Failing and passing a single driver’s license road test in the U.S.

I just got back from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). As mentioned earlier, I had to retake knowledge exams and a roadtest. Today I had to take the roadtest, where an instructor joins you in your car to see whether you are fit to drive.

This morning I showed up around 10am. First, I had to join a queue to get a number, which lasted for about 10 minutes. Then the Big Wait began. Together with some hundred others I had to wait until my number would be called. Around 12:30pm, I was finally called forward. They checked my documents, and told me that I could take a seat in the waiting area again and that an instructor would come for me. Because it is not a number that you are waiting for, I didn’t want to leave the room and miss my turn. When it was finally my turn around 3.30pm (!) you can image I was rather thirsty and hungry, not having had anything since breakfast.

Surprisingly, I was a little nervous – after all I’d held a driver’s license for over 8 years. After checking the car we went for a ride of about 15 minutes. Coming back to the DMV station, the instructor told me: “Your driving was otherwise perfect, but I have to fail you because you made an illegal turn. The first turn you took was on a red light.”

Great. I had waited for over 5 hours to be failed after 1 turn!

Better luck next time. I made an appointment for next Thursday for the next attempt, and I left. As it happened, I had to go through the very intersection where I had failed. I took a picture:



I considered the situation again. With everything I had learned in the past days, I still would have concluded that a right turn on red would be allowed (if the way to go is free). If you are not allowed to turn right on red, it should say so with a sign close to the relevant red light, saying “no turn on red”. The sign “stop here on red” says nothing about turning on red – it tells you to make a full stop before the sign.

I parked the car at a big parking lot and got my phone. After a quick Google search I found several threads discussing similarly confusing uses of the sign “stop here on red”: here, here, and here. I called Sarah and checked my thoughts with her. Indeed, it seems it is allowed to take a right turn on red!

I drove back to the DMV, found my instructor and showed him the picture. I asked him first whether this was where I had made the illegal turn on red. He confirmed, pointing at the picture. After I had told him that, according to me, my turn was not illegal, he consulted some of his colleagues. They agreed. Therefore, I should have passed the road test. The instructor was told by his manager that I had to be unfailed. I felt quite bad for him.

The instructor, however, had already filed my first failed attempt. Apparently it is very difficult to change or delete this record. They apologised and asked me to wait. When the whole building had emptied out around 6pm, they told me I should come back the other day in the morning.

Hungry and thirsty I left the DMV after 8 long hours without a driver’s license. I sure hope they’ll give it to me tomorrow.

Update June 2, 2015: Yep, I got my U.S. driver’s license!

One comment on “Failing and passing a single driver’s license road test in the U.S.

  1. […] wanted to familiarise myself as much as possible with the car and American roads because of the upcoming driver’s license road test I would have to […]

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