Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Jumping Through Hoops at the DMV

By: George Lee Cunningham

George on PCHI recently spent the early afternoon at the California Department of Motor Vehicles renewing my driver license. I had anticipated my visit to the DMV with mixed emotions.

First, I was apprehensive about how big a nightmare the process would be – I have visited the DMV 0n previous occasions and it was always an exercise in bureaucratic incompetence and frustration. The lines I recall at the Long Beach DMV would typically go out the door and wrap around the building. I had prepared by scheduling an appointment at the DMV in Westminster, which I thought would be less crowded than Long Beach. But when dealing with government agencies, thoughtful planning isn’t always enough.

Second, I was apprehensive about the test. I have been driving for more than half a century, so I am an experienced driver, but the written test has little to do with knowing how to be a safe driver. And since so many stupid people have driver licenses, failing the test is humiliating. It makes you feel that you are stupider than the stupidest person who is legally behind the wheel of a car. They passed the test, why couldn’t you?

Third, I was curious about what the experience would be like. It’s been a while since I had been to the DMV – let’s face it, it’s a place where nobody goes if they can avoid it – so I wanted to see how things have changed.

The good news is that things went more smoothly than I anticipated. It only took a little more than an hour to be signed in, processed, thumb-printed, called upon, biometrically checked out, photographed, and tested. That’s a huge improvement over last time I went. The DMV folks were for the most part polite, although too busy for idle chit-chat. As a taxpayer, I think that’s good. I don’t want them chit-chatting on my dime. They checked my right thumb when I came in, and then rechecked it later in the process; I suppose to make sure I didn’t bring in a ringer to take my test.

I only had to spend about three minutes waiting in line to sign in, five minutes waiting in line for my application to be checked, 10 minutes waiting in a red plastic chair for my number to be called, seven minutes waiting in line to be photographed, six minutes waiting in line to receive my test, and eight minutes waiting in line to have my test checked. That may sound like a lot of waiting, but it’s a huge improvement from Long Beach a couple of years ago.

The test, as anticipated, had little to do with safe driving. I did practice for it. I downloaded all five sample tests on the DMV website and had my wife drill me over breakfast. Twice. But the actual 18-question multiple-choice test I got at the DMV had not one of the same questions as on the DMV sample test. And if you miss more than three questions, you fail.

One question, for example, was how tall a child has to be before he is no longer required to sit in a child safety seat. When I got my license kids used to ride around in the back of pickup trucks and sit on their mom’s laps. In other words, I had no idea. I closed my eyes and picked one, and I was incorrect.

Another dealt with what alcohol in your blood level you needed to be considered legally drunk. That may be an interesting question, but it has absolutely nothing to do with safe driving. Nobody goes around testing their blood before they get in the car to drive. The correct answer should be this: If you think there is any chance at all that you are too drunk to drive, you probably are, so don’t do it.

The truth is that I am like most people. Most people drive safely because they know what safe feels like, not because there’s a rule. Like most people, I sometime speed. I also sometimes go at less than the speed limit if there are circumstances – such as wet and slippery roads – that call for reduced speed.

I think I would like to meet the people who made up the test. I don’t know who they are, but I can almost guarantee you that they are members of a committee and that most of them have masters’ degrees. They sit around and pontificate and come up with a nonsense set of questions that are supposedly going to weed out bad drivers.

Of course, that’s not going to happen. Some people are going to be bad drivers, no matter what, and some people are going to be good drivers, no matter what, and most of us are always going to be somewhere in between. You don’t need a multi-choice test to know that.

Overall, my trip to the DMV was much less onerous than I had imagined, which is a good thing. And the good news is that at the end of the process I was awarded a temporary driver license that I can show the police if I am pulled over for any offense, whether it was on the test or not.

The bad news is that they are going to mail me my permanent driver license in the next few weeks. The DMV and the Post Office working jointly on a project?

My fingers are crossed.

George Cunningham and his wife Carmela are writing a history of the Port of Long Beach. You can order George’s novel, Kaboom, at amazon.com



  1. She absolutely is a very hot number

  2. Carmela says:

    Wow – is this guy ever hot. His wife must be lovely too.

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