How to Survive: Getting Your License (Again) as an Adult (Specifically in New York City)


For a sixteen year old, it’s the holy grail—a flimsy piece of plastic that says you can go anywhere without parents. The horizon is nothing but possibilities: places to go and people to see. Suddenly the World’s Largest Ball of Yarn or Mexico don’t seem so far away and you can imagine road trips of Britney Spears’ Crossroads proportions. Basically, getting your driver’s license is the best thing ever.

It’s true, many people get their license the second they are old enough (and able to pass), but there are also those who wait until they’re older. These people usually grew-up in cities and found it unnecessary to go through the trouble if their foreseeable futures included decent public transportation. Plus, the occasional cab is still less expensive than car insurance. Eventually these people mature and are compelled to get it done for the sake of just in case and to feel like a valid member of society.

Then there are people like me: a little bit of Column A, a little bit of Column B. I promptly got my license once I turned Massachusett’s magical sixteen-point-five and promptly let it expire when I moved to Brooklyn, seven years ago. Thus, I found myself having to begin at the beginning—permit test, education course, driving lessons, road test—I did it all! So, if you too are an adult seeking your driver’s license in the city of New York, I’m here to tell you that it’ll be okay. You can do it. Read on.

Learner’s Permit

The first step in getting your license is to get your learner’s permit. I waited a cool five years after my license expired to take this step. It involves waiting in line at the DMV for at least an hour and tests are stressful, so it wasn’t something I was jumping to get done. Plus, as mentioned above, why does a Big City Girl need a license anyway? Well, it turns out you might have to leave the city at some point, perhaps rent a car, and, eventually, I just wanted to feel like valid member of society in general.

Regardless, I finally bit the bullet and went to the DMV, stood in line, and took the test. Boy, did I feel like a real pussy afterward; it’s one of the easiest tests ever. The whole thing is designed to answer a single question—do you have common sense? If the answer is kinda, then you can have your permit. Think of all the people who drive. This test isn’t targeting only those with the highest IQ.

So here’s what you do: just get it done. Get a driver’s manual, don’t read it, go to the DMV, and ace the test. At the end of the day you’ll not only have your permit, but also the bonus of having logged some serious people watching time. Apparently there are some teenagers in NYC who want their license in a timely fashion and you do not want to miss out on seeing one in front of you in line with his mom. She let him leave the house wearing a Chicago band t-shirt, athletic shorts, and sandals that fit so his toes hang over the edge. He has a thin braid sprouting out of the top of his otherwise short-haired head. That braid runs the length of his back and if he can get his permit, god damn-it, so can you.


Certificate Course

In New York, if you’re too old to be able to fit in Driver’s Ed after school, you’ll still need to prove you were somewhat educated in the ways of the road by presenting a certificate for a pre-licensing course when you go for your road test. This certificate is gained by sitting through a 5-hour class at whichever driving school is both close to home and cheap. There are a couple things to keep in mind when preparing for this class. First, though you should fortify yourself with provisions (coffee and beef jerky), this class will probably not actually last 5 hours. Also, it just consists of watching some videos made on a budget in the late 80s through early 90s, so however long it does last is worth the entertainment.

There is a drunk driving segment consisting of a longer than necessary narrative about a high school senior. Here’s the takeaway: don’t drink and drive. It’s not worth it. You’ll lose your best friend, your girlfriend, and your basketball scholarship. Appropriately, this will be followed-up with a study about the effects of drinking on judgment—apparently when you invite a lot of people with feathered bangs and acid washed jeans to a hotel conference room and offer them free cocktails they will drink a crap-ton, because who doesn’t like free things, and not be able to perform simple motor skills like putting a square block in a square hole. If the horror story of scholarship loss was not enough, science will certainly keep you from throwing a couple back before getting behind the wheel.

You can also expect to spend time on seatbelts. Beware; this one mainly included some pretty graphic stories about injuries sustained due to not wearing your seatbelt, as well as pictures of wrecked cars. There’s not a whole lot that is funny about this one. It made me feel nauseas. Wear your seatbelt.

What else? Road rage is bad and I’m pretty sure at a four-way stop the person to your right has the right of way. That last one should be easier to remember.

Anyway, well-timed comments can make you some pretty sweet tempo friends.

“Is it just me or was the soundtrack for the road rage video seriously epic?”

Though, please, don’t hog the spotlight. The material in those videos is so ripe for riffing that you should really give everyone a moment to shine.

Driving Lessons

Though not required, driving lessons are encouraged by the state of New York. If you’re a first-timer, definitely get them. If, instead, you’re like me and just haven’t been driving much in the last almost-decade, don’t worry too much. Get a couple sessions in so you’re not too rusty and focus on parallel parking.

Driving a car is like riding a bike.

It’ll all come back to you.

Road Test

I finally got around to scheduling my road test, and then I started having nightmares. What if I didn’t pass the first time? I had already had my license before. The idea of older and wiser Sara not being able to pull it off was gnawing at me.

My test was on a rainy day. The gentleman who administered it sat next to me and I asked him to buckle-up, certain that his not doing so was some sly part of the evaluation. He told me to mind my own business, and then, “This is an easy test so don’t be stressed out.” He made me parallel park in front of a driveway. I passed.

I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence as an educator if I did not warn you that some people do not pass. In fact, the woman I shared a car with on the day of the test failed. Of course, she had to take a minute to think every time “left” or “right” was brought up. So, yes, some people fail.

In summation: just think of the general, licensed public. Then remember if your pointer finger and thumb can form a proper “L”, that’s your left hand.

You’ve got this.