Learning How to Drive in the US

Car's Dashboard

Car's Dashboard

Learning how to drive is an important part of life especially in today’s day and age. Here in the US knowing how to drive is even more necessary if you live in the suburbs or a rural area. Access to public transportation is not easy unless you live in a big city. Buses, taxis and trains are readily accessible only in big cities. One area where driving plays an important role is when you are looking for a job. The only way you can get to most suburban jobs is commuting by car.

When I was in the Philippines I never imagined myself behind the wheel driving a car. My father made attempts to teach me how to drive back then using the service vehicle that was issued to him by the company he worked for. I never really learned. I didn’t see the importance of driving or how it would benefit me at that time because we didn’t own a car. Plus, going around the Philippines without owning a vehicle is easy. There’s a lot of transportation you can choose from – tricycles, jeepneys, FX, taxis, and buses. As long as you know the address of the place you’re heading to, commuting is a breeze (especially if it’s in an air-conditioned car or bus, hah!).


Leaving home for the first time to live in the US – a foreign land for me – was not an easy thing. There were so many things I needed to learn and the adjustment itself was not simple either. One of the things that I needed to learn was how to drive. It was a good thing that the first year I was here my Ate Vicky called me every day.   “Ate” (pronounced “ah-tay” in English) means big sister in Tagalog (Filipino). Calling someone “Ate” doesn’t have to mean you are blood related.   You can also address someone as “Ate” as a sign of respect.

Ate Vicky lives in New Hampshire while I live in Pennsylvania. We knew each other and she knew my parents back when we lived in the Philippines. She had come to the US 6 years before me.

Anyway, Ate Vicky gave me a lot of good advice. One thing she told me was that it’s essential in the US to know how to drive. She advised me that it would be best to learn before I have a baby. Once you have a baby you will be too busy and won’t have time for it.

In 2008 I finally had the initiative to learn to drive. I was 30 years old then. It had taken me 2 years before I decided to do something about it. To be honest, one reason was that I was too lazy to study for the knowledge test. Also, I was satisfied with the setup of me being the passenger and RT acting as my chauffer. In the US age 30 is considered late to start learning to drive. Most people here learn to drive around 16 or 17. My husband RT got his license when he turned 17.

Getting a driver’s license here isn’t a piece of cake. At least that’s how I viewed it when I was getting ready to get mine. One of the requirements is passing a physical examination. After that you need to get a learner’s permit.   I put a list below, as a sample, of the requirements needed for a learner’s permit application in Pennsylvania. Every state in the US has its own procedures and guidelines for this.

  1. You need go to the DMV office (Department of Motor Vehicles) and get a Non-Commercial Learner’s Permit application or you can also print this form online.
  2. Then you need to get a physical examination and it have to be documented on the form.
  3. A check or money order payable to “PennDOT” or Pennsylvania Dept of Transportation for $34.50
  4. Social Security Card
  5. Proof of identity; example: Birth Certificate, unexpired US passport US citizenship certificate.
  6. 2 documents showing proof of Pennsylvania residency which may include the following: Recent utility bill, Mortgage document or lease agreement & Tax document, such as a W-2 form.
  7. Then you will be given a Driver’s Manual book.
  8. You need to read and study the Driver’s Manual book (the entire book) and to prepare for the knowledge test.
  9. Once you pass the knowledge test they will issue you a learner’s permit.
  10. The learner’s permit will allow you to be behind the wheel but only with the presence of a licensed person in the car.

I remember when I was studying for the knowledge test every time I would start to read and flip the pages of the driver’s manual I would fall asleep. Several times RT saw me conking out on the couch with the manual laying on the floor. I don’t know why the manual had this effect on me. Reading It was like taking sleeping pills. Finally, on my second attempt I passed the test and obtained my learner’s permit. I was so glad about it. It meant no more reading, no more books, no more manual to make me snooze.

My first driving lesson took place in a school parking lot. A friend from church advised my husband to take me there to practice. It was a late Summer Saturday afternoon and the weather was nice. It was not too hot and there was gentle breeze that day. It was a perfect day to be out of the apartment. A perfect day for practicing driving. While heading on our way to the place we thought to ourselves the parking lot might be like a ghost town because it was Summer and the school year hadn’t started yet. When RT and I got there the parking lot was not empty. To our surprise there were 3 cars already there. We were not the only ones who had the idea to practice there. Thankfully the parking lot was huge so this wasn’t a problem.

RT told me to get behind the steering wheel. I started to feel nervous all of a sudden. I’m not sure if it registered on my face as well. Our car was a 1998 Saturn and there was no seat adjuster. I’m short so I brought a pillow with me to prop me up on the driver’s seat so I could see well. Believe it or not, once I started driving I never went faster than 10 miles per hour. That’s how nervous I was when I got behind the wheel for the first time with RT in the car.

The following week my husband decided to enroll me in a driving school. I wondered what made him change his mind. Later I found out that he read something online saying “If you want your marriage to last long never dare to teach your wife how to drive”. (I think the person who wrote that was just joking or at least half joking!). But RT’s motivation in enrolling me in a driving school was that he wasn’t sure he would be an effective teacher for me. He wanted someone who was experienced at teaching beginners how to drive. Driving school coaches are more experienced and more patient too! (Wink!)

Late August of 2008, I was officially enrolled in a driving school. Yippee! My first lesson the coach ordered me to do figure 8’s. He said this would help me get used to turning. Later I learned how to back up, parallel park, and, of course, drive on high ways. My coach encouraged me to do some practice on my own time.

In one of my driving practices with my husband I did a scary stunt which I will never forget.

One Summer evening RT and I did a practice drive near a movie theater. I was driving OK the whole time but then we decided to turn around and head home. We were sitting in a left turn lane waiting for a green light to turn onto a highway. Across the intersection a car started coming towards the intersection while we were waiting for the green light. Before the car reached the intersection the light turned green. RT instructed me to make the turn before the car reached us so we won’t have to wait for him. I stepped on the gas and hurriedly tried to turn. I was a bit rattled and made a mistake. I didn’t manage to pass the highway divider before turning. We ended up in the wrong lane facing the oncoming traffic. I panicked and stopped dead in the middle of the lane. Luckily the oncoming traffic was stuck at another traffic light. RT immediately got out of the car and ran around to my side and replaced me in the driver’s seat while I jumped into the backseat. He managed to get the car off the middle lane and drove to the shoulder, but still facing the oncoming traffic. It was a good thing that there weren’t many vehicles at that hour. The only ones there soon passed us and RT was able to get the car headed in the right direction. I was so scared! It was a dumb, dumb move on my part. God is so good that he protected us at that time. We could have been in a big accident and ended up in the hospital that night.

After that RT left the driving lessons to the driving coach. The driving coach I had was great. In the beginning he would say to me I that I looked tense. He has his way of knowing when his students were nervous and tense. How? Through the knuckles! When someone has a hard grip on the stirring wheel the knuckles will show. He said another indicator was when the car was drifting from side to side in the lane. I will never forget the time when my coach teased me and said “Kris breathe, OK! You look so tense”. During the course of my lessons with him eventually a big change took place in me. I changed from a nervous driver to a confident driver.

December 10, 2008 – this was the day when I went for my actual driving test and I passed. We had spent $1,350 for my driving lessons. Yes it was a lot of money but it was worth it.  I don’t think I could have passed without my coach’s lessons.

Now, I can drive without being nervous. I know how to be a careful driver and to be alert at all times whenever I’m behind the wheel.

Being a careful driver is very important. One wrong turn can lead to an accident, trouble or loss of life. This is also true in our spiritual life. If we make a sudden wrong turn this can result in trouble, unhappiness and sometimes even loss of life. Just as in driving we have to be careful in our spiritual life. We have to stay close to God and do what is right. That is why it’s important that we know the “right way”, “the only way” to God.   In John 14:6

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

In the spiritual highway of life Jesus put up a sign that reads “I am the way”. This means that the only way to Heaven is through Jesus. Jesus is the only path to Salvation. Jesus is the only way to God the Father.

If learning from a driving coach can help a nervous student drive so much better, how much more can listening to our Heavenly coach, God the Father, and looking to the example of His son Jesus help us to make our way through life better.