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Taking a driving test USA

Updated on February 25, 2014

I had been in America for six months and my son said, “You really ought to get a driving license, Dad”

Since the last driving test I had taken, was in England 1965, I did not relish the idea. In the UK a driving license is for life and does not need renewing.

I was still unused to driving on the wrong side of roads three lanes wide, with cars passing either side. Also driving at 50 mph towards red traffic lights. This totally goes against most Englishman’s instincts. Driving through traffic light areas in the UK, is usually 30 mph

.I still got lost in shopping mall car parks and always came out of them on the wrong side of the road, finding I had to totally drive away from where I wanted to go. But, I no longer climbed in the wrong door of the car and didn’t reach over the wrong shoulder for my seat belt. With the thought, that the English saying; ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ was untrue, I decided to go for it. Anyway, should I ever be stopped by an American cop, I don’t think he would be impressed with the dog eared piece of paper, that was my English driving license.

A driving license here is very important. It has to be shown when you use a credit card, also other situations for identity. Americans are hot on identification. You must have proof you are who you say you are.

After searching for the Test Centre and driving past it several times without realizing it, I found fifty people milling about inside. “Where do I go?” I thought. So I joined the biggest queue (line) at the first desk. I found that this queue was to get the correct form. After the man at the desk had asked me to repeat what I said twice (most Americans can’t understand real English when they hear it!) he gave me a form. I filled it in the best I could, it even asked if I was a Republican or Democrat?? (What’s that got to do with driving?) I put ‘other’ and hoped for the best.

I queued again at the desk; the man checked the form, gave me a number and told me to take a seat.

Each desk had a digital number screen above. It was like a ‘deli’ in an English supermarket. I waited for what seemed ages. Eventually my number came up and I went over to desk number one.

The young man scrutinized my papers carefully. He asked for some form of ID. I gave him my green card. This is a card I got from the government after many months of application and a whopping lawyers fee. It shows I am in the USA legally; it even has my fingerprints on it. Considering what it cost, he did not seem all that impressed with it.

The young man pressed a lot of computer keys and scratched his head once or twice. Eventually he had to get help from middle-aged woman seated in the middle of all the desks.

I was not surprised, a sixty five year old Englishman applying for a license must be quite rare occurrence in California. As I waited, I looked around, and high up near the ceiling I saw a number of boxes about 18” square with rows of tiny letters on them.The man suddenly pointed to one of these boxes set high up and asked me to read the top line. “Uh oh” I thought, “There’s going to be a problem here” Then he covered my poor sighted eye and told me to read the second line. That was okay, and then I thought, “I’m going to be in trouble here when he covers my good eye.” So I tried to memorize the third line because I knew I wouldn’t be able to read it with my bad eye. When he covered my good eye all I could see was a box with eighteen black smudges on it.

My memory not being so good as it once was, I could only remember four letters of the six, so I guessed the last two and said “V and C”. “That’s fine,” said the tester. When he uncovered my good eye I saw the last letter was ‘Z’. They pronounce it ‘Zee’ here!!

I then went to another desk where I had to press my thumb in a device also have my photo taken. The man with a very serious expression gave me a paper with thirty questions on it. I sat down and studied these looking for the easy ones. There didn’t seem to be any!

Eventually after a lot of head scratching I answered them all. I was pretty certain I had about 50% right. Regarding alcohol level for driving and what to do at a train crossing was anybody’s guess.

I handed the test paper back to the man at the desk, and then sat to wait. He had so many things to do; someone came to speak to him for about five minutes, then he had to take some photos of people, it seemed to take ages. He picked a test paper out of the box and examined it carefully. I waited with bated breath. But no, he called the man sitting next to me. After what seemed a long time, he called my name. Six wrong answers were allowed, I got 3 wrong.

He then asked to see my existing license, so I once again produced this dog-eared, scrappy bit of paper that was issued to me forty years ago.

He studied it with a puzzled expression on his face. He then got up and went over to see the large woman sitting in the middle of all these desks. This is the same woman my first inquisitor had approached, so I thought she would have been prepared for a problem, having already seen this strange paperwork of mine at the beginning of the circuit.

She once again studied my battered licence and they discussed what to do with it! They both turned and stared at me as only government employees can if you are becoming a nuisance. He returned and handed back the license and said

“Where on here does it say what you are allowed to drive?”

I took it and looked at it and he was right! I couldn’t see anywhere on the license the answer to his question.

“Well’ I said pointing to some numbers (I hadn’t a clue what the numbers meant) “It says here that I can drive a car, a motorbike and my missus (wife) up the wall!”

He didn’t laugh. He handed me my UK license back and said, “OK, you can go.” With a sigh of relief I did!


I’d been studying the American equivalent of the Highway Code for months on the Internet. But nowhere in it, at all, did it mention hand signals? So when the examiner stood outside the car and asked me to do a left hand turn signal, I was surprised. No problem I thought, (don’t forget the steering wheel is on the left hand side in American cars) I just stuck my left arm out of the window.

‘OK” he says “Now a right hand turn”.

Well, when you're turning left (on the other side of the road) in England you circle your arm, so that’s what I did. He looked at me in amazement. “Do thet again" he said.

I did it again.

“Jeepers! What’s thet?” he exclaimed.

I mumbled something about that’s how we do it in England.

“In America thet means Hi, how are you doing, to the people across the street! How about yew signaling slow down & stop?” he asked.

I thought ‘Uh Oh, this ain’t gonna work!”

I then put my arm out tentatively and waved it up and down (as we do in England).

His eyes widened in amazement;

“Thet’s goodbye to the people across the street” he said seriously.

"This is definitely not a good start." I thought.

He then got in the car and said, “Ah’ll give yew derections in good tame. Ah’ll not try to trick yew or ask yew to do anytheng illegal. Hev yew any questions yew wanna esk?”(This how a Californian accent sounds to British ears)

“Yes’ I answered, “Will you speak up a little? I’m deaf in one ear,” pointing to my hearing aid.

“Surre” he said.

So we set off. It was hot and he was a big fat bloke (guy). so I thought, if I didn’t turn the air conditioning high, he’ll be so uncomfortable the test might not last too long. Anyway with the air conditioner high, I have more difficulty in hearing what my passenger says.

I’m glad to say it was not as difficult as a driving test in England. No 3-point turns or reversing round corners up side streets.

I drove slowly and carefully around the back streets. I was pretty sure I had got the hang of 4-way stops (no such things in England) so no problems. We approached a traffic light on red.

“Mek a right” he ordered.

I thought I had it worked out, this turning right on a red light (again, no such thing in England)

“Hold it !! Hold it !!” he shouted as I carefully attempted the turn. I stopped and he pointed to a minuscule sign across the road that said ‘No right turn on red’. He wrote something on his sheet of paper.

"This aint looking too good," I thought.

I tried to make some light conversation, hoping to ease the tension of my mistake. But like most Americans, he only understood half of what I said, and only grunted back at me.

After about 20 minutes and quite a few more mistakes, we where back at the test centre. We sat in silence as he did his paperwork.

I thought; "It could have been worse, at least we didn’t go in any shopping malls to get lost in".

Then he said ‘‘Mr. Gemble”(that’s how they say Gamble here) “you hev pessed your test, burt”...... Then he listed all my failings, which I won’t go into here.

But at last I was now driving legally, after being here for eighteen months and the proud owner of a card with a photo, that looks nothing like me.

I wonder how many 65 year old Americans would pass a driving test in England?


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    • profile image

      Jill deJonge 

      6 years ago


      I survived an hour behind the wheel in England. My brain was taxed, struggling to keep the car on the left, and having anxiety when cars came from the opposite direction came to my right. The round abouts are sure fun, especially when your husband can't decide which street to take, you can just keep circling. That was my one and only hour, as he took over the rest of the trip. I enjoyed hearing English expressions (queue)with translations. I liked reading how the English hear the American accent and read that part out loud :) Enjoyable

    • profile image

      Sharon K. 

      6 years ago

      A very accurate accounting of the DMV. I bet they are still talking about you! Very enjoyable reading, especially the part describing your right hand turn signaling. I'm still smiling.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Really enjoyed this hub. Thank you so much.

      Ron from


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