Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Driving Test? (Not you after reading this.)

My previous article discussed 5 mistakes that new drivers frequently make on their road tests and how to avoid making them. In this article, we will change gears and talk about fear, the underlying cause of many of those mistakes, and what you can do to manage it.

Whether you’re heading out to your very first road test or you’ve already failed more times than Spongebob, nerves are likely to play a big role in whether you come home from the DMV with license in hand or your tail between your legs. The good news is that, although it cannot be eliminated completely, fear can be greatly reduced and successfully managed. Here are five tips that will help you do just that.

1. Know your ride.

As an examiner, I was always surprised at the number of drivers who would try their road test in a vehicle that they did not have much practice in. If you’re contemplating this, don’t do it! Although switching vehicles is not a problem for a driver with experience, it can cause difficulty for a newer driver. Each car is a different size. Each car accelerates, brakes and handles differently and provides for different levels of road visibility. If you have practiced in a particular car, use it during the road test.

2. Leave the pimped out ’63 Impala at home, player.

You should avoid taking your driving test in a large vehicle if at all possible. Bigger vehicles (SUV’s, trucks, vans, station wagons, armored personnel carriers, etc.) are more difficult to maneuver which, in addition to being a problem generally, is a particular issue if your road test includes parallel parking. They also provide less visibility and make it more difficult to judge traffic around you. Finally, and most importantly, larger vehicles tend to make the examiner feel less in control and thus, more nervous. And that’s a very bad thing. So, think about the vehicle you’re planning on using for the test. If it has a swimming pool in the back, think again.

3. Steal the test routes.

This one is my favorite because it’s practically like cheating. Each DMV has a set of fixed routes that it uses and they are all located within a fairly small radius (usually a few miles) around the DMV building. Usually, each of the routes is made up of a different combination of the same limited number of streets. If you can determine which roads are included in the testing routes (something a local driving school may be able to tell you) you can practice extensively on them and become very familiar with the roads on which you will be tested. In fact, you might even consider sitting outside the DMV in your car and simply following people on their road tests. Do this enough times and you’ll know all the routes. The best part? There’s nothing the DMV can do about it. Hey, it’s a free country, right?

4. Know what time it is.

Nothing will put you in a worse mindset than scrambling to the DMV not knowing whether you will be on time for your road test. Ensure that you are ready to go well ahead of schedule. Check to see that you have your learners permit/license with you and that you have your car keys. Make sure that the person who is giving you a ride to the test is reliable and picks you up early and lastly, leave extra time to get there. If you expect that it will take half an hour to get to the DMV, leave home at least 45 minutes before your test. If you live in a city where traffic is unpredictable or there might be a line-up at the DMV when you get there, leave even earlier. The last thing you want is to be heading into your road test in a state of panic.

5. Question Authority.

New drivers often have questions about the rules of the road or what to do in a particular situation that may arise during the test. In addition, they may have heard horror stories of things that have happened to others during their tests or received conflicting advice from friends about the testing process. If you have any questions whatsoever, the examiner will be happy to answer them before the test and you should not hesitate to ask. Don’t forget though that once the vehicle is moving, the role of the driving examiner is to guide you around the testing route and to evauluate your driving skills. During the test, they will usually not answer any questions other than repeating or clarifying their instructions to you.

A great man once said “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” (or something like that). I think it was Winston Churchill. Or maybe it was MC Hammer. Whatever. The point is that there is really not a lot to fear if you are relaxed and well prepared. Remember the five tips outlined above and you should be well on your way. Good luck and good driving!