The Driver’s Test

40 was the magic number

August 3, 2021

At one time this test was an important rite of passage for the American teenager, an indication that they were about to enjoy one of the privileges of adulthood: being able to drive.

For one Mariam Hargrave of Yorkshire, England, no doubt it was an ordeal. It was on August 3, 1970, when the 62 year old finally passed her driving test. Although the Infallible Wikipedia has an article about driver’s tests, they ignore poor Mrs. Hargraves. Instead, I was able to glean this information:

“By April 1970 Mrs. Miriam Hargrave had failed her test thirty-nine times. In the eight preceding years she had received two hundred and twelve driving lessons at a cost of £300. She set the new record while driving triumphantly through a set of red traffic lights in Wakefield, Yorkshire. Disappointingly, she passed at the fortieth attempt (3 August 1970) but eight years later she showed some of her old magic when she was reported as saying that she still didn’t like doing right-hand turns. — Stephen Pile, ‘The Book of Heroic Failures’”

Back in 1970’s Yakima it was a big deal to learn how to drive. By the time I was in high school, they were offering Driver’s Ed classes which involved learning the rules of the road and practicing driving. I doubt there were any braver educators anywhere than those who willingly climbed into a car with a 15 ½ year old, hormone driven, child and allowed them to command a 2,000 pound vehicle on city streets.

Yet, they did. I seem to recall my Driver’s Ed teacher, Mr. Breshears, always popping antacid tablets. I suppose the only thing which gave the instructors any comfort at all was the fact that the cars were equipped with a set of brakes for the front seat passenger.

Our simulators looked something like this set up from 1969.

Three students at a time would go drive with the teacher. It was a bit terrifying since not all budding drivers had the benefit of a parent who worked with them after school. There was one student I recall who tested Mr. Breshears patience each time they got behind the wheel. Those instructor brakes got quite the workout.

But the favorite part of Driver’s Ed class was getting to go to the Simulator. It was a windowless trailer which had been equipped with two parallel rows of seats, separated by an aisle sort of like being on a bus, and all faced forward. Each station had a steering wheels, brakes, etc. to look like the driver’s area of a car. At the front of the trailer was a large screen. Once all the students were settled into their places, the lights would be dimmed and the screen would come to life as though one was behind the wheel, driving down the street. It was our job to accelerate in unison with what we saw on the screen. It was also imperative that we hit the brakes at the right time.

From the IKE Reveille year book, 1972

Driver’s training films seemed to mostly consist of tree lined city blocks which, at first, seemed like lovely enclaves of blissful American life. But no. Those streets were every driver’s worst nightmare. Balls of all sorts would suddenly bounce out into the road followed by adorable tikes chasing them. Woe unto those who didn’t hit the brakes in time!

There were dogs and cats; there were other vehicles; things fell off the backs of trucks, branches crashed down. Who knew how truly hazardous things could be in one bucolic town?

Of course, some cheeky student would purposefully ‘run’ over the simulated hazards and a little red light would illuminate on their console, publically shaming them for an egregious infraction. I always wondered if students who ‘ran’ over cats, dogs, and children, failed the course.

Over the years I have learned just how accurate those simulations were as I’ve encountered many of the hazards portrayed. Thankfully, it’s only occasionally that such things happen. The hubby and I, if we are in the car together, will comment in unison ‘Driver’s Training film!’ when something we experienced in the simulator occurs in real life.

This photo is from the Eisenhower High School 1972 annual. The headline above this proclaimed “380 license-hungry students swamp driver education course this year.” Apparently there were a bunch of us who turned 16 that year.

The  instruction I received was successful and on my 16th birthday I took the tests – written and driving – and emerged as a licensed driver and, despite losing points for parallel parking, never came close to Mariam Hargrave’s, 212 lessons, eight years of time, and over $700 (US) spent.

The links:

An entertaining look at early simulators:

https://www.dmv-written-test.com/washington/practice-test-1.html?utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=%2Bwa%20%2Bstate%20%2Bdriver%27s%20%2Btest%20%2Bpractice&utm_campaign=DMV%20-%20Search%20-%20WA%20-%20EN%20-%20CAR~Driver%20Question%20Test&msclkid=ee5a27bd586710c0735246b5495d31f5# (Can you pass the written test for Washington State?)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Driving_test

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_of_Heroic_Failures

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s