Two Driver’s Tests: Having Fun! by
(33 Stories)

Prompted By The DMV

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In 1972 my California driver’s license expired after decades of coverage. I had moved to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to prepare my Ph.D. thesis for publication. I needed to renew my license to commute to the library, shop in the markets, and tour Detroit.  Just in the nick of time before the expiration, I renewed my license at the Ann Arbor DMV.

I easily clinched the license knowledge exam.  Then I waited in line for the driver’s exam.  A short chubby man directed me to drive my car to the curb to let him climb in.  I was driving a very old and questionably safe station wagon with dents, smeared windows, and tattered seats.  He squeezed into the seat leaning uncomfortably over his exam booklet.

He ordered me to turn on to a one-way street, to parallel park, and to stop suddenly.  I jammed on the brakes nearly shoving him into the windshield.  When he told me to drive back to the office, I asked him if I had passed.  “100%,” he replied.  So, I took a chance; I put my arm across the back of the seat and around his shoulder.  He had a fit.  Yelling at me.  Warning me I could fail the test.  Then he calmed down to ask me why I had done this stupid thing.

“Well, I think this test is stupid.  I am supposed to have both hands on the wheel. Yet do you think that I ever have had my hands on the wheel for very long when I have a wife, two children, a dog with whom I talk, pass treats, point out the window at the scenery, or the red tail hawks on the telephone poles?  A realistic test would require me to behave in a real-life situation.  Not some ridiculously sterile procedure.”

He checked his scorecard.  I needed 70 points to pass. He had taken off 25 for my “failure” to drive carefully.  With a sneer, he said, “Luckily you passed.  I never want to see you again!”

In Taiwan and Japan, once I showed the DMV officials my USA driver’s license and paid my fee, I only needed to pass one test. It was a test of my vision, my response to stop signals, and my recognition of colors.


In Taiwan, I joined a line in front of a machine that looked like a wheel of fortune.  The examiner operated the wheel to spin and stop quickly.  The wheel was decorated with lines of colors.  As soon as the wheel stopped, the applicant had to yell out the color.  Then it spun and twirled rapidly again, only to stop on another color. I think this was a test for responding to changing traffic lights.  Fortunately, my Chinese language skills were excellent.  I visually recognized the color and its Chinese name.

The Japanese had a similar test.  As applicants stood in a line, an examiner quickly walked past them, spinning a sign with different colors.  As he passed each person, they were to call out the colors on the signs.  With less assurance, I knew the colors.  I was photographed and given a license.

For me, getting a license was both a challenge and a rush.

Profile photo of Richard C. Kagan Richard C. Kagan

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. Thanx for this fun story Richard , the color wheel tests you took in both Taiwan and Japan seemed strange to me at first, but they do make sense!
    After all, color blindness can be a liability at traffic lights!

    Glad you passed all your tests with flying colors!

    • Yes, you are right. But I was not afraid of a test for color blindness. Just concerned about my correct language response. Great embarrassment if I failed and then responded I am not color blind, I just am inadequate in the language and quick response. How can I be able to drive a car if I am incompetent in the language? (I am a nonnative fluent non-Chinese speaker, and adequate in Japanese. How to prove this if I do not know my colors?)

      Oh, I apologize for no title picture. I could not download the photo I wanted. It was the word for car, kuruma or jidousha, in Japanese.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Richard, you really took a chance by mouthing off to the DMV tester in Ann Arbor. While your assessment might have been accurate for real-life situations, they seem to only care about your ability to parallel park and stop on a dime (this is universally true). Other than that, we are on our own in the real world.

    Your Asian counter-parts are fascinating. Thanks for sharing those stories as well.

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    Richard, you continue to show your audacious side–arguing with a person who has power over your driver’s license? What were you thinking? Of course you were right, but being right doesn’t carry much weight with a small person made important by enforcing rules. Glad you still got your license, and also passed in Taiwan and Japan–those were really different test challenges! Great stories.

  4. Dave Ventre says:

    More nerve than I usually have, risking the wrath of a petty official, with which the DMVs of the world seem overstocked.

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