I have been wanting to take my learner’s permit since I got to the United States last April. Unfortunately, I had to wait to have a form of identification that would prove that I was legally in the United States. In my case, the work authorization card would do that. Towards the end of September, I finally received it. So, two weeks ago I decided to go to the RMV in Boston and get it done once and for all.
Let me give you a little background. I am French and the system is very different there. First you have a theory exam and then you need to take driving lessons. All this must be done at a certified driving school. Your teacher is the one who decides whether or not you are ready to take the practical exam. It’s also very expensive. I remember paying about 700 EUR, which included: unlimited theory classes (basically watching DVDs at the driving school), one attempt at the theory exam and 20 hours of driving lessons. Any additional lessons (about 1 hour if your teacher was on time) costs between 45 and 50 EUR. As you can imagine it is quite a business, and they want you to take as many lessons as possible. When I was in France, I passed my theory exam and went on to take the driving lessons. I remember spending 2 months without touching the pedals because the teacher judged that I wasn’t ready (despite me insisting that I was). I failed my road test three times. I can say that I deserved it the first time, but not the second. I was failed for a reason that I still don’t understand.
Living in Paris where there is a great public transport system, and also living in the center of the city, never made me feel like I really needed to drive. So, I was never in a rush to get the license. However, once I moved to the United States, I knew I wouldn’t have a choice if I wanted to be able to move around.
When I started looking into what I needed to do to get my license here I was shocked at how cheap and easy it was. In Massachusetts, once you have the permit you can drive with anyone who is over 21 and has had a driver’s license for at least one year. You don’t need to pay for driving lessons. The learner’s permit exam is $30. Then you have the road test which is $35 and the license fee which is $50 for five years. So that’s a total of $115, which is nothing compared to what I paid in France.
My first step was to take the learner’s permit. I had heard that the RMV was awful and that I should get there an hour early if I didn’t want to spend my entire morning there. I was a little apprehensive because I had only read the manual without really trying to learn everything by heart. I figured most questions would only require me to have good judgement. In France, you have a lot of trick questions.
When I got there, I was only 15 minutes early. Once the doors opened everybody got inside the building. It was clean and everyone was nice. I waited in line in front of a window with one employee. It was quick. The woman asked me what I was there for and gave me a form to fill out. Luckily, I had already filled it out online. I always recommend you do that; it saved me some time. I had to wait for about 10 minutes before my number was called at another desk. The lady there was polite enough. She gave me a number to log into the computer to take the test. She showed me to a room with about six touch screens. I sat in front of it and got started.
In France, the theory exam has 45 questions and you are allowed only 5 mistakes. You have the opportunity to answer each question only once. Imagine my surprise when I saw that in Massachusetts you only have 25 questions, are allowed 7 mistakes and you can choose to answer a question later. It also let’s you know if you got a question right or wrong as soon as you answer it. I made sure I had 18 questions right and after that, if I had a doubt I could just put a random answer. I was surprised to get questions about the rules and fines you can get when you are a driver under 18. I would have thought that the questions would adapt to your age, but I guess not. Those are the questions I got wrong. I was done in 10 minutes. I passed, and five minutes later I was out of the RMV. Overall, it was a pleasant and quick experience.
Now I am driving with my husband and regaining confidence in my driving. My next step will be the road test. Hopefully I’ll feel ready soon!
What are your experiences when taking your driver’s license in the states or country where you live?