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DRIVING TEST DRIVES ME TO LOOK LIKE GRIM PHOTO ON MY LICENSE

If you want to know how uptight I get renewing my driver's license, take a look at my picture on it. The lips are pulled into a tight, thin line. The jaws sag, and the eyes have the look of a woman who just put her puppy to sleep.

No matter how many years I have taken the test, I choke. I know they are trying to trick me to keep me off the road. I remember one question on the test a few years ago. "A little old lady is crossing the street against the light and is entering your lane. Do you switch over to the opposite lane, perhaps ramming another car? jam on your brakes and blow your horn, possibly causing the pedestrian to have a heart attack? accelerate?"I went over to the desk and asked the patrolman, "How old is the old lady?"

Here's more good news. In California, they are developing a new test that more than doubles the time to take it (27 minutes), there is no pre-test chatter from the examiner to make you comfortable (does anyone know this man?), and before you turn on the ignition, there's a lengthy pop quiz on equipment. Miss more than three of the important items on the checklist and you're disqualified.

After 61 years of running the same test, the California exam is getting to be as familiar as the eye charts where people who have good memories sail through.

I have a son who doesn't know a cruise control from a tailpipe. His car makes human sounds. (I once heard it say distinctly, "Help me.") He spent Easter Sunday in traffic school. He always gets a perfect score on his test.

My husband has never climbed into a rental car in his entire life that he hasn't released the hood, thinking it was the brake. He gets a perfect score, too.

It is reasonable that this approach to better driving is starting in California. I lived and drove there for a while. Not only were the freeways a religious experience, but in Beverly Hills there is a six-way-stop intersection with no lights. Everyone is on his own. I said to my son, "How do I ever get across this thing?" he said, "Just close your eyes and go like everyone else does. Your chances are just as good if they are open."

My real horror is being stopped by an officer one day who will ask to see my driver's license. When he looks at my picture he will decide I'm too disturbed to drive a car and revoke my license on the spot.