Introducing Kiran Verma, retired manager at the California DMV
Thanks for agreeing to this interview, @kv! As someone with decades of experience at the California DMV, I look forward to hearing about your insights into the department's inner workings.
Let's start with the basics. Would you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about the roles you served in at the California DMV.
Full disclosure: Kiran is my mother-in-law!
Hi there, I am tickled to be invited to this forum. My name is Kiran Verma and after serving the motoring public for 28 plus years working for the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in California, I am presently living a retired life in Southern California. Since starting my career with DMV in 1983 as a front line techincian helping the motoring public obtain drivers licenses and registering their vehicles , I worked in every facet of the department including a couple years stint as a Drivers License Examiner administering behind the wheel driving tests to applicants for class A, B, C & M drivers license. I promoted through the ranks to Manager IV. One of my most rewarding assignment was working with the Drivers License redesign team as a field office representative. This cross divisional team was assigned the responsibility to explore existing procedures and programs, identify opportunities for improvement with a focus on streamlining the Drivers License process.
The licensing process redesign team project seems like important work. For many, especially teens, starting from square one to get a license can feel daunting. What were the improvements your team settled on, how did these improvements streamline the licensing process, and were the improvements ultimately successful?
Thanks for asking. Yes, the Drivers License Redesign team embarked on a very high profile project intended to develop business rules for prospective bidders for developing computer systems to replace the existing systems that were fast becoming unable to handle ever changing requirements. There were several recommendations that resulted in seemless flow of information between different stakeholders like courts and law enforcement. Several enhancements eliminated redundancies and reduced the wait times for delivery of licenses to customers and as such improving levels of service.
Sounds like a really worthwhile initiative. Nobody likes to wait in line at the DMV!
It's funny how that experience is such a stock trope on TV and in movies. For example:
You mention that you spent a couple years doing skills tests. Do you have any interesting stories from your days testing drivers out on the road?
Sorry about delayed response, I got side side tracked a little. Although, it has been a while since I was an examiner, the experience left an indelible mark. Interestingly, all the applicants coming for drive test belonged to three distinct categories, each with a different motivation, attitude and skill set. There were enthusiastic sixteen year olds eager to get their first license. They were the best with excellent motor skills and reflexes. In California, drivers education and training being mandatory for minors, they had a good grip on the laws and rules of the road. Then there were middle aged drivers with no prior driving experiences trying to get their first license. They were the most challenging of the applicants. I remember a young mother who was taking a drive test for the fifth time in less than a month. After I told her she needs to practice, she started crying asking me to pass her and she will not drive. She just needs a license to show everyone back home in her country that she has a US license. Again, this was the group where some of them had taken professional lessons and were coached that examiners look for scanning the road and looking over shoulder for blind spots. Their actions were by and large robotic at times looking over the right shoulder while making left lane changes or visa versa. They were the most challenging of all tests. Once I gave a class 1 test in an eighteen wheeler to a lady. She jack knifed the rig while turning into the skill test area, blocking the entrance and the main road. I had to walk to the office to get her husband to move the vehicle. She stated, she only needs a commercial license because she wants to accompany her husband on cross country trips. He is the one who is going to be driving. The third group was the elderly drivers with a lifetime of driving experience but compromised motor skills, poor reflexes and stiff bodies. They were the most heart warming group. I remember giving a test to a then 94 year old lady who passed the test on very first attempt. I remember her because she had the same birthday as my then 7 year old daughter. Looking @ her application, I remember mentioning that my daughter is turning 7 on the day she was turning 94 and commending her on her driving skills. I realized that age alone was not a barrier to maintaining ones license. They
are the ones who are trying so hard to maintain their dignity and independence by having a drivers license. I realized that by and large even with some questionable driving habits developed over a lifetime, and physical limitations, they were a safer group because they were self limiting.
No worries about the delay. The "reasons" people sometimes give as to why they need a driver license are hilarious!
It's great that you say that the teens are generally the best-performing group. In my experience, the majority of the teens I work with take very seriously driving safely and well. And, after a little practice, more often than not, they excel.
I have three follow-up questions.
One: What are the most common reasons people fail the skills test? Are there specific skills that test takers who fail don't do very well? What I'm looking for in your answer: what are the patterns you've seen in your experience for why people fail the drive skills test?
Two: Are there any "gotcha" type actions that California drive skills test examiners look for that would greatly increase the chance of failing the test? For example, I've heard a rumor that in Maryland, if you take your hands off the steering wheel during the test, you'll automatically fail.
Three: In addition to simply practicing more, what are some specific things permit holders can do to prepare for the drive skills test to increase their chances of passing?
Interesting questions Sean! With my years of experience as an Examiner and a manager, I believe the most common reason for failure on the skills test is Unsafe Lane Change.
Contrary to the public perception, there are no Gotcha type of actions. Examiners test applicants on a predetermined drive test route that has been developed according to standardized guidelines and scoring methodology. However, I have seen a higher percentage of lane change failures when entering into left/right turn pockets probably because people do not associate it with a lane change. Yes, there are several actions/in-actions that can lead to automatic failure because they are a dangerous maneuvers. For example running a red light or not stopping at a stop sign would be automatic failure. Changing lanes without looking in the mirror or over the shoulder would be automatic failure where as changing lane with only looking in the mirror would only have a point taken.
Of course there is no substitute for practice to hone your skills. However, I cannot over stress the importance of some professional training for all new drivers. Drivers over 18 years of age are not required to take any professional training and often learn from family and friends. Oftentimes, they learn the bad habits of these experienced drivers and believe hem to be the norm.
So true, what you say about the value of professional training. Family and friends often do indeed pass on bad habits--coupled with over-confidence in their own skills. Of course, as a driver ed instructor, I'm a bit biased about this particular point!
My students often overlook those non-obvious lane changes as well. We teach that pulling over to the curb to park is a lane change--from the traffic lane to the parking lane. Merging lanes are a lane change as well, in many cases. And for any lane change, the student driver is expected to do a complete MSMOG. This is a handy mnemonic we use to help students remember: Mirror, Signal, Mirror, Over-the-shoulder, Go if safe.
What advice would you give our readers about dealing with the DMV, in general? What's it like from your perspective on the other side of the counter, so to speak, to serve your customers at the DMV?