Sunday, November 10, 2019

The DMV, Real ID, and Me

[“Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published November 13, 2019] ©2019

DMV, how do I hate thee?  Let me count the ways.

The first time your license expires after you turn 70, you have to show up in person at the DMV regardless of how good a driving record you have. I guess they want to make sure you haven’t gone blind and that you still have enough synapses firing to pass the written test.  I decided to get my Real ID at the same time.

Frankly, I’d rather clean the restroom floors at Grand Central Station with my tongue than go to the DMV.  No wait, that’s get a new iPhone.  But the DMV is a close second on my aversion list.

To even get an appointment at my preferred location, I had to register on-line with and create an account that required choosing FIVE utterly stupid security questions, the least bad of which included: “What is the name of a college you applied to but didn’t attend?”  (They have to remind me about all the places that didn’t accept me 55 years ago?)  And: “On what street is your grocery store?”  (Is this the 1950s?  Do they mean Sprouts? Trader Joe’s? Gelsons? P.B. Vons? La Jolla Vons?)  Plus: “What is the name of the doctor who delivered your first child?” (How the hell would I know? He’s adopted!) They clearly get their security questions from the same place as United.

The DMV site advises that to “save time,” one should fill out the required Driver’s License Application form, the DL 44, on-line.  Believe me, I could have saved a lot of time filling it out there.  I thought I could just sign into my account at and access it. But no, the DMV has apparently “partnered” with something called which required another whole registration process including a “two factor authentication process” that sent me a code – good for only 15 minutes - that I had to input to a window that I’d accidentally clicked out of.

Given all the horror stories I’d heard from people who were turned away at the Real ID desk for failing to have the proper documents, I tried to bring five of everything.  Puzzlingly, a California Driver’s license is not acceptable as one of the proofs of ID for a Real ID.  (So is ours an UnReal ID? An Ersatz ID? A Wannabe ID?)  It basically has to be a passport or a birth certificate.  But not so fast. The name on the birth certificate has to be the same one that will be on your Real ID which means it works for 99.9% of men and about two percent of women.  Otherwise your stack of documents need to include an original copy of your marriage certificate. Probably just as well in my case. My birth certificate, after 72 years moldering in various safety deposit boxes, had the consistency of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Handing it over to the DMV lady would have been its last hurrah.

BTW, while you can download the 132-page Driver’s Handbook on-line, actual copies of it reside in public libraries (the College Room at the La Jolla Riford Library, in our case.) This is the best kept secret in California.

So I read the manual, carefully underlining all the number stuff (speed limits, how tall a kid has to be not to have to ride in a car seat, etc. etc.)  I took eight practice tests on-line and aced them, even learning a few things like you can no longer smoke in a car with kids under 16.  When I was growing up in the 50s, it was amazing parents could see out the windshield.

One question I kept getting wrong: that it is illegal to park in an "unmarked crosswalk."  Inquiring minds wanted to know how you know its a crosswalk if it's unmarked.  Turns out an unmarked crosswalk is the portion of the roadway at an intersection 10-feet wide that would connect opposite sides of the street.  (My second PSA of this column.)

I have to say that some of the questions on the practice tests were freebies, like what does a "No U-Turn" sign mean? In fact, there ought to be a few key questions on each test that are automatic fails, like under what circumstances you can mow down pedestrians and blind people.

Two days before my appointment at the DMV, I decided to take a few more practice tests - and failed 14 out of 18.  These questions were exponentially harder: What is a crossbuck sign? (It's the X-shaped railroad crossing sign.)  How many classes of mopeds are there? (Three.)  What does a pentagonal sign mean? (School.)  The average California driver would know "pentagonal" means five-sided? 

I was in full-scale panic mode the morning of the test.  Fortunately, the questions were of the type on my first set of practice tests and I got a perfect score.  (What I couldn't do was work the test machine.)

Well, theoretically, I have a Real ID on its way to me and I will hopefully be dead (or not driving) the next time my license expires.  It's all I can hope for. 

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