Somebody recently asked if I was going to repeat the series of Letters from America as they had missed many of the earlier ones. I then realised that it was two years since the first post went out and there are some newer readers to the blog who might be interested in reading.
At the same time as I was writing my weekly letters home to my parents, I was also writing articles on various events that took place or about places we visited. I wrote this piece about the dreaded driving test that we had to take to enable us to buy a car and get insured. We both had full licences from the UK but had to give this up and obtain a Texas licence… This was 35 years ago so both the test and some of the then rules of the road are likely to have been changed. One of these was a written test which was not introduced into the UK until some years later.
The Driving Test Texas Style by Sally Cronin
From the date of arrival you have 30 days to apply for and take a Texas driving test. Within a week we had obtained a copy of the Texas Driver’s Handbook from the Department of Public Safety. Very similar to our own Highway code, but differing in several important areas such as in road signage and right of way when driving. Several pages are devoted to the various responsibilities, and penalties for failure to comply, and at first glance they were intimidating. We needed to be totally sure of all the different elements as we would be completing a written test which we had to pass before undergoing a practical examination.
Signs and signals are basically the same as in the UK, but one thing to watch very carefully , is that it is legal in Texas, and most other states, to pass on the inside, and to even turn right at a red traffic light if your road is clear. In the UK it was illegal to undertake, and whilst you still would check before moving into an inside lane, in the US you needed to be almost paranoid in attention to your rear and side mirrors.
At least we had enjoyed three weeks of driving practice in David’s temporary company car before the test, and we spent considerable time doing our homework. Both of us had driven for several years and were only too aware of our bad habits!.
The morning of our test we drove to the Department of Public Safety with some trepidation, unsure of what to expect. We had already filled in our application forms and stood in a long line waiting to be seen. An eye test is conducted at the counter and both thumb prints taken. You are then given two sheets of questions and told to sit in the examination area. Thank goodness we had done our homework, although the questions all had multi-choice answers, which meant you had one in four chances of getting it right, there was no room for guesswork. After completing the questions it was back in line and the papers were marked.
Thankfully we both passed having asked more than 14 questions correctly, but were told that they were booked up for the day on the practical tests and we needed to come back in the morning for ours.
Having had another nervous night’s sleep, we presented ourselves at the DPS as soon as they opened at 7.30 a.m, to ensure being first in line. Our tests were booked one after the other from 8.00 am. although it was 8.30am. before David was called over by a police officer.
When David returned 20 minutes, later I was waiting by the kerb for my turn, and as he got out of the car he shook his head at me. He had failed, but he didn’t have time to say anything, as the trooper indicated for me to take the driving seat. I was already nervous, not knowing quite what to expect and quite frankly, slightly intimidated by an armed policeman sitting in the passenger seat. He introduced himself as Officer Rodriquez and told me to drive to the rear of the building, where I was told to reverse into a coned off parking space and parallel park. This was almost a disaster as I was so nervous; you could have got a taxi to the kerb.
I was then directed to leave the car park and proceed onto the main road. As in England, signals and checking mirrors are of vital importance, and I made sure to look as if I was aware of both.The rest of the test was conducted around a nearby housing estate where the speed limit was 20 miles per hour. Several right and left turns were involved and the officer told me to “Stop”…..which I did immediately having checked my rear view mirror and slamming the breaks on. Officer Rodriquez peeled himself off the dashboard and turned to glare at me…. “As smoothly as possible” Clearly not the Emergency Stop that I had expected as part of the test then!
He then made me reverse up the road for 50 feet and around a corner until told to stop. I had convinced myself that I had now failed after nearly sending him through the windshield; the rest of the test passed in a blur. We finally arrived back at the test centre and parked at the back of the building. Officer Rodriquez was rapidly writing on a pad which he then handed across the seats for me to sign. Then amazingly told me to go and pick up my temporary licence. He got out and left me holding the portion of the test and shaking from head to toe. The maximum points that can be deducted before failing the test was 30 and I had 26.
After locking up the car I went into join David in the centre where he had booked a retest for the next day. Apparently he had failed by going 22 miles per hour in the 20 mile zone. I took my test results to the counter and had my photograph taken which was horrendous as you can imagine; I have to live with that for the next two years on my licence as a reminder of the day. Not so bad when you only have to show occasionally, but it is now my official form of identification and I have to show every time I write a cheque in every store I shop in.
David returned the next morning and passed his test thankfully, but the amusing thing was that it turned out I was one of a very few that had passed the day before; most in line commented that they hoped they did not have Officer Rodriquez again!
©Sally Cronin 1985
I have to say that my terror of driving passed, but my fear of bumping into Officer Rodriquez when out in the car, meant that I was a law abiding citizen throughout the next two years. I eventually clocked up over 50,000 miles as we explored both coasts and across central America on our adventures.
I hope you have enjoyed this adventure and look forward to your feedback. More next Tuesday.