How I Got My Driver’s License

Columbus roads are one of the most beautiful I have seen in my travels around the world. The layout of most of the roads makes them driver friendly and very safe to drive in if one follows the laws guiding operations of motor vehicles in Ohio State, the Buckeye State.

They are very spacious and protective. Every lane is marked for different users. Some lanes are strictly dedicated for turning to the right or left while some are for driving straight only. A driver has enough space to change lanes if turning off to the right or left. The traffic lights are computed to pass vehicles sequentially without obstruction to all road users including pedestrians. Driving in Columbus is always a delight for a law-abiding driver.

Monday June 27, 2011 Michael, Tolu and I arrived at the Bureau for Motor Vehicle, BMV office on West Broad Street, Columbus at about 9.30am. We entered the imposing glass building as the morning and warming breeze sun escorted the three of us in. The cool air conditioner inside the ground floor was just at the right roomy condition as we proceeded to the line at the reception. Three people were already ahead of us, a middle-aged man with a young man he was chatting with that looks like a teenager and an elderly woman that should be in her mid-sixties or more. Everyone has come for documentation or a license and either to assist someone else or for self.

To our right in the open hall are rows of long seats arranged in about eight seats each divided by aisles making about six rows that stretched towards the end of the hall. They all faced a stretch of counters with officials behind each calling and attending to customers. Computer cubicles separate the seating section from the end of the open hall.

“Next, please. Good morning. What can I do for you?” the female in blue uniform at the front desk attended to us.

“We are here for our temporary driver’s license,” I responded. Tolu and I came for our temporary driver license which will also serve as our identification cards for relevant and subsequent engagements.

“You can go to Counter 7,” she pointed it out to us.

Over 60 people were seated in the hall waiting for their turns. Many more continued to come in, some like in a human convoy of six to seven people who have probably just arrived Columbus like us and need to have identification documents or driver license but needed interpreters, though the BMV has some in-house interpreters, especially in Spanish and Somali.

Some conclude their business on a counter while some are referred to another counter and to another counter. But business was always brisk as the officials seemed trained to attend to such a large crowd as brief as possible yet with required results.

Virtually all the desks have vision screening machines and some of the customers were asked to look into them to test their sight efficiency.

“Number 377, counter 7.” The three of us got up and marched to the counter. I informed the lady that we came for our temporary driver’s license. She said the computer systems for the test were down and that we need to come back some other day. We requested for and got the Ohio State identity card pending when we get the driver license. It cost Tolu and I about $50 to obtain.

Thursday, June 30, 2011 we returned to the BMV office on West Broad for the driver’s license knowledge and vision test.

“Let me have your resident permit and social security cards, please.” We handed over our passports which serve as our ‘Green Cards’ and the Social Security Number cards to the female officer across the counter. She gave us some forms to sign with markings on where to sign.

Because we were there for the temporary driver’s license we had to do the vision test before taking the knowledge test.

“Are you ready for the test?” We nodded in the affirmative.

Tolu and I had read the BMV booklet, Digest of Ohio Motor Vehicle Laws, in preparation for the test since it was given by a friend about 18days earlier. The booklet is free at all of the BMV offices. Tolu went first for the vision test and she read everything she was asked to read perfectly well. She was directed to computer number 13 to do her knowledge test.

The computer cubicles separating the seating section from the end of the open hall to the right were for the test. Every potential driver in Ohio State is required to sit for and pass the vision screening and knowledge test “to operate a motor vehicle on any public road, or any public or private property used by the public, for vehicular travel or parking.”

There are about 30 questions and 75% is the pass limit. Any percentage lower than 75% at the end of the last question leads to a repeat of the test at another day. At least 24hours after.

I have been driving in Lagos, Nigeria for almost 20years yet I have to take the test which we don’t do in Lagos, but Tolu does not drive and so will have to learn how to drive the ‘Columbus way’.

Tolu waited for me to also have my vision test and get my cubicle for the knowledge test assigned.

“Do you drive with your glasses on?” the lady asked me.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Put your forehead on the black pad, look through the glasses and read the letters.”

I was able to read the first line very well and managed the second line fairly well but could not read the rest of the remaining six or more lines.

“I am sorry I can’t read further. They are very blurred,” I informed her.

Even when she asked me to try again I could barely go into line three.

The examination for the glasses I was having on was done in Lagos over three years and I have not gone for another test.

The BMV lady filled a form, gave it to me and requested that I get new glasses and then come back for the vision test before I can sit for the knowledge test.

The result is that I failed the vision test and will have to repeat it.

‘Wow!’ What a way of discovering how weak one’s eyes could be!’

It was surprising but better discovering it and fixing it than driving with blurred glasses that cannot see far enough and be a danger to other road users.

Tolu went to Computer 13 and spent less than 20minutes. She passed the knowledge test and reported to another counter where the test is processed and other procedures for obtaining a temporary driver license are done. The officer in charge called her name, gave the temporary license to her to inspect for any error. And since there was no error, she was free to go!

The driver license cost about $27.

That evening I went to Walmart Store on Morse Road to book an appointment with an optician and got a Saturday July 2 at 11am. On Thursday July 7, the glasses were ready and cost $106.

The BMV at West Broad was not opened on Saturday July 9 when I got there. Not all the BMV offices open on Saturday and so it is important to call the office before going or check online if they open on that day.

I returned to West Broad on Monday July 11 for my vision test which I scaled easily, this time, reading all the lines with ease from top to bottom. I was assigned my cubicle for the knowledge test.

Apart from reading the Digest of Ohio Motor Vehicle Laws handbook to prepare me for the knowledge test I did some test practice online on possible questions. Some of the contents of the handbook include Driver Licensing and Vehicle registration, Traffic Laws and Signs, Signals and Pavement markings.

Reading requires a lot of attention because the questions at the knowledge test have optional answers that in many ways may look similar but are actually different. If one fails to make 75% at the end of the 30 questions it becomes a ‘fail’ and must wait 24 hours before repeating the test.

These are two sample test questions from the handbook: —

  1. A flashing red traffic signal at an intersection has the same requirements as which of the following?
  2. A slow sign B. A yield sign C. A stop sign D. An intersection signs
  3. When traveling on a highway divided into four traffic lanes, which vehicles are required to stop for a school bus that has stopped to unload children?
  4. Only vehicles approaching the rear of the bus traveling in the same

direction as the bus

  1. All vehicles approaching the bus from either direction
  2. No one is required to stop unless children are in view
  3. All vehicles may pass the bus after providing an audible signal

The answers to the questions are C and A.

I got into the cubicle for my knowledge test. I did not need the earphone which is placed there for those who cannot read with ease or require an interpreter in languages like Spanish or Arabic. A young man was already in the cubicle to my right busying away with his test while the cubicle to my left was empty. I was two more questions left when I received the congratulations sign. Otherwise it would have been ‘sorry try again’.

My Ohio State Identity card was replaced with a Driver’s temporary license referred to as Temporary Instruction Permit Identification Card (TIPIC).

I called on phone and got a Friday July 29 appointment for my road and maneuverability test at the West Broad Street office. It could also be booked online. Every county in Ohio State has one or more BMV offices but not all the offices carry out road and maneuverability test. BMV, West Broad, Columbus is under the Franklin County and a similar branch is at Cemetery Road, Hilliard.

The maneuverability is done first where the driver is expected to drive forward through a box (9 feet by 20 feet) formed by four markers and drive back.

Prior to Friday July 29 two friends, Pastors Sanya Oyedola and Victor Oguntuyi helped me to improve on my driving skills especially the maneuverability skill which seemed tougher than the road test. I had bumped many times into the markers (cones) during practice and not parallel with test area.

“It is immediate failure running over or knocking down a marker, removing a marker completely from its designated area or other dangerous action.”

An officer was assigned to supervise my driving that morning. He introduced himself and asked for my type of car and the tag (plate) number. A section of the parking lot at the West Broad office is dedicated to those who come for road test. He asked me to go into the car and directed I switched on the turning lights, the brake lights, and the wipers. After being satisfied, he opened the passenger door and sat beside me.

“You can back out and turn to the right,” he said. I said some prayer inside me, did a good back out and turned to the right.

“Drive to where those markers are,” pointing to the area. The area is dedicated to the maneuverability test. There is a test area beside it for motorcyclists.

“Drive through and turn to the left.” I had prayed for that because I seemed to be better from the left angle, during my practice, than from the right angle. It was a good drive through, and I stopped when he asked me to.

“Now back out,’” he instructed. I moved slowly and steadily backward into the markers looking backward. I did not care to use the mirrors. I got in within the markers, straightened my hands and continued slowly praying in my heart not to knock down any of the markers.

“You can stop,” he told me as the front of the car was almost parallel to the two markers at the start.

It was a heave of relief knowing that I passed the maneuverability test. People have lot of stories to tell of how they attempted the maneuverability test several times before they got their license.

“Drive through and turn to the right.” We headed to the West Broad road and into the opposite streets. The streets were quiet, not many cars apart from those parked on the sides. Even though I had the right of way, I slowed down at every junction.

“Why do you slow down at every junction?” he asked. “In case another vehicle is coming in,” I replied. I observed every other road sign and felt good during the test. He directed me through until we were back to the BMV parking lot.

“You made nine stops at those junctions you were not supposed to. You have the right of way and should not have been stopping. You will need to do the road test again,” he decreed.

Bad! I was confident I’d passed this one too. But my consolation was that I passed the maneuverability test and knowing that I failed the road test because of the stoppages at junctions.

My friend, Said Lawal, that took me in his car to the BMV office was waiting at the reception lounge to hear the result.

“You will pass it at the next try,” he consoled me, after I explained what happened, as we walked out of the BMV imposing building.

I got Friday August 5 appointment for a repeat of the road test. This time, a lady officer was assigned to me. She went through the same process of introducing herself, asked my type of car, tag number, inspected the turning lights and brake lights.

“What happened at the last test?” “I was told I stopped at junctions I was not supposed to stop. In Lagos, Nigeria where I am from, a driver needs to be very careful at such junctions because of other drivers coming out of those roads. That was why I was always slowing down at the junctions,’ I explained to her.

She directed me into the same streets opposite the BMV building. After about 10 minutes of driving in the streets we were back to the West Broad BMV parking lot.

“Congrats. You passed,” she announced to me with a smile on her face.

It was 59days of living in Columbus, Ohio. I had estimated to have my full driver’s license two weeks of arriving the States.

(Excerpts from the book, “Immigrant on Columbus Way: Early Life in America and Citizenship” by Deba Uwadiae – )

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