Bumper to Bumper: How I failed to drive -- Gazette.Net







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Click here to see the video

I always have thought I was a good driver.

In my seven years behind the wheel, not once have I been pulled over by a police officer. I have received two tickets — one for parking and another for passing a red light. On top of that, I’ve never been in any sort of accident, except for that fender bender last spring which was entirely her fault, but you get the drill.

Needless to say, when the state Motor Vehicle Administration extended to members of the media an invitation to take its new and improved driving skills test, as part of its 2011 Maryland Driver’s Challenge, who was I to say no?

I met MVA spokesman Buel Young on Thursday at the Gaithersburg branch office, and he was kind enough to remind me of the biggest mistakes drivers make, such as failing to stop behind the white line at an intersection and forgetting to treat the course as if it were the open road.

Blah blah, no worries. I have this. I had brushed up on my parallel parking, practiced making 2-point turns, and even took the online tutorial test on the MVA website, timed and all; 50 percent pass/fail rate be damned.

The basics have not changed much. On a closed course, you still have to demonstrate your ability to parallel park and all that fun stuff.

But the test doesn’t end there anymore. If you pass the closed course portion, the examiner will take you out onto the open road, where you earn the opportunity to apply your skills to a real world setting. “It better assesses a driver’s true ability,” Young said.

As eight state laws affecting drivers became official Oct. 1 — including a prohibition of text messaging while operating a car, and the Drunk Driving Reduction Act, requiring the use of ignition locks in certain cases — testing must be revamped to incorporate the changes, Young said.

So with my MVA examiner Dennis Waldron in the passenger seat, we took off for what ended with my humiliation, all captured on camera.

Parallel parking is one of the first skills tested. I didn’t get into the spot the first time. Or second. But I did the third, and within the 3 minute time limit. Next, came the reverse 2-point turn, where you back into a small space. Perhaps because my Toyota Camry is built like a Sherman tank, I didn’t feel it when my back left bumper hit the cone, resulting in an automatic failure.

Oh, well. But then Waldron told me I already had failed the test during the parallel parking portion.

Say what? It turns out that while I was readjusting the car to reattempt to parallel park, I failed to look for oncoming traffic. And once I forgot to turn on my signal. Young had warned me about these mistakes only moments before.

I fared far better on the open road portion, which I passed, not that it mattered. I’ll spare you the boring details in print and let you revel in the video, which can be found on gazette.net/video.

Changes at the MVA do not end with the new driving skills test. As of Oct. 1, anyone seeking a learners permit must take a revamped knowledge test, with 25 questions, up from the previous 20, again to reflect new driving laws.

Would-be drivers can get a jump on the process by taking a practice test online at www.mva.maryland.gov or by downloading the free MD Practice Driving Test application on the iTunes store.

With the new app and online test, officials hope driving skills passing rates will increase, Young said.

Thankfully, no one took my license and shredded it. But it makes you wonder.

Did you or someone you know take the new driving skills test in the past year? What do you think of it? Email me at nnourmohammadi@gazette.net or bumper@gazette.net.