Thursday, August 14, 2008

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5...

I was sitting in my car yesterday by the side of the road, when a young woman I'd never seen before got in the passenger side and told me start the engine and drive around the corner.

Yesterday was driving test day.

Before the test I had a 90 minute lesson with an instructor.  80 minutes in, I was of the opinion I should have had more than one. 

The lesson was basically a series of fake tests.  My instructor said, "Please sign and date here... Now start the car and turn left at the traffic lights."  We then proceeded along the route he requested, with a pause in the middle for a parallel park and a three-point turn, until we arrived back at the starting point.

He then said, "You failed your test.  Here are the reasons..." and detailed four or five things I'd done wrong in two miles of driving.

Then he pulled out another form, got me to sign it and we did it all again.  And again.  And again.  And I think one more time, could have been two, definitely at least one.

The last time I took a driving test was May 1988.  In that time I've driven about 250,000 miles and I doubt any single mile of that was of a sufficient standard to pass a test.  So I needed the lesson to teach me how to drive properly.

I expected a few problems with my driving - if for no other reason than I wasn't quite sure what the double yellow line down the centre of the road means (actually, I still don't know, I forgot to ask).  What I didn't expect was sheer number of reasons my instructor would find that would fail my test.

Pulling out
  • Looking over my shoulder too much instead of using the mirrors more
  • Failing to go when a gap presented itself
Stop signs
  • Stopping at the sign, not the kerb line of the junction
  • Waiting for traffic to cross in front of me that had to stop itself
  • Too fast while cruising
  • Using the accelerator when reversing
  • Accelerating too much, then braking to stay within the limit
Road position
  • Too far to the left
  • Not turned to the right at a right turn
  • Not entering a traffic light junction when turning left
  • Too close to the car in front when in a line of traffic
Parallel parking
  • Not looking over my left shoulder
  • Turning too fast, too far from the kerb
  • Too far from the car in front
Three-point turn
  • Using too much road width unnecessarily
There was probably some more.  I'm sure there was more.  I blanked the rest out.

The three-point turn was particularly galling.  In Britain, the manouvre is deliberately called a "turn in the road" (or at least it was, in 1988).  The point this attempted to convey was that it doesn't matter how many back and forth movements you make as long as you are safe and don't hit the kerb.  Admittedly the roads are often a lot narrower in the UK.  Now I did my first three-point turn beautifully.  Wheel hard left, drove towards but didn't touch the kerb.  Pause, wheel hard right, engage reverse, back towards other kerb, front of car turns to face intended direction...  During this part, my instructor was saying, "Ok, enough, enough, enough."  It seems that I was using an unnecessary amount of road during the reverse phase of my turn.  I could have stopped earlier and driven down the road, so to continue backwards for the full width of the road was incorrect and therefore worthy of a penalty.

I could partially see his argument.  If I've already reversed far enough, further reversing is unnecessary.  Reversing is more dangerous than moving forward, so don't do it unnecessarily.  And yet, if me reversing six feet is dangerous, I shouldn't be on the road.  If I'm capable of reversing it shouldn't matter!


After my fifth, or possibly sixth fake test, I was pronounced ready and quickly drove to the real test before I forgot everything.

The test site was a surprise.  In the UK there is a building, called a test centre, and you park, go to the reception, announce your arrival, wait in the waiting room, meet the examiner and walk to the car.

I pulled over in a residential street, next to a sign that read, "NYS Driving Test Starts Here" and a few minutes later a young woman got in the passenger side and told me start the engine and drive around the corner.  While we were waiting for her to arrive, my instructor briefed me on the junction immediately ahead and said how some students mess it up.

"Then they come straight back here and are told they failed.  We call that the one minute test."

As I went through the first junction, the examiner pulled out a piece of paper and started writing.  "Oh no", I thought.  We made a few turns, then I did my manouvres and we did a few more turns and suddenly we were back at the beginning.  It must have been no more than five minutes.  As I parked, In my head I went through all the people I'd told I was taking my test and now had to tell I'd failed.

The examiner turned to me and said, "Your license will arrive in the mail.  This (handing me a slip of paper) will be good for 90 days.  Thanks for getting here early.  Goodbye."

And she was gone and I was left clutching my temporary New York driving license.

And it felt pretty good.

No comments:

Post a Comment