Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Over 70? Driver's License Renewal? Take a Written Test

I passed 70 a while back, and more and more of my friends are doing so as well. If you are in the same boat, I hope that this article helps you:

Until now, whenever I had to renew my drivers license, it was a cinch. But this time, there was a nasty surprise: for the first time in half a century, I had to take a written test.

When I first got my renewal notice a few weeks ago and I saw that I had to take a test, I was cavalier about it, thinking that this was a formality. But then, I talked to some acquaintances and neighbors, and I discovered that many people FAIL this test. Web sites report first-time failure rates up to 72% (!).

I panicked. What happens when you fail? Of course you try again, but when and how often can you do that? Meanwhile, driving without a valid license is a crime. In my part of the world (Sacramento, California, USA) LIFE ITSELF becomes impossible without driving! When my mother lived here, she lost her driving privileges. As a result, she became the prisoner of her apartment. Once in a blue moon she would use our pathetic municipal bus for an errand downtown, and that took her about an entire day.

The situation was scary. So I put my nose to the grindstone. For a couple of weeks I did nothing but cram for this damn test. I printed the Department of Motor Vehicles’ (DMV) manual and read it multiple times. I Googled and answered hundreds of multiple-choice test questions.

Some tests have a dozen questions, some 50, some as many as 150. Either way, you have to get at least 85% right in order to pass. At first, my passing rates were 60% or 80%, sometimes 90%. I was failing more than half of my attempts!

Here are some examples:

1. To avoid last minute moves, you should be looking down the road to where your vehicle will be in about_______:
□ 5 to 10 seconds
□ 10 to 15 seconds
□ 15 to 20 seconds

2. When can you merge into a bike lane for a right turn?
□ no more than 100 feet before turning
□ no more than 200 feet before turning
□ under no circumstances

3. An exception to carrying alcoholic beverages in your vehicle is when:
□ your parent is with you
□ it is carried in the trunk
□ the container is sealed
□ there are no exceptions

4. The maximum speed limit for ideal driving conditions is:
□ the posted speed for the road or freeway you are using
□ whatever speed you feel is safe for you
□ the speed of other vehicles on the road

5. If you have a traffic conviction and an “at fault” accident while holding a provisional license:
□ your driving privilege will be suspended
□ DMV may wait to see if you have another before taking action
□ you will be restricted to driving only when accompanied by a licensed driver 25 years of age or older
□ you will be sent to a traffic violator school

6. It is against the law to enter an intersection when:
□ you cannot cross without obstructing traffic from either side
□ the light is flashing yellow and you have not come to a complete stop
□ the light is yellow
□ the lane you want to enter is blocked

7. If you are involved in an accident, you must show evidence that you have insurance or some form of financial responsibility in effect:
□ only if someone is injured
□ if you feel you were at fault
□ if the damage is less than $500
□ if the other driver asks to see it

8. Three of the most important times to check traffic behind you are before
□ backing, changing lanes or slowing down quickly
□ backing, making a sharp turn or crossing an intersection
□ changing lanes, crossing intersections or slowing down quickly

9. The extra space in front of a large truck is needed for
□ other drivers when merging onto a freeway
□ the truck driver to stop the vehicle
□ other drivers when they want to slow down

10. When a car cuts off a bicycle at a right turn, it’s called
□ a corner hook
□ a right hook
□ a cut

Well, you get the idea. A mix of easy, difficult, reasonable and unreasonable questions, if you ask me.

As I took and re-took such tests, my scores gradually improved. Finally the dreaded day arrived. At the DMV, they send me into a booth to take the test on a computer, standing, sort of like in a voting booth. I had drunk three cups of coffee, to boost my IQ. My heart was palpitating violently. I aced the test.

Afterwards, my euphoria was boundless. The prospect of not being able to drive, even temporarily, had been horrifying. What would I do? Bike to my dental appointments? Use the practically non-existent bus system? Inconvenience my wife day after day? An impossible scenario.

Many states require older folks to undergo an eye exam, but a majority of states don’t have any additional special older age requirements. And what’s most aggravating: California is THE ONLY state that requires you to take a written test! See  Driving Rules for Older Drivers

I am not sure that knowing many of the arcane rules makes you a better driver. Years ago, my mother passed the written test, but then she got into so many accidents that she had to stop driving. Once she ended up driving her car on top of a tree, another time she totaled her neighbor’s brand new Cadillac. Even though DMV passed her, she became uninsurable.

So here is my advice to you, based on my recent experience: IF you have to do the test, you better study, and study a LOT.

© Tom Kando 2015
Correct: b, b, a, c, c, d, d, b, b, b.

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