Navigating the road toward getting a license: Dealing with the DMV, lessons and more

Miranda Li

Learning to drive is a rite of passage for 16-year-olds in America; once teenagers receive the keys to a car - and their independence - they may never come back.

However, they must first prepare for the extremely long and tedious process of acquiring a driver license. As a recently licensed teen driver, here are my tips and tricks to surviving the journey.

Start the process early. Not only does this give teens a taste of freedom as soon as possible, it also saves a lot of money. Insurance rates for new teen drivers are a lot higher than for those who have at least a year of experience behind the wheel. After I turned 16 my junior year, I postponed my driver education for six months to study for the SAT - which my driving instructor said was stupid, because standardized testing is not life-or-death, but driving very much can be.

The first step of the process is to undergo 25 hours of driver education in order to take the permit test. Because most California high schools do not offer classroom instruction, despite it being required by law (Ed Code 51220 j), your best bet is an online driver education program. I recommend perusing Groupon for the best deal (some courses even teach you how to change a tire) and then begin your 25-hour driver ed extravaganza. I also suggest looking for practice tests online and taking as many as you can, as these questions are often repeated on the actual exam.

When it’s finally time to take the permit test, arrive at the DMV with your certificate of completion of driver education, driver license application, birth certificate or passport and residence card, Social Security number and the $33 application fee. Nothing I say can truly prepare you for the DMV. You may have heard awful things about it - dozens of people packed into one small building, impatient customers arguing with staff and hours upon hours of tedious waiting. I’m here to tell you all of it is true. However, you can make an appointment for your permit test, which I highly recommend to avoid the waiting.

What most people don’t know is that if you pass the test, the photo they take for your permit will be the one shown on your license. So if you didn’t make an appointment in advance and woke up at the crack of dawn and rushed to the DMV an hour before it opened only to see the line already wrapped around the building - like me - chances are you won’t love your license photo (but then again, no one does).

Once the permit is secure, you’re free to drive - with supervision. So it’s time to find a suitable driver’s academy and undergo six hours of behind-the-wheel training. This was easily the most terrifying six hours of my life, as I had just learned how to start a car and adjust my mirrors before being thrown into action, trying to navigate the busy streets and follow traffic signals along with directions. Maybe try practicing before your first lesson, if your parents are willing to take the risk of being in the car with you.

After practicing your new driving skills for 50 hours (including 10 hours of driving in the dark), you are finally able to take your behind-the-wheel driving test to obtain your license. The appointment needs to be booked months in advance, as they are often completely filled. I have friends who even used an outside service to book an appointment for them. When you begin the driving test, remain calm and take a couple deep breaths - the worst that can happen is having to wait a couple months and try again.

If you pass your behind-the-wheel test on the first try, congratulations! You’re ready for the roads. If you don’t, no worries - I didn’t, either. Learn from your mistakes and try again. And when you finally do become a licensed driver, just be glad you made it through the ride and will likely never have to go through the process again.

Miranda Li is a Palo Alto High School senior and Town Crier

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