I hope you haven’t been holding your breath waiting for “Getting my Californian Driving Licence—part 2 (behind-the-wheel)”.
Yes, they call it “behind-the-wheel” here and it’s the practical part of the licence process—the part that has “fail me” written all over it and the part I was putting off the most mainly because of the horror stories I’d heard. You know? Anything that can go wrong will go wrong?
About six months ago I embarked on the getting-my-licence journey thinking it would give my sitcom (actually Blog) a comedy boost. Sadly there is little to no comedic value in this post. It’s not original and it’s just one of those stupid things in life there’s just no getting around.
One Sunday night a few weeks ago—while it was still school holidays—my husband got out his iPad and announced it was time to get my licence. Where did that come from?
The overwhelming advice was don’t sit your licence in Hollywood, they’ll fail you. OK. It was suggested I go into the “Valley” to Winnetka. The only available appointment in the foreseeable future was the very next day.
“I can’t do it tomorrow,” I said rather adamantly.
“Because,” knowing full well that’s a ridiculous response. “I need to drive around and get to know the area first. And we’ve got dentist appointments in the morning, how am I going to do two things in one day?” Useless … not getting any more convincing.
So, after checking around at alternative appointments and realising I’ve got no excuse, we made the appointment. I can do this.
I rounded up all my paperwork ready for the test. Because I was driving on a Learner’s Permit Mr H had to come with me.
(Only a year ago you could show your Australian licence and they’d give you a temporary licence provided you past the written test. Now you’re given a Learner’s Permit valid for one year).
Because you’re on a Learner’s Permit it technically requires a licenced driver to accompany you. Given part of their checklist is you must be accompanied by a Licenced Driver, we weren’t about to test the DMV and have me front up alone only to be rejected.
Preparation for behind-the-wheel test
Next we collected up the rest of the paperwork I needed:
- My Learner’s Permit
- My Registration Papers (that are supposed to be kept in the car anyway)
- Proof of insurance (that’s also supposed to be kept in the car)
- i94 & Passport.
(Side-bar: While I needed my i94 and Passport they didn’t ask for my son’s when he got his licence at 16. It may have something to do with the fact that it’s a brand new licence but not sure at this stage. He passed his test and is now driving so all must be OK).
And look up my hand signals. (That’s right, for some antiquated reason you need to know hand signals for left, right and stop).
OK, check, check, check.
We rocked up to the Winnetka DMV. You’re asked to park in the carpark, check in and then drive up to the testing area when “instructed to do so”.
Like every other DMV in LA it’s packed. I don’t know why this is. There’s always a queue out the front and there are always hordes of people inside. And it’s always always always chaotic. This DMV is not unlike the Hollywood DMV I described in Part one of this story.
I had to go inside past the outside queue (and funny looks) and then past another inside queue that was marked for appointments and head over to the far side (not dissimilar to the far queue) where there was a separate queue for driver’s licence appointments.
I’m glad Mr H asked as it wasn’t obvious when we arrived and there are so many people around, you feel like you need to start queuing outside before you make your way in. Without deliberately offending my host country it feels like I’m walking into a government department in the Philippines.
We were early but unfortunately they were checking us in in appointment time order so that wasn’t much use to us. And, they were running late.
We checked the paperwork list on the desk matched the paperwork we’d brought in with us. All good. Oh, except the insurance papers. They were expired. We’d been automatically renewed but we mustn’t have printed out the renewal and now we’re standing there looking at expired insurance.
Ok, we can log in and show that our insurance was actually current. But now we’re at the mercy of DMV—and whether the people behind the counters are sticklers for the rules or reasonable. You never want to be at the mercy of the DMV so who knows how this will play out.
We started playing out the different scenarios.
“Oh, is it expired? I didn’t realise. I can look it up online to prove it’s not.” Possible.
“Would you be able to print our proof of insurance out for us?” Doubtful.
“We’ve just realised the paperwork is out of date but here it is online to prove it’s current.” Yep, always go with the truth.
There was a nice girl at the desk so we’ll take our chances.
Oh wait, the nice girl goes on break. The one that takes over seems a bit grumpy. Great.
We wait some more. I’ve got Mr H there, slightly dodgy paperwork and a car to sit the test in so I’m just at the mercy of the chick behind the counter as to whether she accepts the insurance certificate and then that of the driving tester.
They call our timeslot and as if it’s meant to be the nice girl comes back. “No problems.” she says as she takes my learner’s permit and registration and hands me back my proof of insurance and asks me to sit down and wait for my name to be called.
I’ll spare you the muzak on hold music and the obligatory … 30 minutes later to give the idea of the length of time this is taking …
(Ok I didn’t but I could have).
I’m up! My name is called and Mr H and I go to my car. I’m driving, he’s in the passenger seat. I was asked to put my paperwork on the right dashboard so I did.
It’s taking a bloody long time to drive to what is essentially a drive-through minus the bottleshop or Maccas ordering window. There’s a hold up in front of us. Two lots of people get out of their cars. Oops. As we’re creeping forward a clearly nervous 16-year-old hits the people in front of her, who are just in front of us. They exchange paperwork we chuckle at the irony and wonder if she’s automatically failed or given a lifeline. There’s a security guard there facilitating the exchange but none of the testers so maybe she’s good to go.
(She was good to go but came back some five minutes later failing anyway).
Time to run through my hand signals one more time.
Taking the behind-the-wheel test: we’re on
I’m up. The tester takes my paperwork and Mr H is free to get out of the car. Then she starts asking me questions.
- Where’s your foot brake? Put your foot on it (and she checks my brake lights)
- Right indicator (oops I’ve done the windscreen wipers, try again, got it).
- Left indicator
- Checks my tyres
- Asks me to do my handsignals and say what they are.
Next she hops in the car and asks some more things saying point don’t touch.
- Emergency or foot brake (parking brake)
- Emergency flasher
- Defroster (rear & front demist)
We’re off. I had nightmares for two years about exiting the driveway and turning too close and running over the gutter but all good. I turned right into a street, stopped at a traffic light and turned right again. She asked me to pull over then reverse. Then she asked me to pull out again. The silence in the car is killing me. I hate awkward silence. I turned left into a street and left into another one. I was near the DMV I could feel it in my bones I was home and hosed.
Keep going straight. What??? Aren’t I done? Left. Right. Left. Left. We were getting further away. Was she willing me to make more mistakes? This is becoming a competition now. I wasn’t going to fail after all this. I passed mini test after mini test she was giving me. I had to turn left into a street but the cars were banked up past the turning lane left so I dutifully waited behind the cars. (You know when you’ve got your licence you just cross the wrong side of the road so you can join the turning lane so you catch the lights?) Two cars overtook me and I laughed awkwardly. She was impressed I could tell. I could sense we were heading back.
“Left,” she said. There was a pedestrian crossing yet I was free to go. I had heard that the pedestrian had to fully cross the road before you could go. What do I do? Do I go? Wait? I’m going to fail on my way back to the DMV. I went but turned wide when the pedestrian was crossing on the other side of the traffic. I’ve failed. Keep calm she would’ve asked you to pull over by now.
I pulled into the DMV. As far as I could see I was perfect: I stopped ahead of the lanes, I used my mirrors all the time (as in checked them remembering when I was 18 and sat my test in Melbourne and passed on the first go) and I didn’t speed. That damn pedestrian.
“You can have 15 errors,” she started. Great. No way, I couldn’t have failed.
“You made 11 errors.” I passed. Yay me. Wait, what 11 errors?
“You must take care not to turn too wide,” she said. Oh yeah, I’m lucky I made the right call there I’ll take that one. “Awkward giggle, oh yes I know where I did that,” I said out loud.
“You must always look both ways.” But I did, I did. I looked in my mirrors I looked everywhere.
I nodded as if to agree. Who cares? I passed.
“Go inside, give them this and you can collect your licence.” No congratulations? No well done?
I went to the desk and said to the girl (a different girl at a different desk). “I passed. Just.”
“Oh,” she said looking at my paperwork. Then, looking at the girl next to her she said, “She got you-know-who guess how many errors she made. She passed.”
“14,” says the girl next to her.
“11,” she laughs back at her.
“Oh you’re good girl,” said the girl looking up at me then and the girl next to her and continues serving the person at her desk.
“She’s tough that one. Let’s put it like this. I’ll get in the car with you any time.”
Only then did I breathe a sigh of relief.
I’m a licenced Californian driver. I had to sit a written test then (endure) a behind-the-wheel test and I live to tell the tale. Not only that I passed. With the toughest tester in Winnetka.
Could you pass a behind-the-wheel test if you had to resit it today? How did you go? I’m just glad this little obstacle is done and dusted.
xx It Started in LA xx