Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Afternoon at the BMV

I haven’t been to the BMV in a very long time. I always wonder why the BMV gets such a horrible rap. It doesn’t seem like a far circle of hell, and yet, when we speak of the place it does become like some far corner of purgatory better left unvisited. However needs must when the devil drives, and so I find myself at the BMV. Actually the fact that this particular devil cannot drive is why I find myself at the BMV.

It’s not that I am incapable. I love driving. However, I have also not set foot behind the wheel of a car since May 26, 2002. I know the exact date because a day later I landed in Korea and I did not drive myself to the airport. So I know when I last drove and I know that I have not done any driving since then.

While capable, I have steadily avoided driving over the last decade to the point where now, I realize, that I need to get a learner’s permit. I want to practice driving before I have to take the road test, which I will have to take in order to get permission to actually drive a vehicle. With this in mind I went in to get the learners permit.

I hate taking the driving exam. It’s not something I particularly enjoy since when I went for the first learners permit I failed the test five times before I finally managed to pass. Granted, the test included questions about driving tractors and how to respond to that on the road. Small-country tests. Also, at the time I didn’t realize how very little understanding of driving was necessary to pass the test. The test was about whether or not you read the book and memorized things appropriately. It is the worst kind of “gotcha assessment” and the best example.

“Gotcha” assessment is any kind of test where what you learned and what you are being tested on are entirely disconnected. What you learned was in your class, or in your lecture, or what you studied with your group. What you are being tested on is whether or not you also read the book. Nitpicking is what some might call it. For example, knowing the percentage of accidents caused by bad drivers is a gotcha question. Being offered four choices of models of bad driving and picking the exact one responsible for the most accidents on the road (when D is all of the above) is a gotcha question. Yes, driving under the influence, driver action, and running red lights all lead to accidents, but only one is the biggest cause for all accidents and the book clearly tells you which one that is.

Before the exam, I spent an hour reading through the book so I could adequately refresh myself with all the answers. I took the practice test and missed three questions I had glossed over, so I went back and read again in those sections. Feeling adequately prepared, I asked the Boy for a ride and we were on our way.

Mind you, because it is the BMV it is not located in any way near logical public transit, so you must get a ride to get there. Perhaps this contributes to its hell-like attributes. I walked in and looked for a number. They were obviously calling out numbers but I could not find one. A nice girl sitting and waiting pointed to the wall behind me and explained that the number was there. She mentioned she’d spent a good five minutes searching herself before finally asking. I thanked her and got my number and waited. Wishing I’d remembered to bring a book.

As it was I found myself sitting and mulling over answers until I was finally called. The empty BMV was oppressive. Besides myself, four other people took the test: the nice woman who’d pointed out the number waited, and a Spanish mother was applying for her license. I was finally called and seated myself before a bubbly personality and started pulling out documents explaining that I needed a learner’s permit.

“Haven’t you ever driven before?”

“Yes, but it was ten years ago. I’d like to practice.”

“But if you had a license you just need to take the test and a road test. We can schedule it today.”

“Well, I’d like to practice before I take the road test.”

“Yeah, but you don’t have to have a learner's permit.”

Technically she was wrong. According to all the research I had done, if your license has been expired for more than five years you had to take the written exam and a road test, but only after applying for a learner's permit first.

She asked me again if I wanted a license and I explained again that I just wanted to be able to legally practice between the test today and a road test in the future.

“Well, I just don’t know. I’ll go ask.”

And so she did. Leaving me to worry. When she returned she said they’d give me the permit, after I took and passed a test. I was handed a pencil and the bubble sheet, and the several pages of test question and off I went to go and prove that I had read the book.

Sadly, it was hard for me to turn my assessment brain off and I could not help but notice the obvious flaws in the exam. In a case where any answer provided was of great length then all other answers that answer was correct. In cases where an adverb of frequency is used the answer “all of the above” is not correct. In a case where all answers are of equally long length and “all of the above” is a choice, all of the above is correct. I was very glad I had refreshed myself on road signs, because the 20 questions about signs was more about what the shape meant than any information on the sign. What information is on a rectangular sign? What will you find on a square sign? Better know the answer to that before you go to take a test at the BMV.

After scoring I had missed only one answer. I really wanted to know what I had messed up, but sadly the test was auto graded and no one there could tell me where my knowledge was flawed. This really seemed impractical, as surely a new driver should be corrected on any misinformation, but that was not to be.

I had a different bubbly clerk ask for documents and express equal disbelief when I said I was applying for a learner’s permit.

“They called downstate and got permission for her.” I swear, I believe I was supposed to feel shame for wanting to practice driving. Sadly, I don’t shame that easily, so I just smiled and kept feeding them documents until I was given a crisp white sheet of paper that would be my identification until the permit arrived in the mail.

As I was preparing to walk out a man ran into the department shouting that someone needs to go outside and take away the license of the woman behind the big red truck.

“She just hit me with her truck. Someone needs to revoke her license.” As he yelled we all looked out the window and watched her drive away. While she sped out of the lot I wondered why in the world I was going through this process again, until I got back into the car with my ride and realized that it was just that. This country is too big not to drive, and so, I will learn to do it again and see what freedoms the road will afford me.


Doc Merrkin said...

As I was reading, I was thinking "she doesn't need to know the correct answers, she needs to know the answers they expect from the book". Of course you got exactly where my thoughts led. I used to teach motorcycle drivers ed. The state test had answers that were flat out wrong. "the best lane position is___" The correct answer is that there is no best position, it varies with the circumstances, although left tire track is best for most circumstances. The state approved answer is "center of the road"... Right where the oil slick is. In a state that goes six months in a row every year without a drop of rain, the center of the lane gets mights slimy, especially near intersections. The absolute LAST place you want to be on two wheels...

Saradevil said...

Okay, if it actually tests people on knowing how to get killed, then it is the stupidest test in history!

For the most part the roads test is alright. However I know from experience that one four people come to a stop sign at the same time it is never as easy as the person on the right going, because everyone sits there like monkeys wondering which person on the right will go first.