Wednesday, September 14, 2005

All good, right up til the end

Oh dear, looks like someone in Murfreesboro has failed his driver’s license test in a most spectacular way. This would be unremittingly hilarious if two people hadn’t been hurt.

Here's more detail from The Tennessean

I can well imagine that the poor guy was a bit nervous taking the test, I can remember my own. I’ve taken two driver’s license tests and the experiences couldn’t be more different. On the day I turned 16, my mom took me to the driver’s license place in Lawrenceburg (the one that used to be by the entrance to Davy Crockett State Park, before it was washed away in the big flood). I think we drove up the hill around the square and back down again. A pass! I was quite nervous though, and the examiner suggested that I get a little more experience before driving up to Nashville alone.

However, getting my British driving license was tough. When I took the test in the UK, I had been driving legally in the US for 13 years and illegally in the UK for two (some of that time was concurrent). In the UK they have a quota system, so even if everybody is a really good driver, some portion of people must fail, in other words, they test on a curve. They also test less on your general driving ability and more on how well you apply their DVLA (Driver and Vehicular Licensing Agency) arcane driving style. There’s only one way to find out what this is, and that’s to take lessons from a qualified driving instructor. You also have to take the test in a car that’s fitted with passenger side brakes, dual steering and special dual mirrors. Guess who has those? Yep, qualified driving instructors. It’s a racket, a license to print money. So, of course, I took lessons.

I also took lessons because I knew the whole Vol-Family would never, ever, never let me live it down if it were discovered that I had failed my driving test. I could see that it would be the subject of much “good natured” ribbing at family get-togethers or whenever I got behind the wheel of the car. “You don’t want to let Vol drive, you know she failed her driver’s license test.”

So what is the DVLA driving style that I had to learn to pass? Well, here’s a few things that they make you do, and each person taking the test WILL be asked to do 2 of these things.

    1. A perfect hill start in a manual transmission. They don’t actually rest a glass of wine on the hood of the car and fail you if you spill a drop, but it’s not far from it.
    2. Parallel park in one velvety-smooth motion, wheels perfectly aligned.

    3. Reverse around a corner - same baby’s bottom smoothness required, but you must stay the same distance from the curb (between 6 and 18 inches, as I recall) throughout the whole manoeuvre.
    4. Emergency stop. You tootle along at a steady clip, the examiner yells “Emergency stop” directly into your ear and you have to come to no-squeal, no swerve ”controlled stop” as quickly as possible
    5. Turn around in one of those impossibly narrow English roads, in a perfect three-point turn. Oh and did I mention you have to put the handbrake on during each of those three points?

In fact, the whole DVLA style revolves around the handbrake. The handbrake is something I previously only used in parking on steep Knoxville hills, so this was quite a shift for me. You have to put on the handbrake if you come to a stop, at a traffic light, while waiting to go on a roundabout (Goodness the roundabout! Don't get me started. Have you seen the discussions at Can Farragut Change? ). The DVLA just loves the handbrake, the handbrake and grossly exaggerated mirror checks. Make sure the examiner sees you do the mirror check.

Anyway, I did pass. The scoring system allows you so many ‘minors’ and no (or possibly one) ‘major’ fault in your driving. I got two minors. One was for failing to indicate before changing lanes (really a no-no test or no test) and I’ll admit I definitely failed to indicate. The other was for ‘rudeness in driving’. Now as a Southerner, I pride myself particularly as being a considerate driver, so I took it hard. It still rankles. My examiner’s viewpoint (and she was a harsh, harsh woman) was that I failed to yield to two drivers on a congested side road. In England, residential roads are often so full of parked cars on both sides that there’s only room for one car to pass. I’m pretty good about pulling out and letting the other person go, But in this case, not one driver, but two could see that I was in the clearly marked “driving test car” and very kindly pulled out for me before I had time to flip my indicator (for yes, I would have had to do that) and pull out. I tried to use telepathy and a subtle nod to thank them (for I could not move my hands from the 10 and 2 position to do the friendly little thank-you wave).

Of course, as evil as my driving examiner was, I’m very glad I got her. The other driving examiner was an early-stage pre-operative transsexual. That is, the stage where you have to dress like a woman, but the hormones haven’t really kicked in. This guy really wasn’t terribly convincing and appeared to be some sort of comedic version of a transvestite or the burly undercover cop pulling ‘drag duty’. Weren’t nobody fooled. He was well over six feet tall and used thick pancake makeup to cover his 3 o’clock shadow. I’m very sympathetic to those with gender identity issues, I mean it must be quite traumatic. But spare a thought for the poor 17-year-old (the earliest you can take your test here) who’s nervous and inexperienced enough (and not just in driving), who then has to be assessed on his/her “DVLA style” by Herman Munster in a skirt?


genderist said...

Actually, this does not shock me. After living in the Boro for six years and spending that time dodging drivers with "Rutherford County" on their license plate, I can't believe they're just now making these headlines. Notoriously scary. I thought that the Rutherford driving exam consisted of making lane changes without signaling and random slamming of breaks.

On a trip out of state The Hater and I noticed a crazy driver several cars ahead. We made Rutherford County jokes --- to find that their tags *were* from there.

St. Caffeine said...

Another friend who has moved over your way told a similar tale of woe involving the driving test. Her experience was almost exactly the same as yours. I halfway doubted her story about the insistence on the hand brake, but I guess I know have confirmation. The one that really slays me, though, is:

3. Reverse around a corner - same baby’s bottom smoothness required, but you must stay the same distance from the curb (between 6 and 18 inches, as I recall) throughout the whole manoeuvre.

Has anyone on the planet ever needed to reverse around a corner in his daily driving routine? Even if done properly, it just seems to be an unsafe move.

Vol Abroad said...

I tried to think of it as a skill that would come in handy if I needed to back a boat on a wonky launch.