Driving through the bureaucracy


Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Army

Ashley Ye '20 encountered both physical and metaphorical stop signs on her journey to get her license.

Ashley Ye, Opinions Editor

Often, I associate the end of a school year with mountains of state-mandated standardized tests, academic burn-out, and summer daydreams. However, this year, the approaching of summer break signifies the one year anniversary of me getting my license.

I still vividly remember how I spent the first day of last summer break anxiously sitting in the Gaithersburg MVA, waiting for my turn to take the driver’s license test. My—slightly exaggerated—60 hours of driving through neighborhoods after dark, arguing over whether I passed the stop line, and memorizing who has the right of way in a roundabout, have culminated to this.

My actual experience taking the test ended up being significantly more anticlimactic than I anticipated: the only things I remember were honking the car horn for the first time in my life during the test and being so shaky that I performed the worst right turns in my driving career. Luckily, I still managed to pass.

Though I had a father who courageously volunteered to be my personal driving coach for the hazardous 10 months between receiving my permit and taking my license test, it was still a tumultuous process. There were the usual problems that come with getting your license as a teenager—arguing with your guardian over the actual speed limit, you pretending you saw the upcoming stop sign when in reality you did not, and them passive-aggressively grabbing the car ceiling handle every time you hit the brakes a bit too hard. However, my main problems were with the bureaucratic system.

The first stop sign I encountered in my driving journey is the lack of clarity with the whole process. In the state of Maryland, the minimum age for getting a learner’s permit is fifteen years and nine months old, which luckily allowed me to get my permit the summer before sophomore year.

I spent a good month prior to my test date studying for the permit test. The day before I was planning to go to the MVA to take the test, my mom informed me that her friend told her that you needed to take driving school before getting your permit, pulling up an ambiguous webpage as evidence, therefore I could not get my permit until winter break at earliest. I was devastated.

In retrospect, this information was blatantly false. However, with a lack of clear online sources, I couldn’t disprove this claim. It was only after consulting my friends with older siblings who have gone through the process I realized that I did not have to complete the driver’s ed course before taking the permit test.

The cost of the driver’s education also bothered me. Since driver’s education is a mandatory step in getting a license, some driving schools take advantage of this mandate to put exorbitant prices on their courses, making the course less accessible to low-income individuals.

While setting up lessons with a school that my mom’s friend recommended, my parents and I were shocked when the school’s prices were so high they offered a monthly payment plan, and it made us seriously reconsider getting my license as a teenager. Luckily, I found a more affordable driving school through one of my friends who have completed driver’s education. Without that information, I may not have my license today.

Though I hated how the majority of my license-acquiring process relied on hearsay, I am forever grateful to everyone who helped me along in the journey, especially since I was one of the first people in my grade to attain my license. As a result, I have and want to continue passing on the favor to those embarking on the journey now. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me, whether through social media or in real life, or you can check out these websites. I would feel honored to help another person navigate through the system.

Ashley Ye can be found at her email [email protected] or Instagram @ashl_ye.