Hello again blog-readers of the blogosphere. In this post, I’m going to talk about my experience navigating the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and all of their nonsense. I will also offer advice to those of you who are involved or have a loved one involved in this process. Here we go!
Getting your permit
As many of you know, as a New Jerseyan, you are eligible to get a so-called Special Learner’s Permit from the age of sixteen. In order to do this, you must pass the written exam (score at least 80%). This can happen in one of two ways: 1) You take it in Driver’s Ed class at school and your teacher signs a little piece of paper, or 2) You take it through the MVC (Motor Vehicle Commission, aka DMV), either on your own or through a driving school. Which brings us to our next point.
In order to get a permit as a sixteen-year-old, one must take six hours of behind-the-wheel driving lessons from an accredited driving school. Find one in your area and call them up to schedule your lessons. The driving instructor picks you up from school or your house or wherever you are and usually puts you behind the wheel right away.
When I did this, I was petrified because the instructor basically showed me where the gas and brake were and told me to “drive”. I was searching for the words to explain to him that this was my first lesson, that I had never driven before, and that, consequently, I didn’t know how to drive. But, as I learned later, this is just the (crazy) way most driving instructors teach. They prefer learning by doing, I guess.
Please don’t freak out that you’re going to crash into something, because the driving instructor has his/her own pedals and is so good at driving that he/she can basically drive the car from the passenger side by reaching over to the steering wheel in case you have a meltdown on the road.
Three two-hour lessons plus random fees will run you about $400, give or take. It’s a total scam, BUT:
If you wait until you’re 17 to get your permit in order to avoid taking behind the wheel driving lessons, your insurance will cost about $400 more than it would if you had taken the lessons. So this strategy doesn’t really save you any money, you just have to wait a whole extra six months-one year to get your license! Yikes!
You have to take a vision test, too, by the way. The driving school will take care of it if you use one, or you can take it at the MVC.
Practice, practice, practice
Once you finally have your permit, it’s time to practice. Please don’t forget to practice. Driving is WEIRD and might not come naturally. In any case, it takes experience to know what to expect on the road and to get the hang of maneuvering a car. I would know.
I am a person with strong fine motor skills, meaning that I can make small and precise motions with my hands. For example, I learned to knit and play the piano at a fairly young age. My gross motor skills, however, are not so hot to say the least. I am always bumping into things, dropping things, accidentally slamming doors and waking everybody up early in the morning. If we consider a car to be an extension of the body, then driving is a gross motor skill, Q.E.D. I have an excuse for being a very bad driver.
Some things, like math, foreign languages, and those fine motor skills I mentioned earlier, come fairly easily to me. Everyone has strong suits like that. For me, driving is not one of those strong suits. But OF COURSE I know I’ll get better if I practice, and I remain optimistic that I’ll pass my road test even if I didn’t make it through the first time.
The road test
When it came time to pursue my license, I really did my homework. I passed the written test on the day after my sixteenth birthday, did my six hours as soon as humanly possible, and scheduled my road test for my seventeenth birthday. Here’s what happened on that fateful day:
- I drove my grandma’s car to the road test course. (Grandma was in the passenger seat). In New Jersey, for whatever reason, they test your driving by having you drive on a course by the MVC location instead of on an actual road with actual other cars.
- I waited in line. The windy road into the course led to the back of a long, long, line of cars that took forty-five minutes to get through. It provided a good vantage point so I could watch other people taking the test, though.
- When I got to the front, I couldn’t take the test because I didn’t have my decals. You may have heard of the $4 red decals New Jersey drivers under 19 are required to have on the license plates of any car they drive. The main reason I never bought these was that my driving instructor had told me, and I quote: “Never, ever use the red decals”. Even after I asked him over and over again whether I could be ticketed for that (I could’ve). I get that he wanted to protect me from being profiled by police or followed by creeps, but I really should have ignored his bad advice and put decals on my grandma’s car ahead of time so as to avoid step 4:
- I went to the MVC building, bought decals, put them on the car, and waited in line for another hour. The MVC building is a certifiable pit of hell, and by this time I was tired and extremely cranky.
- I finally started my test. Parallel parking in between the cones was basically the first thing. I hadn’t practiced that much, and I was impatient and cranky. I tried five times and hit the curb each time. It felt like the spot was too narrow, as if I would reach the curb before I knew it. Finally, I guess I must have inferred that the bump I was feeling couldn’t possibly be the curb already, so I just backed right onto it. Of course, it was the curb, and I automatically failed. I cried. I went back to school.
The morals of the story?
- Make sure your car is road-test ready. This includes the decals if you’re under 19, but it also includes several other vehicle specifications that you can look up on the NJ MVC website. One of the big ones is that the parking break (emergency break) of the car has to be on the center console, not on the left like it is in A LOT of cars (that’s why I had to use my Grandma’s car instead of my parents’ car). You may also have to disable some safety features! Read the rules before the test!!!
- Practice more. I didn’t practice enough. I didn’t practice parallel parking enough. I didn’t practice in my Grandma’s car enough. Prepare yourself!
- Avoid common road test faux-pas. You have to schedule a test, don’t just show up. The cones for parallel parking are not necessarily as wide as an actual parking space. Remember to use turn signals for parking. Stop at ALL the stop signs, even the first one, and don’t make a rolling stop. If the person testing you tells you to do something illegal, they’re probably just testing you. Don’t do it. In that same vein, make sure your person is wearing his/her seat belt before you move. And, for the love of God, bring your permit and all your ID documents with you.
Remember, you’re not alone if you find driving difficult, fail the test the first time, or find this whole process unnecessarily confusing. I hope this post cleared up the process of getting your license a bit, or at least saved you some time at the MVC! I’ll let you know how I do on my next test.