through the ones in residential areas like you probably will when you aren't with the instructor. The instructor told me just in time to stop. :-)

Practice parallel parking. It's a real pain in the ass. I only passed because the street was full of cars so my parallel parking test was done in front of a driveway. I'd have been 6 inches in the boulevard otherwise.

Signal everything. And make lane changes smooth. They like that. Oh, and don't look using your eyes -- turn your head so they can see where you're looking.

Do your test in an automatic transmission car. There's no bonus points awarded for making the test harder on yourself, so don't do it.

Overall, I passed what is the most difficult test in Canada of all time (graduated licensing exit test) despite my failure on the above.

Oh, I would say you don't need to waste your time figuring out how to back into a regular parking space. I never did that during the test, and I never saw that on the test sheet either.

[ On a side note: I managed to fail the driving school instructor's test the first time. :-D ]
posted by shepd at 10:40 AM on June 30, 2004

Make sure you know how to merge from a 4 lane to a 2 lane highway. It's not a big deal to me today, but at the time I was petrified (who goes first, when do I slow up). I actually did really well, as I went from practicing on an old truck (no power steering, no power breaking) to the instructor's brand new Impala. The first time I breaked I about threw him through the windshield. I explained that I never had touched power breaks before and he laughed. Other then that, he was totally cool and understood I was about to wet my pants. Of course this is in Kansas where the only real requirement to drive is being able to touch the pedals. I got my permit at 14!
posted by geoff. at 10:42 AM on June 30, 2004

At the time that I took my test (many eons ago) in Pennsylvania, you were permitted to miss a certain number of points and still get your license. I believe that it was 3; I missed 2 by failing to keep right on a two-lane road (on a closed course), as per a sign that was semi-obstructed by trees. Watch for signs, especially in areas where there are trees close to the edge of the roadway. Heed the signs meticulously.

Btw, this thread has me pondering the connection between the dearth of parallel parking and the demise of "main street" style commerce areas. I parallel park all the time, but I'm doing shopping and business in a town of 1,500 people.
posted by Dreama at 11:34 AM on June 30, 2004

I'm taking my test in Lodi
Acckk, never mind.
Practice your 3 point turn.
Remember while backing up - they want your eyes fully viewing the direction. If you hug your seat's back rest with your right arm at the same time your left hand is on the wheel - it ensures this. While driving forward - straight, keep both hands on the wheel's correct hand positions at all times. I mention this because of your age and rarely see older drivers keeping both hands on the wheel.

In driving school – my buddy was immediately failed on the spot for doing 65mph in a 35mph zone. The instructor ended the test right there and on the way back to the test’s starting point made him sit in the back seat. There was one other passenger with us whom was a friend also. Point out this woman was not familiar with the general area and had never driven in La Habra, Ca. During the drive back, she scornfully asks: “Why were you speeding so fast in a 35mph zone.” John answers: "that's the speed my dad always drives through here." The other passenger and me cringed…then a few minutes later we both busted into laughter. Funny his dad drove like most drivers through there, we just couldn't believe he said that.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:08 PM on June 30, 2004

I'm taking my test in Lodi
Acckk, never mind my first comment.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:09 PM on June 30, 2004

perpendicular parking part
How do you do that? the cars would look like an "L."
posted by thomcatspike at 12:14 PM on June 30, 2004

In Massachusetts, I had to drive in reverse in a straight line for 100 yards, parallel to the curb. (This was 18 years ago...maybe you don't have to do this any more? No one seems to have mentioned it.) I managed to meander into the middle of the street, but the DMV guy gave me a second try. If the examiner cuts you any slack, be very vocal in your appreciation!
posted by hsoltz at 12:18 PM on June 30, 2004

I failed first time in WA. I entered the inside lane of a two-lane road after a left turn from a one-lane side-road at a traffic light. Oops. I didn't feel too bad because my total US driving experience was about three hours at that point. Figured I might as well have a go, anyhow. Passed a week later. Only thing I was criticised for was second time was taking too long to pull over at the side of the road after being asked to. In the UK parking too close to driveways is considered bad form (obscuring visibility for others pulling out), so I'd waited a few moments to reach a place away from any.

Digressing and for what it's worth, I thought the WA test was much easier than the UK test. No 3-point turn, nor reversing around a corner, nor emergency stop in WA. At least I wasn't asked to. The parallel park was very easy, beacuse I took the test in a little Subaru Justy and the test space was set up for the huge sedans and trucks people seem to favor around here.
posted by normy at 12:57 PM on June 30, 2004

Hah - nice timing on the question. I just passed my road test today (I'm 24). This was my second time through; the first time I failed it for (a) not using my turn signal when pulling away from the curb (I checked my mirrors, looked all around, and didn't see anyone else on the road, so I figured, hey, why bother), (b) crossing my arms (one over the other) while using the steering wheel (which I'd never even heard of being bad until then), but mainly (c) nearly running a pedestrian down as I was turning right, watching the oncoming traffic but failing to check the freaking crosswalk.

Don't do that. Watch for people. Examiners hate it when you almost run people over.

(Also, no 3-point turn on either test - is it a regional thing?)
posted by wanderingmind at 2:01 PM on June 30, 2004

I'm 20 and just got my liscence a few weeks ago in southern Maine. Yay being behind the curve! I was passed on my first test even though I hit the curb both times I was allowed to try parallel parking. I think he passed me because of my age, because I said what I had messed up before he commented, and I managed to straighten it out the second time. Also, it was the only major flub-up. I was petrified he wouldn't pass me after that (and I was furious with myself because I can parallel park perfectly), but he had me keeping going.

Some of the testers are just jerks, so be confident going in. I think most of them can tell the difference between nerves and incompetence.

In Maine, the big things they look for are: slowing down and looking both ways at railway tracks, stopping completely at a stop sign then easing your way to where you can see into the intersection, being able to back down along a curb, and trusting the driving instructor to give you correct directions. They have this one major trick on the route I drove which was a one-way street that only operates as such on weekends (due to a cramped church parking lot there). They take everyone down there and tell them to turn against the sign during the week, which some people argue with, even though there's a second sign telling you the hours. Basically, don't argue with them! Also, if they're being chatty/friendly, don't be rude! If you need them to be quiet so you can concentrate, just say so politiely. But my tester was a chatty old guy and it actually put me more at ease because my drivers ed teacher was chatty.

And, really, the worst they can do is fail you. They won't fine you or hurt you. Also (at least in Maine), older students or those who urgently need the liscence for work, can usually petition to take a re-test within 48 hours. Good luck!!
posted by nelleish at 2:08 PM on June 30, 2004

Before seat belt laws, remember the instructor testing me for asking them to "belt up."{I've lived in two states}
posted by thomcatspike at 3:18 PM on June 30, 2004

I failed my first NJ driving test within ten seconds of starting it. As many have said, the test is on a course rather than on the road. I pulled up to the little building where the examiners get in your car. Because it was on the left, and there were no roadside signage OR pavement markings, I didn't treat it as a "real" place for some reason. Duh! The examiner got in the car, I pulled away from the building without signaling, which failed me immediately, and completed the rest of the test perfectly.

Took the test again a few weeks later, and passed just fine. However, I was lucky to take the test during the few months in 1982 that New Jersey removed parallel parking from the driving test. :^D

Since I moved to England I have to parallel park all the damn time.
posted by Tholian at 3:55 PM on June 30, 2004

(b) crossing my arms (one over the other) while using the steering wheel (which I'd never even heard of being bad until then)

Wow, we had to do this. Palming the wheel to turn was a HUGE NO-NO.

Also, hands had to be in the 10 and 2 positions. I usually drive with the right on 12 or 6 and a cigarette in the left.
posted by pieoverdone at 5:48 PM on June 30, 2004

Too fast on turns, again. Slow down when you make that turn, and make sure you don't tap the brakes or hear tire noise while turning.
posted by calwatch at 8:27 PM on July 1, 2004

Response by poster: Hey! I passed! I am extremely grateful for the great tips, everybody. They DEFINITELY helped. Even though I forgot to tell the instructor to put his seat belt on. Oops.
posted by bcwinters at 8:28 AM on July 5, 2004

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