My driving test in the US part 1

The Day arrived… I was standing there in a booth, pen in hand and ready to write the test…

DMV California
DMV California

Four weeks earlier I had made an appointment to apply for a California driver license. Why? because there is no agreement with the US to validate the EU driving permit. So the State of California requires me to pass an eye exam; a written test and a behind-the-wheel test in order to be able to drive legally in California.

(To read more: “can I drive in California with my European driver license?“).

This was not a surprise. I knew for some time that I was going to have to write a test; but I had always failed to find motivation to learn for it… until 72 hours before…

72 hours before I went online and discovered that the California driver handbook has over 100 pages…what???… I was about to cry when I learnt that a colleague had sent us a number of former dmv tests… yipeee!!!… please raise your hand if you have never (ever) use former exams to learn for a future one…

Many of you (European expats in the US) have been (like me) driving all your life. Mostly without a ticket nor an accident, so you may (as I did) feel ready to test your driving knowledge without even reading the California handbook.

In my opinion: this is a mistake. My German husband (who always claims to be a better driver than I am… ) and I, we both failed over 75% of all the sample tests (before reading the driver’s handbook). It frustrates me when people tell stories about going to the dmv test without reading the book, responding in 5 mins and passing… they are lying!!!  Please do not fall for their lies! 

Rules in the US are different than in Europe, this is a fact and it doesn’t matter how good driver you are, you need to learn the new rules and you need to read the handbook, as we did. And if you don’t believe me, just give it a try and let me know if you can answer the following questions:

  1. A pedestrian makes eye contact with you at an intersection… what does it mean? 
  2. What’s the maximum speed (mph) in an alley?
  3. A taco truck is stopped with flashing lights, what do you do?
  4. The traffic lights do not work at an intersection, who has the right of way?
  5. A school bus is stopped with flashing red lights, what do you do?
  6. How in advance can you drive over a bike lane to turn right? or can’t you drive over the bike lane?
  7. Where do you need to keep your wheels, when you are turning left?

72 hours later I went to my dmv appointment: I waited, I filled the forms; I passed an eye test; I gave my fingerprints; I signed; I gave my fingerprints again; they took a photo of me and then they gave me the test.

The test had 36 multiple choice questions and I needed to have 6 or fewer mistakes to pass. I stood up there in the booth, pen in hand and started answering the questions. It took me 15 minutes and in the process, I had two flashbacks: one from the Lonely Tunes and another one from the Simpsons (with Homer in the DMV with Patty/Selma)… for some reason both helped and 20 minutes later, they gave me a temporary license to drive in California.

Department of Motor Vehicles written test
Department of Motor Vehicles written test

And just in case you are curious, here are the answers to the above questions:

  1. That he/she wants to cross.
  2. It’s 15mph
  3. You slow down, to confirm that you can drive by safely and then drive by
  4. Follow yield of right rules in California
  5. You need to stop and wait until the bus turns off the red flashing light
  6. 200 feet
  7. Straight ahead

My temporary license gives me 60 days to prepare for the behind-the-wheel test, until then I can legally drive in California! 🙂

Have you also had to do a dmv test recently?


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