By John Lisowski, 17, New Roads School (Santa Monica)
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John says not to worry if learning to drive seems hard, because everybody struggles at first.

The day that I test for my driver’s license has finally arrived. I leave my home nervous, but hopeful that six months of practice with my parents will pay off. I have been dying to get my license so that my parents won’t have to drive me everywhere.

I arrive a few minutes early at the DMV and get in the line of cars to take the road test. As I sit in the car waiting behind about 10 cars that are moving impossibly slowly, I feel a sudden rush of anxiety and my palms start to sweat. I am unsure of my left turns. I am also fearful of the DMV employee who will administer the test. I bet that he or she will be stern and intimidating.

My mother reassures me that I will do fine. As a woman approaches the car, I grab my permit and other documents and try to force a smile as I hand her the papers. She informs me that I am missing the certificate that proves I completed driving school, even though I brought other forms, which I wouldn’t have been able to get unless I had finished. This means I have to reschedule.

I go inside and get in a line so I can get a ticket, which will allow me to speak to a DMV employee and reschedule my test. My mom and I sit down in uncomfortable chairs along with about 30 other people. After what is at least half an hour, I go to a window where I’m told that I will have to wait until a spot opens up—in approximately one month. At least I can practice more.

Photo by Jasper Nahid, 15,
New Roads School (Santa Monica)

With a month to go, I need lots of practice

I drive almost every day during my extra month. I ask my parents to point out any mistakes, because I make a lot of careless mistakes and I had even run a few red lights. I know that I need to slow down drastically because my parents always point out that they are scared to be in the car while I am driving. My left turns need work as well; I tend to swerve.

When I return to the DMV a month later I make sure not to forget the document that proved I completed driving school. After I endure the rush of anxiety a second time, I am ready to take the test.

My mother leaves the car and is replaced by a DMV employee, who has a no-nonsense look on her face. I politely say hello but get no response except for a simple, “just go.” I try to control my breathing and not grip the wheel too tightly to keep the tester from seeing how nervous I am.

Her lack of emotion intimidates me. First, I show her the hand signals for turning left, right and for slowing down, which are used in case your tail lights go out, and then the emergency lights and brake. I do this without difficulty. She has me pull out of the DMV parking lot and turn left. By now I feel a little more comfortable with left turns. So far, the test has been manageable and I begin to relax. I execute the next few maneuvers without any difficulty.

I stop at a red light. The instructor tells me to make a right turn. I double check for traffic and everything looks clear. I turn the wheel and I make the turn perfectly. Oddly, she begins writing on her pad.

“Right turns are not allowed on red lights back there,” she says.

“What?” I ask in disbelief.

“You cannot disobey a turn sign because you feel confident enough to get away with it,” she says. I had no intention of disobeying any sign. I just didn’t notice it. 

As we make our way back to the DMV, the woman informs me that I failed the test during the first five minutes because of the illegal right turn on red. I am in shock. I have to face the sad fact that I will have to return to the lion’s den once more. My mother tells me that most people fail their first try.

Undaunted, I make a new appointment for a week later. I don’t have to wait a month like last time because of a cancellation. The weather forecast predicts rain though.

I come to the DMV with my father for my second attempt. Anxiety rushes through me, as it did last time. I feel confident I will not make the same mistake on the right turn again. Perhaps I feel a bit too confident, because I make several mistakes on the non-driving portion of the test. I forget where the emergency brake is when asked and I forget how to activate the emergency lights. These were not problems the first time.

I’m not perfect the second time either

Thankfully, the woman issuing the exam is nicer than the first one, but she still has a serious expression throughout the entire exam. Luckily, the second test followed the same route so I knew every turn and sign. I felt relieved when I flawlessly executed the right turn, which I had messed up on the first time.

The remainder of the test is not as smooth. I forget to double check traffic when I switch lanes, which the tester points out, and later I go into a turn too fast and drive over the curb. I want to kick myself. The only thing I can do though is carry on with the test.

As we drive back to the DMV, the woman gives some sarcastic commands: “make a turn, without hitting the curb again” and “without trying to kill the other drivers.” She cryptically makes notes in her chart without offering any feedback. I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I have failed once again.

Much to my surprise I passed. I did not make any errors which were considered to be “critical.” The woman did, however, recommend that I practice much more before taking full advantage of my license. I agreed with her. I politely accepted the advice and left. When I got home I called a few friends. We were excited that I got my license because now I can go wherever I want without my mom.

If you liked this story check out Lia’s story about being scared to take driver’s ed.

Not so fast. Driving on scary hills and busy streets put a brake on 17-year-old Lia’s plan to get a license. (May – June 2009)