Driving the point home

When a person turns 70 in California, they need to show up at the DMV the next time their license comes up for renewal. They also need to take the handbook test. One of those is easier than the other. Not that you’d guess that from the DMV site:

I call bullshit on that. Apparently, 40 percent of people fail the first time. Including yours truly—and this was after I’d read through the handbook carefully, since sure, rules change and being an experienced driver doesn’t ensure that all the rules of the road stay in the mind. And if you fail three times, you have to reapply—at a cost of an additional $41. I wonder how many people driving without a license are doing so because they couldn’t afford the repeated testing?

Part of the failure rate is that the people who compile the tests just love to ask questions about specific distances, even though most of us couldn’t tell you just how many feet away that marker down the road is—


I took my test, received my failure, and went home to memorize the damned book. I read it aloud. I marked the kinds of things they were sure to ask, and read those sections aloud again.

And I will admit that I learned a few things. Such as—

And it was good to have a reminder that—

Although there were loads of things that, though they’re obvious to any responsible adult, it surprises me that they actually have a rule, such as—

You must not smoke when a minor is in the vehicle. You could be fined.

Frankly, there were loads of things that could have been covered more succinctly by merely stating:

Do not drive like an idiot.

Some of the illustrations took a fair amount of puzzling over, even if you were familiar with driving through a roundabout or having bicycles on the road with you.

But other things, well, whoever wrote this section of the handbook is just plain wrong:

Turn on your lights 30 minutes AFTER sunset?  And BEFORE sunrise? Wouldn’t that render most cars completely invisible until they’re right on top of you?

But it’s the plethora of precise punishments that I had to commit to memory—








However, I noted what they said, tried to memorize the difference between the punishment for one crime and that for another (fine, bigger fine, fine plus jail, or man you’ve truly screwed up and you’re going to prison.)

Also, it occurred to me, somewhat belatedly, that there is a difference between 911, the DMV, and law enforcement. Which, yes, makes sense, and might even be obvious, but I don’t think it’s quite so apparent as the DMV appears to think. Perhaps they might have noted there, along with the other too-obvious-to-bother-saying notes, that reporting something to the police does not mean you have told the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The second time through, I passed. Rest safe, America, knowing that Laurie King is behind the wheel, and knows where she can, and cannot, do a U-turn.

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  1. Diane Kazan on October 1, 2023 at 7:33 pm

    Just turned 70, I woŕy about the macho guys in the big pickups than my demographic!

    • Laurie King on October 3, 2023 at 12:01 pm

      Me too!

  2. Christine C on October 1, 2023 at 7:55 pm

    Yikes! I don’t think I have had to take a Rules of the Road test since I got my motorcycle license 44 years ago. It has been long expired.

    I will have to take a road test when I turn 75. I really don’t object to this. I knew it was time to investigate assisted living for my in-laws when they called to ask how to turn on the defroster and heater in their car.

    I hope that when the time comes, I will know when it is right for me to give up driving.

    My biggest worry these days isn’t older drivers, but all the people on their phones!

    • Laurie King on October 3, 2023 at 12:02 pm

      Though to be fair, some cars do hide the controls in odd places…
      And yes for the phones!

  3. Shoshana on October 1, 2023 at 8:07 pm

    When I turned 70 we were in the middle of COVID-19, so no driving tests were being conducted. I have an excellent record, so one day my renewed license was sent to me. I have been truly careful ever since, because I don’t want to lose their good opinion of me!

    • Laurie King on October 3, 2023 at 12:02 pm

      So responsible…

  4. Lisa Masoni on October 1, 2023 at 9:50 pm

    Oh man. I’ve got to get my kid through this in less than a year. And then let them loose on the streets of San Jose, where other drivers never met a rule that they didn’t think was worth ignoring.

    • Laurie King on October 3, 2023 at 12:03 pm

      Training in video-game playing helps enormously.

  5. Judy on October 2, 2023 at 7:16 am

    So a County Jail must be a very harsh place to be incarcerated?

    • Laurie King on October 3, 2023 at 12:03 pm

      Among the many oddities.

  6. Rachael Tearle on October 2, 2023 at 10:07 am

    My kid recently got their license. And apparently the permit test is mainly memorizing what the penalties are for junior operators if they get a ticket. It’s all about the facts and figures. Which don’t help you be a good driver at all!

    • Laurie King on October 3, 2023 at 12:04 pm

      I know, right? What do the penalties matter so long as you’re aware something is Not To Be Done?

  7. Sara Zander on October 2, 2023 at 1:10 pm

    What saved me when I took the written test 7 years ago at 70 was taking the free series of sample quizzes offered on line from DMV. And I agree; the overwhelming number of questions about exact fines and punishments instead of actual driving safety reeks of lazy test creators and space fillers. It was the same with my recent Real Estate Closer Notary renewal testing. 80% of the questions are completely useless in real life notary work and focused on memorizing exact fees for punishments.

    • Laurie King on October 3, 2023 at 12:04 pm


  8. Denise Sullivan on October 3, 2023 at 11:59 am

    The hardest part of taking the test was finding a parking space at the Redwood City facility. Then I had to track down some QR code or confirmation number they sent when I set up an appointment. No wifi, of course, and even my mobile data didn’t want to connect. Then they couldn’t find that I had prepaid all the fees (so I paid again). The final annoyance was not being told which answer I got wrong. But it all got done, and that afternoon I went to my mailbox to find a brand new license with my photo from 20+ years ago on it! A week later another one showed up, this one with my current face. I wonder if the one with my younger self would work for TSA and my Known Traveller Number.

    • Laurie King on October 3, 2023 at 12:05 pm

      Ooh, all that is not exactly reassuring to a society that depends on a license for ID….

  9. Connie Terrell on October 6, 2023 at 3:27 pm

    My experience is very similar. However because of my age I was terrified of what would happen if I failed the third time. The questions were absurd; things I would never encounter. I did fail the third time. However, it turned out to be no big deal. The lady assisting us in the testing area helped me reapply. Then when I went through the process of seeing the various people for the application process I received my driver’s license without taking the test again. That was worth the extra charge for me since I was so stressed out by then! Then to add insult to injury I went to visit my home state Kansas and was told there is no longer a written test there.

  10. Nancy Moore on October 8, 2023 at 12:41 pm

    I did the on line test. It was easy because you studied one section and immediately took the test on what you had just studied.

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