My driving test in the US part 2

101 San Francisco - San Jose

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?


European squirrel vs American squirrel

During the past Christmas holidays one of my friends in Germany posted a photo of a very sunny day in Munich and a squirrel in the park:

This is how a Friday should be: the sun is shinning and I have fed a squirrel… now the weekend can start.


Screen shot of my friend Janina's Facebook post: cute and shy European squirrel
Screen shot of my friend Janina’s Facebook post: cute and shy European squirrel

This post made me smile. Why? because European squirrels are shy and cute. It’s something special when you see one. They are afraid of people, so the moment they see you, they run fast away and up to the tree.

This has been my believe all my life… then I moved to California and I learnt that American squirrels are nothing like their European relatives.

After arriving and while driving around all these residential areas in Silicon Valley looking for a place to live, I noticed that there were a lot of squirrels. Of course, it’s super green here, there are a lot of trees, many parks… so it makes sense that there are also many squirrels. I liked it… at least I liked it during my first four weeks in California.

Five weeks later, I ran over a squirrel.

The creature was crossing and I had a car behind me and another one on my right, so my options were: to murder the squirrel or to cause an accident. I picked murder and I felt very very bad for a week and then…

I stopped feeling bad. These American squirrels are not cute, they are huge and they are everywhere. They move fast and they are not afraid of you, when they see you, they stop and stare directly at you with their cold full eyes, they don’t run away like their shy and cute European relatives. No, they stay and they challenge you.

Yep, that’s about when I started not liking squirrels. It was my week number 6 in California.

On my week number seven I finally understood this US commercial: 

Screen shot Squirrel attack commercial

Screen Shot of the squirrel attack commercial and video

You won’t probably be able to see the full video due to country copyrights so I’ve taken a print screen. In the end all you need to know is that a man is walking peacefully on down the street when he sees a squirrel; he then stops and the squirrels stares at him, then another squirrel comes down the tree and stares at the man, and then another one, and another… until the poor guy is completely surrounded (and panicking I must add). The next scene is when they attack him (as you can see in the print screen).

My cute and shy European squirrels won’t ever be capable of something like that. The American squirrels definitely are, I’m actually starting to grow a concern that due to their large number and the lack of food, they may turn into carnivores!

Bottom line: if you are new to the Bay, my advice is: stay away from the squirrels.

Don’t you find the American squirrels far more aggressive and dangerous than the European ones?