Posted by: Debbie Abrams Kaplan | April 26, 2018

How to get your driver’s license in under four hours

I’m going to make myself look bad, so that when you take your child to get their driver’s license, you can do it the right way. That’s why it took us almost four hours for Dori to get her license (spoiler alert).

First a bit about New Jersey. Driving rules here are a different beast than what I grew up with. You can’t get your license until 17, and your permit until 16.

Kids in our town take driver’s ed at school sophomore year. They can take the driver’s test there, and don’t have to set foot at the MVC (Motor Vehicle Commission – though I’m used to calling it DMV) until they get their license. They normally take 6 hours of individual professional driving instruction (we pay for that), and the instructor gives them the eye chart test at their office. They collect the birth certificate and other info, and go to MVC to get the permit for your kid. THAT part is nice. Also, if your kid hasn’t taken their driving test at school, they can take it at the driving instruction office – and from what I hear from several people, the instructors are known for giving hints and making sure they pass the test.


This line will take 45 minutes to get to the front – with an appointment

After the 6 hours of instruction, the instructor hands over the supervisory responsibility to the parents or other adults. All cars that permitted drivers use have to have that red sticker you see on the license plate of the car in the photo above – front and back ($100 penalty if caught without them). They cost $4 and are Velcro. You can get them from the driving school or MVC (hint to families: get two sets from the driving school).

On the back of the permit, the instructor writes down the driving test appointment time – which could be a year away, like on your child’s birthday. Because it’s New Jersey and you can’t take a driving test without an appointment. And it can take several months to get an appointment. So I had to pull Dori out of school for her driver test. I figured it would take an hour (plus the 30 minutes round trip drive) and she’s be back in school.


We pull into the line of cars above. It doesn’t look that long, right? Yeah. That’s a 50 minute wait – even WITH an appointment. And the line got much longer later. Pull in line and wait in your car. At least the weather was good.


My “oh shit” moment – #6 – and look how crappy this sign is

As we’re sitting there, we’re reading the signs. And I say “what is proper identification?” And Dori starts to panic. And then I start to panic. Because she suddenly remembers the brochure she got in Driver’s Ed a year before, titled “6 Points of Identification.” And all we brought with us were her permit and her school ID. I’ve been so busy with work it didn’t occur to me to look up what she had to bring with her for her test. So I call Mark, who was working at home (emphasis on working) and say “send me a photo of Dori’s passport. He kindly does this. But I’m still panicked. Because it’s a photo. And if I get out of line, she may have to wait months for her test.

You may be wondering about all the cars in line from driving schools. That is also a NJ thing. You can pay your driving school to take your child for the driving test. They pick you up (sometimes giving a refresher course the week before – extra fee) and do all the waiting. It’s the ultimate in outsourcing. But what kind of stay at home parent am I, to send  a driving school instructor with my child to get her license?


it’s like Disneyland Autopia

One reason people do this is because the car you use must have a handbrake between the two front seats. Our minivan does not have one. Mark’s car does. If it did not, I would have paid the driving school hundreds of dollars to take my daughter for her test. While we sat there (me stressing out), we watched others taking their tests. In NJ, a road test is really a very slow Disneyland Autopia test. You drive around lanes and cones in a designated area on the property, and then do a parallel parking job in a very large spot. We watched several of those, critiquing them until this large truck parked in our way. Yes, you can take your 18 wheeler or school bus test here too.


18 wheel trucks and school buses had their own testing lane

We finally made it to the front of the line. The tester came over and asked for the car’s registration and insurance, as well as my license. Then he went around the front and back, like he was doing a rental car inspection. At the back, he made an upward motion, so Dori popped the trunk for him. Hey – it’s New Jersey. You have to show there are no bodies in the trunk. But that’s not what he wanted. A woman on the sidewalk yelled to us “blinkers!” So Dori put on the blinkers. Then she had to put on the brakes to show that the lights worked. Perhaps they are looking for excuses to fail your car or give you a ticket? I’m not sure. He closed the trunk and laughed at her for popping it.


We’re almost at the front. Notice the red sticker on the upper left corner of the license plate

He tells me to get out of the car. It’s testing time!! I walk to the sidewalk, but then Dori calls me over. “He wants to see my ID,” she said. Uh oh. I pull out my phone to show him the passport page photo. He says “what is that?” I said “it’s a photo of her passport.” He said “I need the actual passport.” I said “but you already checked her identification when she got her permit, which you have there. We submitted her birth certificate – we already showed ID. Here is her passport.”

Of course my reasoning did not work. He wrote on the permit that we had one hour to come back with her passport or we’d have to make another appointment. “Can we avoid the line?” I asked. “When you come back, get in line,” he said. “But we just waited 50 minutes in line. If we drive 30 minutes round trip to get the passport and then get in the same size line, we’ll miss the deadline.” He told us to get back in line.

So instead of Dori turning right, onto the driving course, she turned left, to do the DRIVE OF SHAME. Only the losers who didn’t get their license turned left. I told her to get back in line.


Back of the line. Take 2.

So now we’re back in another 50 minute line. I call Mark. “Bring the passport” I barked. He was not happy. I was not happy. Dori was not happy. But at least she could do homework in the car. 18 minutes later he showed up. We had barely moved in line, but now there were cars behind us. Before he left, I told him where to find Dori’s social security number, because I think we were going to need that too. Good thing he was working at home! He sends me that. So now we’re all set, right?


The line as seen from the front spot.

We make it to the front. Dori had time to run to the bathroom before a lady I like to call BITCH came up to the car. We told her she only had to check the passport – here’s the paperwork from the first guy! We’re cleared except the passport. But no. She starts inspecting our car. Blinkers (Dori knew not to pop the trunk). Check. Brakes. Check. Registration and insurance? Check. Wait. No check. “Why do you have a copy of our insurance card instead of the original,” she asked. “Why does it matter?” I wanted to ask. The original was at home (don’t ask – not an interesting story), and it would expire in 3 days. I never knew there was a rule you must have your originally issued insurance card in your car. “The other insurance card in there is original” I said. But it was effective in several days – the copied one was effective for three more days. “You’re going to have to go to your insurance office and get a valid insurance card and then come back,” she said.

“But the last guy never said our insurance card was a problem,” I said. She brings him over, and complains that she doesn’t even regularly work at this site. The guy is now in trouble. Ooops. “You can pull it up on your insurance app,” he said. “I don’t have an insurance app.” “Well you can download it,” he said. “So a copy of my insurance card is not valid but showing you my insurance card on my phone is valid?” I say? Yes. But showing him my passport on the phone is not valid.

WTF???? Dori had the presence of mind to say “would you mind making sure that’s all we need? We just waited in line 50 minutes and we want to make sure we have everything.” So she walks around the car and says “where are your red stickers?” Sigh. I tell her that Dori never drives this car – she drives my car, but there’s no brake in the middle so we brought this one. “MVC regulations are that any car a permitted driver drives, must have the red stickers.”

She tells us to pull into the lot, buy the stickers from the big busy building, download the app, and come back within 30 minutes, or we have to make another appointment. It’s now been 2 hours since we arrived. The good news – we don’t have to wait in line!! We can pull next to the line.

So we do the drive of shame – again. Dori runs to the MVC office to buy the stickers. I spend 20 minutes downloading our insurance app, that I didn’t even know existed. It’s a miracle that I had space on my phone for the app. Finally, I had the insurance info, the red stickers and was back at the front of the line. And I really had to pee.


I thought she would get her license from this small, uncrowded building next to where testing occurred.

The same guy comes over. He has a hard time seeing the damn insurance info on the phone, but finally, he tells me to get out of the car, and Dori and I high five each other. I run into the little building to pee, and hope to come out and watch her parallel park. But someone is in the solo restroom. Not sure what she was doing in there but it took awhile. When I was done, Dori had already finished her test. But I was excited, because look how uncrowded this office is! It will be a breeze to get her license.


The actual NJMVC building we had to go to for licensing.

The instructor tells me she passed, and that I should park in the lot and go into the big building for the license. Seriously? I was not allowed to take photos in there by law. I really really wanted to take a photo, but given how much trouble we already caused ourselves that morning, I didn’t risk it. but it looked worse than this.

First, the information desk. You’re a citizen? You need a driver’s license? Get in that line by the window. Phew – it’s a short line! We wait 10 minutes. It’s an ID check. “I need your 6 points of identification.” Okay – here’s the passport and school ID. “I need a transcript with her school ID.” Shit. I printed out a copy of her third quarter grades (to give to the insurance company) and sent Dori back to the car for that. What other ID could we use? Her ATM card or credit card. Those were at home. A bill in her name. Uh, don’t have that. How about her health insurance card. “Our health insurance card only has my husband’s name on it.” Oh – but that’s okay if it also says “family.” So her school ID with her name and photo is not okay, but my husband’s health insurance card that DOESN’T HAVE HER NAME AND PHOTO is just fine. So now we just need one more point. Dental and vision insurance cards don’t count.

We produce the school grades. “This isn’t a transcript,” she says. “It’s a list of assignments.” No – it has her grades. “It doesn’t have her address.” Well gee, neither does her ATM card. Nor her dad’s health insurance card. Dori tries to show her the official transcript on her phone – on the school’s site. “No, it has to be on paper.” Uh, like my insurance card?

“Go see my supervisor at window 1.” So we go there. The supervisor complains that the school name isn’t on the grade sheet. I show her the URL. She says “oh – well okay. That counts.” Now back to the ID window (we skipped the line) and the woman is surprised we passed. She hands us a number and says “sit down and wait until your number is called.”


Our number determined when we had to get IN LINE.

We’re waiting. We’re waiting. No numbers are being called. The TVs are only showing advertising, not numbers. I go to information. “What do we do when our number is called?” I ask. She asks a series of questions: are you a citizen? is your card blue? is your card yellow? what’s your number? With those answers, she says that when they call our number, we will get in “that” line – she points. “Wait, the number tells me when to get in line?” Yup. I ask if I can just get in line now. Nope. Not until my number is called.

So we wait. They’re on #27. Finally they call our number. We get in line. 10 people are in front of us. Finally we get to the desk. We hand over her license application. We needed that social security number (phew). And she now has to pose for a photo where she looks “neutral.” But we’re both cracking up. The photo is horrible.

I realize I forgot my checkbook. But guess how much it costs to get a provisional driver’s license? SIX DOLLARS. I had exact change. SIX DOLLARS. And when she goes back again in a year (sigh) to get her adult license, it will be less than $20. So there’s some good news. They finally hand her the license. We high fived.

We’d been there three hours and fifty minutes. Some man in the parking lot congratulated her. At least when I go back in two years with Zack, I’ll be prepared. We’ll have 25 points of identification.


A happy ending.



  1. I gladly paid the $50 to have my oldest son to be taken for his test by the driving school.
    Down here in NC, the six hours behind the wheel are
    are supplemented by the county! I think we paid
    $20 for the six lessons. We do have to log the
    daytime and nighttime hours for the year.
    Good luck and congratulations to Dori! Drive safely

    • Cheryl – Our unsubsidized 6 hour instruction is $300+. I’ll have to find out what company you used for the road test, as the ones I talked to were significantly more than $50 for the road test – in the hundreds, I believe.

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