by Jane Shen, Opinions Writer
graphic by Emily Cheng
Learning how to drive can feel daunting. But learning during a pandemic … well, that is a challenge on another level. Here are some tips from a rising senior who somehow got their license amidst the chaos of this year.
STEP 1: DRIVERS ED
Last summer, under the false impression that the pandemic would be over by fall, I signed up for driver’s ed, expecting to get my license by the end of the year. I ended up taking driver’s ed class from my computer. Although I tried to pay attention that week, it became hard to concentrate on the eight hour Zoom classes. I tried to take notes and stay focused, but eventually, I got lazy and began screenshotting the important facts. We learned about how much you’d get fined for speeding once, twice, three times … too many times. Other lessons included which way you should turn your wheels when you’re parking up a hill with a curb and down a hill with a curb. Despite having been taught many street signs, the only one I can remember is the stop sign. But nonetheless, drivers ed is an essential part of learning how to drive in high school, so make sure you try your best to pay attention during class, no matter how difficult online class can be.
STEP 2: PERMIT TEST
About a month after I finished driver’s ed, I finally booked an appointment at the RMV to get permission to take my permit test online. The RMV website was incredibly difficult to use so I had to ask my friends how they signed up for their appointment. I went to the Watertown RMV website and somehow navigated my way to make a reservation, only to find the only available appointments weeks from then. I knew that if I did not pass my permit test on the first try, I would have to wait weeks until I could register for another attempt, so I studied for the exam by taking many online practice tests. I was stressed at the start, but you honestly have all the time in the world to sign up for the test, which is 25 minutes. Questions ranged from the meanings of certain road signs to how much you can be fined for speeding 5 miles over the speed limit. When I passed on my first try, my breath of relief could be heard a mile away! If you’re going to take the permit test, take a few practice tests, and always remember that you can take it again, even if it means you have to wait a few weeks.
P.S. You have to get your picture taken at the RMV for it to be used on your permit and later your license, so make sure it’s a good one! Mine is so bad — I look scared.
STEP 3: DRIVING LESSONS
This was where the actual challenges arose: signing up for driving hours. I called my driving school to sign up for my first driving lesson about two months after getting my permit in July, and secured my first lesson for the end of September. Due to the pandemic, my driving school had suspended its driving lessons until late August. This left me waiting months between my driving lessons. I had my first lesson in September and my last one in mid-March. Driving with an instructor was a really good way to practice things like parallel parking, switching lanes, three-point turns and learning the basics of driving, which ultimately prepared me to not jeopardize my parents’ safety first thing after getting my license. Overall, driving lessons helped me feel safe and comfortable behind the wheel before I started driving on real roads with my parents, which is definitely terrifying. If you take away anything from these tips, it is to make sure you register for lessons early, be patient with getting experience on the road and that driving instructors will help you a lot when learning the basics of driving, but you still need to practice on your own before the road test!
STEP 4: DRIVING TEST
Finally, six months after my first lesson, I had my last lesson and called my driving school to register for the test. They said that the next available test was in mid-April, which was over a month away. I was worried that I would forget how to drive by then, but I practiced a lot with my parents and ended up being okay — I passed! I remember driving after school with my dad a week before my test and trying to parallel park on Brandeis. Let’s just say that it did not go well, and I still cannot parallel park on Brandeis. My dad and I went early to where my road test was going to be to practice parallel parking, and I was just so nervous that I messed up the first few times. For the actual test though, it all ended up being ok. Remember that you can always take your road test again, so not passing it on the first try isn’t the end of the world!
At the end of the day, getting my license during the pandemic proved long and tedious, but I am happy I got it before the summer because I was able to drive around, have fun and try to revive some normalcy that I lost during the school year. In fact, being able to drive has allowed me to hang out more with friends that do not live in Newton! In the end, it is so worth it.