The trauma of having to renew my California driver’s license | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Palo Alto Online |

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By Diana Diamond

The trauma of having to renew my California driver’s license

Uploaded: Feb 9, 2019

THAT notice from the DMV arrived in my mailbox almost three months ago, announcing that I must renew my driver’s license by my birthday, Feb. 4th, and make an appointment for a written test. On that date, the DMV said, I needed to bring along a passport or a birth certificate, my existing driver’s license, two proofs of residency, a social security card -- all to verify I am who I know I am. I also have to pay $36 – by cash, check or debit card – but NO credit cards accepted.

Terror struck! I have taken these written tests before, and know they can be tricky and occasionally include questions on extraneous things that didn’t matter to me like how many seconds away from a motorcycle should I drive (four). Plus to pass the exam (7 out of 10 questions), the DMV advised me to read the “California Driver’s Handbook 2018.”

I happen to be an overly conscientious person (a good and a bad trait), and so I immediately went online to schedule an appointment. The first available date was four days after my birthday. Would I get a ticket for driving with an expired license? I called the Palo Alto Police Department, and was told no, as long as I could substantiate I had a scheduled DMV appointment.

Five days before my appointment, I started reading the 118-page handbook. It was a tedious read, full of boring information, e.g., how many feet I should park away from a fire hydrant (15), what does a five-sided sign mean (I’m near a school) or a truck is a slow-moving vehicle. I know the DMV likes number, so I circled hundreds in the booklet, like how far should my headlights shine, how big a car can I drive with a Class C license (a two-axle weighing 26,000 lbs. or a three-axle 6,000 pounder) and how much time might a person serve in jail or get fined if he refuses to stop alongside a highway when police officers ask him (up to a year in jail). I took more than a 100 sample questions and wondered what fines and sentencing had to do with a test of my driving knowledge. Isn’t that what a judge deals with? Maybe the DMV is trying to scare us (successfully, for me).

Then I took the “knowledge test” and some of the questions drove me berserk. I am one of these people who keeps on thinking of exceptions to a rule. For example, in my first written exam years ago, one T or F question was, “A driver should never pass a car going uphill.” Well, “yes, but…” What if there was a slow driver that had moved to the shoulder and was signaling for me to pass him? Or what if it was a two-lane uphill road? I marked the question false, and got it wrong. The DMV didn’t like my thought process, I guess. This time I encountered a similar sentence in the handbook: “Large trucks, bicyclists and small underpowered cars lose speed on long or steep hills. True, correct? The DMV thinks so. But then I thought that the question assumes the trucks and cyclists are going uphill, but what if they are going downhill? That sentence doesn’t mention that there is an up and down part to a hill, and trucks go faster downhill.

See my dilemma in taking a test like this?

Do you know what a “crossbuck” is? One of the sample test questions had that word in a question and asked whether I should drive slowly, or immediately stop or forget about the crossbuck. Well, thanks to Google, I found that a crossbuck “has two crossed white boards showing the words RAILROAD CROSSING and should be considered the same as a YIELD sign.”

I got my hair cut the day before my tests. I wanted to look good in a picture that would be on my license for the next five years. (“Vanity, thy name is…)

I took the test on a computer screen that immediately announces you have an incorrect answer (and can’t correct it). The DMV tests have gotten harder than I remember. Nevertheless, I passed!!! A happy face and sighs of relief.

This entire renewal took about two hours, even though there were no lines outside the building. Inside, the process was more time-consuming, like one employee handling more than a dozen of us in line. Yet I must compliment many of the DMV employees In Redwood City who were kind and helpful, even though hour after hour, they must hear the same complaints from test takers.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in January he is going after the DMV for a number of problems, like not accepting credit cards, and the long lines and waits, and the time it takes to renew a license. Good for him!

Yet despite all my complaints, I think the process was most worthwhile. I realized that I relearned a lot, and as a result, have become more focused on my driving performance (and, unfortunately, my husband’s – “You passed the damn test,” he tells me. “Now leave me alone as I drive.”).

I cautiously suggest that everyone should have to retake the written test every 10 years or so, to make us better drivers.