Driver’s Test 1983

This post is part of Sian’s Storytelling Sundays, a meme that takes place on the first Sunday of every month. Stop by & check out all the stories we are sharing this month.


Last month I shared photos of the things in my small memory box. This month I am going a little more into depth about one of those things.

The learner’s permit.

As you can see from the stamps, it took me two tries to pass my driving test. Despite copious amounts of practice.

You needed to be 16 in West Virginia in 1983 to get a learner’s permit, but most of us learned to drive a little earlier than that. Especially if your birthday was in the middle of summer like mine.

See, we live in the mountains & in the winter you were dealing with not just winding mountain roads but snowy & icy winding mountain roads & the more practice you had on them, the better.

My dad took me out, in his enormous car (a Lincoln I think) to a snow & ice covered empty parking lot 6 months before my 16th birthday. It was my first time driving. He had me practice stopping & starting, slowly & quickly and sometimes while I was driving around the parking lot he’d startle me so the car would skid so I’d get used to the feeling & learn how to react. Then, after a couple hours of that he let me drive on the road, from the exit of the place back to the entrance. It was a distance measured in hundreds of yards but felt like miles. It was terrifying, but it went well.

Come spring he took me out in my mom’s manual transmission car to learn to drive a stick.

It did not go well.

I managed ok in the flat parking lot, but then I went out on the road and had to stop on an uphill incline prior to turning left. I could not manage to get the car into first without drifting quite far back, almost into the car behind me. This stressed me out so much I finally just floored it and narrowly missed being hit by a car coming from the list. My dad just lost it and then I burst into tears and it would be 6 years before I tried driving a manual car again.

That would go equally badly as I repeatedly stalled the car out in bumper to bumper traffic and swore off ever driving a stick again.

To this day, more than 20 years later, I feel all panic-y when ever I sit behind the wheel of a manual transmission car. Even if I don’t have to drive it.

So the manual transmission was given up as a bad job and shortly after my 16th birthday in July I began taking driving lessons. Not that I really needed them, but they made the cost of adding me to the car insurance less.

Shortly after school started I went with my driving instructor and 3 other students to take my test. There were also several other of my high school classmates there that day as the state police only did tests every other Friday. One week you took the written test & then you came back the Friday after next for the driving part

The test was at the state police barrack, which, like many buildings in West Virginia, was built halfway up the side of a hill. The road ran across the base of the hill in front of them. You got into the car in the parking lot by the barracks with the cop, backed out of the space, drove down the side street to the YMCA parking lot, stopped at the stop sign, turned around in the parking lot, came back up the main street, past the front of the barracks, where everyone waited & watched, up to the next cross street, did a u turn, drove back to where you were just below the barracks and parallel parked between some cop cars in full view of everyone waiting to take their test.

I passed the written test with flying colors.

I pulled out of the parking lot with aplomb. I stopped for the prescribed 5 seconds at the stop sign & did a 3 point turn at the YMCA with no problems. The U turn did not phase me.

But then came the parallel parking.

I pulled up beside the front car just fine. I backed into the spot ok. I spun the wheel and came forward to straighten out with no problem. Then I went to back up to be in the middle of the space. I hit the gas and SMASH! hit the car in front of me because I hadn’t remembered to put the car in reverse.

In full view of about a dozen people from my high school.

I looked at the cop sitting next to me and said “I failed didn’t I?”   “Oh yes.” he said.

I got out of the car to the sound of applause.

Which made it slightly less embarrassing. After all, if you are going to fail, fail in such a way as to get applause.

Two weeks and many many parallel parking attempts later, I was back to try again.

I got the same cop! He took one look at me & put on a motorcycle helmet before getting into the car with me. “I remember you.” he said.

No pressure or anything.

Once again I managed all the other parts of the test just fine. I was extra special careful parallel parking & didn’t need to back up after straightening out the car. I ended up in middle in two moves. “Impressive.” said the cop. “I’ve been practicing.” I replied.

To this day I can parallel park the mini van in two moves 80% of the time. 

I am a fearless parallel parker.

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21 comments to Driver’s Test 1983

  • I loved this story! I love hearing about how things are so very different in the places that other bloggers live. I could sense your mortification as you hit that car the first time, how awful to have such an audience too! How I envy you the ability to easily parallel park, it wasn’t part of the driving test when I passed in 1976 so I never had lessons in doing it. Therefore, I am RUBBISH at it! I can reverse park into the narrowest of spots but not parallel parking. What’s the secret?!

  • Loved this story – as Debs says it’s very different here. I failed first time too – it gave me a sense of humility I was lacking and made me a better driver – manual not automatic as that’s rarer over here – I was scared the first time I ever drove an automatic as there didn’t seem enough to do!

  • Oh, how I hear ya! Our eldest was allowed to get her permit at 19, I think. There had just been a wreck on US19 the night before her birthday. 4 kids 13-16 were killed. We decided that each girl would have to have a permit thru the winter, to be able to take their test for their birthday. She passed on the first try. Her only problem was that I’d forgotten to teach her to turn on the lights – I didn’t realize you could drive at night with a permit. My second learned and tested in NY. First time, too. The third still hasn’t learned. She tends to be flighty, and we were concerned. Now it’s her boyfriend’s problem!

  • Loved your story. I think everyone has trouble mastering the parallel park (I haven’t done one, I think, since I passed my test some 18 years ago!)…..!!!!

  • Ha,ha. How fab to get a round of applause. I still can’t parallel park very well so I am most impressed. (But as the majority of cars in the UK have manual transmission I can do that!)

  • What a great story! I actually learned to drive a manual & took my test in it because it was “my” car. I didn’t grow up into an automatic transmission until my early 30s & I still miss the thrill of “real” driving. Great story today – I love that the other applauded the mishap! What a fun memory of a difficult situation.

  • Jen Hart

    I love it, yes, I failed first time on the parallel park and I can do it now, essential skill as I haven’t lived anywhere with simple parking since I was a teenager! I cried all the way home though I was devastated. I had a go at an automatic and I was afraid I was going to forget to brake :D

    Great story and well done for keeping the memorabilia.

  • Brilliant! I love a story that tells me something about life somewhere else in the world (and one that makes me laugh too, of course!). We can’t learn until we are 17 here and about 4 days after my 17th birthday I left home for an exchange visit to a town near Boston. Of course I was amazed to discover that there everyone was driving from 16 – and funnily enough the family I stayed with owned a Driving Academy….

    So thank you for sharing your story and for taking me back to mine too. Sounds like you have nailed that parking. After all these years, I wish I could say the same lol

  • I loved reading this. So interesting to hear what it’s like on the other side of the pond.

    I’ve never driven an automatic and don’t think I want to. They just don’t seem right after driving manual for so many years. I failed my first test too. We get a random route, chosen by the examiner on the day and get two of the three set pieces. I did my parallel park fine but failed miserably on the three point turn. Mine was more like a fifty-nine point turn. Like you, I practiced and got it right on the second go. I’m still a whizz at them now.

  • I LOVE this story, and it brought back all kinds of memories about learning to drive. I need to get it written down as you have so wonderfully here.

  • Alison

    I passed my driving test first time…which is just as well, as I was so nervous I couldn’t have repeated the experience!…great story!
    Alison xx

  • Ladkyis

    I took my second driving test in February. There was compacted snow on the roads and freezing fog all around. I reversed, parallel parked and emergency stopped perfectly and breathed a huge sigh of relief when the examiner said I had passed because on my first test I was driven back to the test centre by the examiner as he thought I was so dreadful I simply wasn’t safe. What memories you have conjured up, lady, I am going to have to write about this on my blog now

  • Your story is hilarious!! I loved that it brought back so many memories—first of which was the year I spent in West Virginia. It is the most beautiful state! Then of course, all the great driving stories of my own. I too failed my first driving test when I almost hit a parked car. But, I learned how to drive a “standard transmission” when my best friend and I applied for a job. The man asked if we could drive one. We just thought that meant “regular” so said, “yes.” Imagine—giving two 16 year olds a company car! We didn’t really like the job, but we both learned how to drive a stick! Thanks for the memories!

  • sheena x

    Your story really had me laughing. My 18yr old Son has just passed but struggled with his parallel parking which luckily wasn’t in the test in my day !

  • Great story and love that you got a round of applause at the end of your first one. I have yet to pass my test (pretty bad at my age but there you go!!). I seem to drive perfectly until you put an examiner in the passenger seat and have yet to figure out how to get past that problem (apart from employ the hubby as chauffeur….or maybe even get him to pretend to be me…just got to dye his hair and hide his stubble…

  • Oh your memories of learning to drive before turning 16 sounds so familiar – I had ‘lessons’ in a field once I hit double figures, then moved across the pond where I’ve learned but never taken the tests. Must get around to it one day. Yeah for fearless parallel parking ;)

  • Elizabeth

    Oh, how I envy you! I just managed to do parallel park when I took my test. I passed the first time, but never really learned how to parallel park. Thank goodness I live in the suburbs and it’s either driveways or large parking lots with pull in parking so I don’t have to really park. Thanks so much for your story. I haven’t thought about my own driver’s test in many years.

  • Jo

    I love this story, it really made me smile :)

  • Your story brought back so many memories of learning to drive (thankfully with no standard and no big hills). Luckily I passed on my first attempt but it sure wasn’t helped by my parallel parking and to this day (50 years later) I’ll go out of my way to not parallel park. I envy you getting it down pat.

  • I think we all have learning to drive stories! LOL I had no choice but to learn in a manual as all the cars available to me to drive except one were manual. My dad took me up into the hills and I learnt on the steepest hills he could find, in a car without a hand break! Needless to say that I passed the hill start section with flying colours :-) I also found parallel parking a challenge but thankfully I didn’t emulate your performance. At least people clapped for you. I practised parallel parking in a truck between two garbage bins. Needless to say I knocked them over quite a few times to begin with (good thing they were plastic!) but once you have the hang of it you certainly never forget.

  • Bravo Stacey! Your writing and story telling skills really shine through here. I have stories to tell about learning to drive, too. And I have stories about teaching my boy to drive, too!