Archived Story

A driver’s license test can be intimidating

Published 9:44am Friday, May 16, 2014

Things I Tell My Wife by Matthew Knutson

“And what if I fail?” I asked my wife while studying the Minnesota driver’s manual for the fourth time. When we moved across the border from Iowa to Minnesota, we both were required to take the written drivers test to transfer our licenses. Sera did it right away while I procrastinated.

The rules state that you have 60 days following your move to Minnesota to take the written test. I held out strong and took mine on Day 54. The thought of failing kept me from driving the 1.5 miles to my local state Department of Public Safety office for weeks. I just kept imagining life without a license and how I could possibly survive.

I could survive, of course. My community has a decent public transportation system in place, which I’ll likely be exploring in the future as my wife gets a job and we discover one car isn’t quite cutting it. My sister-in-law lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., and only got a car a few weeks ago after living in that community for several years, so a vehicle is certainly much more of a luxury than I tend to think.

Still, what if I failed the written test? Sure, I could retake it again the next day. Only my wife would need to know I didn’t pass, so that wouldn’t be completely embarrassing, right? After thinking it through further, the state employee who administers the test would know I failed, too. While a state worker may not be allowed to talk about the test results outside of the office, I could just imagine getting stuck at a nice restaurant with my test proctor sitting at the adjacent table and silently judging me based on my test-taking skills.

So I put it off. Avoidance was my coping strategy. Due to the Department of Public Safety’s hours, I knew I would have to take the test over lunch. Certainly work took up some lunch hours, but I also convinced myself that my wife needed me home at lunch.

Eventually I closed out the tab in my Internet browser that had the study guide in it, meaning I had another excuse for why I couldn’t study; I’d have to spend time scouring the Internet to find the PDF of driver’s manual.

With time working against me, I committed Sunday to studying. Everything in the manual is potentially on the test, so I started at my journey learning that Ramona Dohman is the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Safety and concluded by learning that it is, “unlawful to drink, or to have an open container of, any alcoholic beverage inside a motor vehicle when it is on a public street or highway.”

When I arrived to take the written test, I was greeted by surprisingly cheerful employees. Most government workers I encounter fit nicely within their unpleasant stereotype, especially those dealing with vehicles. These people were different in the best way possible.

“I’ll put you on Computer 13,” the woman said. “It’s been lucky all morning. Nobody has failed on it yet.”

Three questions in, and I’ve already incorrectly guessed once. Irrational visions of my Kia Sportage being repossessed by DPS creep into my mind as I debate my current question: How far away must you stop your vehicle from a school bus with flashing red lights? I strategically choose the largest number, and the screen blinks red. (For those playing at home, the correct answer is 20 feet.)

Then, one question after another, the screen blinks green. Over 30 questions later I’m greeted with a triumphant screen of victory where I’m instructed to wait in line for a ridiculous amount of time as my paperwork is completed (or something to that effect).

I had passed. My mind flashed back to the first time I had taken the written test as a 15-year-old in an Owatonna High School classroom. I entered that test confidently, where had that gone?

Sometimes we let our fear of the unknown get the best of us. Being afraid of failure and what that brings shouldn’t keep us from trying our best to succeed. So what if I had failed? I literally could have taken it the very next day without there being any repercussions. Avoiding perceived difficulties creates real difficulties. It doesn’t relieve us of them. That’s a nice lesson I’ll be reminded of whenever I put the key into the ignition before my morning drive to work.


Rochester resident Matt Knutson is the communications and events director for United Way of Olmsted County.