Tips for getting your Californian licence quickly

By Karina Rook

Yep, it’s like the DMV office in The Simpsons that Pattie and Selma work at. It’s a weird environment where you feel out-of-place, you don’t know the rules and angry people shout at you. I have spent several hours at my local DMV office obtaining my drivers license and have some tips for you.

1. Make an appointment online first. Even if you just have a query you’ll be in the shorter queue. People who walk in without an appointment have to queue, and there’s plenty of people that do this. Having the queue extend outside the building is common.

2. Know your height and weight in imperial measures. You’ll need this data for the license application form and it will be printed on your license. They also print hair color and eye color on the license too.

3. Don’t rely on your cell phone for entertainment. People queuing are banned from cell phone use, and some customer service agents make you go to the back of the line if you’re caught. Bring a book to read while you wait, or pick up the Driver Handbook while you’re at the DMV.

4. Read the Driver Handbook. Before taking the written exam, make sure you have read the driver handbook cover to cover and know the material. You don’t need to memorize it as you are allowed some wrong answers in the test and can still pass. There are plenty of differences in driving rules between Australia and California and I keep my handbook in the glove box of my car to refer to when I’m unsure of specific road rules. You get three chances to pass the written test before having to pay for another application fee. You need to know more than just the road rules, learn about fines and penalties and other car-related regulations, such as smoking rules and DMV rules.

5. Book your driving test as first for the day. The driving tests are conducted in order according to the scheduled booking times, but it doesn’t take long before you have to wait for 30 mins to an hour for your turn. The tests take longer than the time allocated, so to avoid waiting be the first appointment for the day.

6. Don’t look over your left shoulder. As Aussies we tend to look left when reversing, but you get marked down for this, so practice looking over your right shoulder to see behind you when reversing. Also know the appropriate hand signals to use when your indicators don’t work.

7. No small talk. The driving assessors are mostly nice, but are probably under-paid and over-worked, so generally don’t want to waste time. You will sit in silence for most of the test, except for being told ‘turn left here’ or ‘pull over there’.

The car terminology is sometimes different too – for example I am finally used to saying ‘turn signals’ instead of ‘indicators’.