101 San Francisco - San Jose

My driving test in the US part 2

Following the post My driving test in the US part 1, it was time to write about the second test that I needed to take in order to get my California driver’s license: the behind-the-wheel test.

DMV California

DMV California

I’ve been driving for over 15 years in Europe without having nor causing an accident. And this includes:

  • my home country (Spain), where it’s common to find tailgaters both in the city center and in the road;
  • difficult countries to drive in (Belgium and Portugal) because of their high rate of road accidents (source: Road Safety in the EU, byt the European Commission);
  • and also in challenging countries (Germany) where in some roads they don’t have speed limits.

The problem is how to prove how experienced and good driver I am. By proving a certificate that confirms that I have all driving points in the EU or that states that I’m considered a very good driver for my insurance company? It doesn’t matter, because the California DMV won’t accept any kind of certificate, they want to see you in action and evaluate your driving skills, which I understand but at the same time, it doesn’t mean it’s not a pain.

When I passed the written test I got a 2-month temporary license that allowed me to drive around but that required me to pass the behind-the-wheel test within those two months.

And so I did although it was not a pleasant experience. For those of you Europeans, here are 7 tips on how to prepare for your behind-the-wheel-test in Silicon Valley.

1.- Make an appointment by phone and arrive 10 minutes in advance, although in certain offices (i.e. where I took the test: Santa Clara) you will need to sit in your car for 40 minutes before an instructor calls you to start the test.

2.- You need a car and financial responsibility, which is proof that the vehicle is properly insured by providing the current insurance binder; a rental car contract; your liability insurance policy or similar, with your name listed as the insured.

3.- “The DMV wants you to pass” as they state in their brochure but at the same time, they advise you to practice, practice and practice. The test lasts about 20 minutes and happens around the office where you have your dmv appointment, so be smart, arrive there with some time so you can drive around and get familiar with the area.

DMV brochure: how to prepare for your driving test

DMV brochure: how to prepare for your driving test

4.- They ask you to drive in regular street traffic; to make left and right turns; to cross controlled and uncontrolled intersections with stops; to change lanes; to back up in straight line parallel to a curbside; etc.

5.- In the brochure they state that in some cases the test will ask you to drive on the freeway. The didn’t ask me to do it so I can’t really tell you much about this.

6.- Please make sure you know the arm signals for left/right turning and stopping, they will ask you to perform them before the test starts. They will also ask you prove that you know where the operating controls are.

Screen Shot of the DMV site

Screen Shot of the DMV site

7.- The DMV has a YouTube channel where you can watch short videos of every maneuver they may ask you to do in the test. Also note how the driver in the videos turns over her shoulders to look back every time she changes lanes or turns right. This is a very important part of the test.

Screen Shot of the DMV YouTube channel

Screen Shot of the DMV YouTube channel

8.- Learn how they grade your driving, to pass you must have:

a) no more than 3 errors marked for items 9-14 under PRE-DRIVE CHECKLIST

  • 9.- Emergency/parking brake;
  • 10.- Arm signals;
  • 11.- Windshield wipers;
  • 12.- Defroster;
  • 13.- Emergency flasher;
  • 14.- Headlights

b) no marks in the CRITICAL DRIVING ERROR section

  • Intervention by examiner;
  • Strikes object/curb;
  • Disobeys traffic sign or signal;
  • Disobeys safety personnel or safety vehicles;
  • Dangerous maneuver;
  • Speed;
  • Auxiliary equipment use;
  • Lane violation.

c) no more than 15 errors marked for the Scoring Maneuvers

Scoring maneuvers in the DMV evaluation score sheet

Scoring maneuvers in the DMV evaluation score sheet

I had 4 errors out of 15, which is a very good result given that I was as nervous as a turkey at Christmas. 😦

A week after the test, I received my brand new California driver license by mail.

What’s your experience with the behind-the-wheel test?

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One thought on “My driving test in the US part 2

  1. Natalie says:

    After doing a good search for the DMV score sheet and reviewing it, thanks to your website, and reviewing your info on the driving test itself, I was able to pass my driving exam with ease! Like you I was nervous but managed it with no problem at all. Thanks for the tips they helped me a lot!

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