In Part 1 of his story, Phil, a Charlotte area member and a member of our only Virtual Support Group, shared his experiences with learning to drive in a hands controlled vehicle. He highlighted that as part of this process, he registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles as required. Here, Phil offers an update on getting his drivers’ license with the hands controls restriction.
After two and a half years of knowing that I needed hand controls to drive, the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles wrote me on November 30, to tell me to apply for a driver’s license and take a road test within 15 days or my license would be cancelled. I received that letter on Thursday, December 6, which meant that I had to get it done the following week (with snow in the weekend forecast). I made an appointment the next day for the following Friday, in hopes any snow would be gone by then, the last day before the DMV would cancel my existing license.
Challenge 1: Finding the DMV
When Friday arrived my wife accompanied me as navigator and for moral support, since we were going to unfamiliar territory for the test and because I was a little uneasy. After all, it was raining (but at least not snowing), I hadn’t been tested in 62 years, and driving with hand controls still isn’t as natural as driving the regular way. (There’s a lot to be said for having both hands on the steering wheel.) I thought it was ironic that I had to take a driving test in weather that I would not normally venture out in. For one thing, I don’t like the distraction of having to mess with intermittent windshield wipers, which means taking a hand off the wheel, however briefly.
We left 30 minutes early, but thanks to extensive road construction in the destination area, we couldn’t find the DMV. (It doesn’t help that when you call up the DMV’s directions to their Concord office, a graphic pops up saying that the address “is vacant land in Concord, NC.”) We stopped three times for directions and twice our GPS told us that we had arrived even though there were no buildings in sight. Finally, when I pulled into a parking lot to consider our options, my wife noticed that the unimposing building in the back of the lot was the DMV! Talk about inconspicuous!
Challenge 2: Taking the Test
Well, we were a tense 50 minutes late for my appointment, but I was relieved that the paper processing was efficient and the testing official was a pleasant unintimidating woman.
Nevertheless, when I drove off the DMV parking lot with the testing official, I hit a totally unavoidable hole/bump combination at the exit point that would give any car and driver a real confidence-shaking jolt. I can only imagine what the average nervous 16-year-old new driver applicant must feel when he or she hits it.
As we drove off, I mentioned to the testing lady how difficult it was for us to find the DMV office. She admitted that she frequently had trouble finding the DMV office herself. As if to demonstrate that assertion, she got us lost during the test drive.
On account of that, she suddenly ordered me to turn right on what could charitably be called a lane so that I could go back in the direction we had come from. The lane was not much wider than my car and had short, steep embankments leading to muddy ditches on both sides of it. It took six tries to make a three point turn, since, naturally, I didn’t want to wind up in one of the ditches.
Plus, there’s probably something in the DMV tester’s manual that says if the applicant leaves you stranded in a muddy ditch, you shouldn’t pass him. Anyway, it would have been a difficult maneuver for even a “normal” driver.
Good Results! Getting the License
The good news is that she passed me, and I was issued a temporary license. While I was amazed that it took the DMV so long from the time my doctor told them I needed hand controls until the time they “caught up with me,” I have to say I was impressed that it took only ten days for my permanent license to arrive in the mail. After all, they said that it would take 60 to 90 days to process.
A Final Word
My only advice for anyone considering hand controls and facing a road test is to be sure you know where you’re going for the test. We just thought we knew. Also, be sure to come to a complete stop at stop signs (advice my testing official – to her everlasting credit – reminded me of before we left the parking lot).