When I was in high school, I took the school bus to school. A lot of kids took the bus. My bus was always full. Some of my fellow students had their driver’s licenses and had their own car. There was a parking lot dedicated to students who drove. It was located on the southeast side of the school.
During my senior year in high school, I decided to take Driver’s Ed. It would get me the experience I needed. It would be a good familiarization of the ins and outs of driving a car.
An added bonus was you received a certificate saying that you passed the driving portion. Then when you went to take your test with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), you just had to take the written test.
The school had five identical cars. I can’t remember what make and model they were. The cars were always parked near the end of the parking lot.
The class was being taught by one of our coaches. I can’t remember what sport he coached. I knew him because I had taken another class with him. It was Physical Education.
The classroom wasn’t in the building. It was a portable located near the football stadium. Half of the parking lot near the stadium was cordoned off so we could use it for our training. They had markings on the pavement set up as roads with stop bars to signify stop signs. There were cones set up when we had to do something specific.
We were paired with other students on particular days. On this one day, I was paired with a girl named S. She did the driving first, while I was in the passenger seat. The teacher was outside the car shouting directions from the parking lot. All of the windows were rolled down. One day, we had to parallel park. Cones were set up on four corners of a rectangle. As luck would have it, we had a substitute teacher. And this wasn’t just a regular substitute teacher. He was a Melbourne Police Officer. He was a well-known substitute with the school for many years.
When it was my time to do the parallel parking, I got in the driver’s side. Having never attempted this before, I didn’t know what to expect. I had watched as S had done it but when it was my time, it was different. I tried to get the car into the spot but it wasn’t going so well.
The officer yells, “What are you doing Matt?!”
I think he walked up to the car and told me what I needed to do. The first time I wasn’t turning the wheel as much as I should have been. So I wasn’t getting the correct angle to enter into the spot. I think I tried my way one more time.
Then I think he shouted for me to turn the wheel more. That worked!
I needed to turn the wheel all the way to the right to set the car up to get into the parking space. The angle seemed too extreme to me but he knew what he was talking about. If I had kept doing it the way I was, I would have never made it into the spot.
I passed the course and got an A. I received the certificate showing that I had completed Driver’s Education and I could bypass the driving test.
But I didn’t get to bypass it. You’ll see why in a few minutes.
After I graduated from high school, I took a few years off before going to college.
When I decided to go to college, it was time to do some driving practice.
I would drive my Mom down the road to a small church parking lot. It was only 1.3 miles south of where we lived. It was the perfect parking lot for me to practice. They had a large parking lot. We would spend twenty minutes or so going around the parking lot.
The scenery along the way was a bunch of dwarf palmettos. These are the same palm fronds that you see on palm trees but they only grow to be 3 feet tall. They were peppered on the beachside up to the road and from the road to the river. You can see them in the photo below.
The Day of the Test
At that time, the DMV office I went to was located inside a shopping center. It was tucked back where you couldn’t even see it. There was an opening in the middle of the stores and there was a large office in there. There were a bunch of windows along the front of the office.
You were required to take the written test and the driving test to get your driver’s license.
Since so much time had elapsed since I had received the certificate from high school, I decided not to try to present it to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to defer the driving portion. I’m sure they would have looked at it and told me that I couldn’t use it anyway.
I passed the written test with no problems.
When it came to the driver’s test, this is where it got interesting. It was conducted at the rear of the building.
The examiner was a woman. I used my Mom’s car for the test. It was a green 1979 Mercury Bobcat. The woman got into the passenger side and gave me instructions.
She told me to treat the parking lot as a four-lane highway. As I was driving down the road at a very slow speed, a pickup truck came out of nowhere. I thought “great, now what?” It was now heading straight for me. I pulled to the left to avoid it. It was going slow but I didn’t know what their intentions were. He didn’t look like he knew where he was going. He went over into the parking spots to pass me on my right side.
Then the examiner tells me that I shouldn’t have done that. Because she said since we were imagining this was a four-lane roadway, I would have crashed into multiple vehicles.
I still think about this occasionally and think what else did she want me to do? Should I have just let that guy crash into me? Or should I have waited until he figured out what he was doing?
Next we went to the side of the building and she had me do a three-point turn. Then, she said we were done. I asked her about the parallel parking and she said I didn’t have to do that. Here I had practiced that so much and then I didn’t even have to do it. I was upset about that.
So I passed the test but I had the blemish of that guy in the truck. Otherwise, I would have received a perfect score.
I’d like to know if you ever took Driver’s Ed and if so, do you have any recollection of it? Anything strange or out of the ordinary happen during your driver’s license test?
Until next time, happy reading!
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In high school I took the class but was too scared to try driving. They accepted that and let me be. When I was 21 a coworker of mine convinced me that I should start driving and then showed me how. I passed and didn't have to parallel park either.
Matt, this was such an interesting post, especially for someone like me, not from the US. Our system is very different. Well done on passing your test - twice! Excellent work!
Over here when I was learning, a 17-year-old with a provisional driving licence would engage a driving instructor, and every week - or perhaps twice a week - they would go out one-to-one for a driving lesson. Driving practice would happen alongside, if the student were fortunate enough to have access to a family member who would insure their car for a learner to practise in with that family member alongside. When the driving instructor felt the student was ready, a test would be booked. These days there's a theory test, a hazard-perception test and a practical test. In my day it was just a practical test, with a few questions about the Highway Code with the examiner just as part of the practical. I was fortunate enough to pass first time. I am grateful that I was learning to drive in the last quarter of the year, with bad weather and very short days, meaning that a lot of my driving was in less-than-perfect conditions.
My brother got his driving practice in by driving us both to school. My parents had bought a yellow Mini for him (and eventually me) to learn in, and Mum would be in the front passenger seat, I would be in the back seat - behind her, not him, because he was so tall that there was no room for my (also very tall) legs to fit behind him. He used to take great pleasure in driving over the level crossing* at a speed at which my head would touch the ceiling.
When I lived in Germany I was told that I needed to convert my driving licence to a European one within three months, otherwise I'd have to register at a 'Fahrschule' (driving school) and go out in threes and fours with teenagers learning to drive... If you miss your chance you have to start from scratch with their whole process. Glad I avoided that!
I really enjoyed this post, Matt. Thank you so much for the opportunity to think about my own learning-to-drive experiences.