Driving test requires skills and experience

Saturday, November 20th 2004, 4:07 pm
By: News On 6

BARTLESVILLE, Okla. (AP) _ To many teenagers, it's more important than graduating, more nerve-racking than finals week, and, if they fail, more painful than getting their wisdom teeth removed. And Driving Examiner Brenda Mays, who has presided over this rite of passage for hundreds of Bartlesville youth _ and adults as old as 92 _ sometimes has to come up with creative ways to put those who are taking the test at ease.

``I had a little boy one day who was extremely nervous. At each intersection, he would always turn the wrong direction,'' which got them off of their pre-planned route.

So Examiner Mays stopped the car. ``I took an ink pen and on his thumbs I wrote an L and an R.'' That made the boy laugh, calmed him down and allowed him to complete the test.

It wasn't a big problem.

``Everybody makes mistakes,'' she says.

The most common mistake, she says, is actually ``rolling stop signs,'' the failure to come to a complete stop at or before the sign.

But while only 18 to 23 percent of those testing fail the driving test at the Bartlesville facility, May says it's ``about 50/50'' on the written test for a learner's permit. Many people, Mays says, don't realize ``the true need to read the driver's manual from cover to cover.''

When Mays took the written test herself, most of the questions were along the lines of ``If A, B, and C happened, would you do X, Y, or Z?''

But the written test given today, she says, covers the traffic laws of the state of Oklahoma, which you can't know unless you read the manual.t Boulevard.

And Mays wouldn't recommend that you put the book away after you get your permit. When people fail the driving test, ``I usually suggest they go and reread the driver's manual.''

But the single-most important factor in passing your driving test? Experience.

On Nov. 1, a law went into effect in Oklahoma requiring drivers under 18 to have their permit for at least 6 months before they can take the driving test. Mays thinks this is a good idea.

``Is it necessarily your driving you need to be aware of, or everybody else's?'' she asks. To be able to respond in traffic, ``you have to be familiar with your vehicle'' and make sure that every movement is second nature.

The office gives written tests in the morning and driving tests in the afternoon. On average, a driving test lasts about 10 minutes. The test covers parallel parking, hill parking, straight backing maneuvers and regular driving. The written test covers Oklahoma traffic laws, safe driving practices, and the effects of and laws about drugs and alcohol.

Written tests are only given in English at the Bartlesville office; Spanish tests are available at the Claremore, Tulsa and Jenks offices.

Mays will administer the test orally to any adult who can't read, though students under 18 must pass an eighth-grade reading test before taking the written.

And, when you come to the test, make sure you have the proper forms.

``That is the biggest problem that I come across,'' Mays says. ``That's not a really happy thing, when you wait two hours to be in front of me'' and she has to send you home because you don't have the proper forms.

Also, come early, Mays suggests. The office opens at 7 a.m. and appointments for driving tests must be made on the same business day as the test itself. Mays sees around 150 to 200 people per week. She must deal with each person one-on-one and sometimes she's made as many appointments as she can handle for the day by 10 a.m.

Summer is an especially busy time. ``If there is a day when the kids are not in school, you can bet it's gonna be a zoo.''

Zoo or not, Mays says she enjoys her job. ``I enjoy dealing with a lot of different people and working half a day inside and half a day out instead of being cooped up all day.''

Has riding shotgun with rookie drivers changed her outlook at all?

``It certainly makes you much more aware of everything that's going on around you,'' Mays says.