Having been a high school teacher for thirty years, many times each year students would be missing from my class because they were off taking their driving test. Some passed and many failed on their first attempt.
Perhaps the most memorable of all these students was one girl who was in an academic assistance class that I taught. In fact, she was the only student in the class, so her absence was quite noticeable the day that she went off to take the road test. So, I was just sitting in my classroom grading papers when she suddenly burst in and began to tell me, using very colorful language, how the evaluator had failed her. She told me that as soon as she was told she failed, she started screaming at the evaluator, which included a large number of F-bombs. When I asked her where she had taken the test, she said in Hudson, NY. That’s when I pointed out to her that they probably only have one road test evaluator, and she would probably get the same person the next time. Needless to say, she did get the same evaluator the second time round, and she passed.
Two times really isn’t that bad. There have been others who have made far more attempts at getting their license.
Take, for example, Mrs. Miriam Hargrave, who found herself sitting in her car on August 15, 1969, feeling overwhelmed with despair after yet another unsuccessful attempt at her driving test. This had been her 34th consecutive failure. Amidst her tears, she uttered, “I never want to drive again.”
Over eight arduous years, Mrs. Hargrave, aged 61 and residing on St. Oswald Road in Lupset, Wakefield, has managed to establish a rather unique record in Britain – one of persistently falling short in her driving examinations.
Feeling utterly shattered, she clung to the “fail” slip she had just received, indicating three mistakes out of a possible 21, which was an improvement over the six errors she made on her previous attempt. She lamented, “I’m absolutely shattered. I thought I drove as well as I have ever done.”
Mrs. Hargrave was contemplating sending a formal protest letter to the Ministry of Transport, expressing her discontent with the situation. She wondered if the evaluators in Wakefield were treating her fairly. She speculated, “I am beginning to think that the examiners here, where I have taken all my tests, are too embarrassed to pass me.”
Mrs. Hargrave even pondered whether they wanted to avoid being known as the individual who finally passed her. She disclosed that she had spent more than £200 ($3,900 today) on driving lessons.
Mr. Arnold Cubitt, a driving instructor with 21 years of experience, who had generously provided Mrs. Hargrave with free lessons for four months as a testament to his faith in her potential, expressed profound disappointment. He remarked, “I have had many worse drivers than Mrs. Hargrave who have passed the first time.”
Not surprisingly, a spokesperson for the Ministry overseeing driving examiners in Wakefield declined to comment on the matter.
Yet Mrs. Hargrave, not one to give up, kept taking the road test. Once again, she failed attempts numbered 36, 37, 38, and 39, all taken in Wakefield.
Then, on August 3, 1970, Mrs. Hargrave was driven 25 miles (40 km) northward to Harrogate. What she didn’t know was that she had been brought there to make another attempt at passing her road test.
With just one-half hours’ notice, she got behind the steering wheel and headed out on the road with the evaluator in the passenger seat. And, to her surprise, she passed on her 40th attempt.
She told a reporter, “I could have hugged the examiner when he gave me the pink slip that I have dreamed about for such a long time.” She added that “I was not nervous like all the other times. In fact, I was very confident.”
Mrs. Hargrave’s rationale for obtaining her license was to take her 79-year-old husband, Arnold, on picnics. But that idea would have to wait. She had spent more than £300 (nearly $6,000 today) on driving lessons and now faced the unfortunate reality of being unable to afford the purchase of a car.
“I hope to get one soon—but I spent all the money that would have gone on a car on lessons.”
But Cha Sa-soon of South Korea has Mrs. Hargrave beat. Beginning in April 2005, Ms. Cha diligently took the road test on a daily basis, five days a week, for a continuous three-year period. She failed every single time, but she refused to give up. Her frequency then decreased to approximately twice a week, yet her determination remained unwavering.
Finally, in May 2010, Ms. Cha passed her road test and received her driver’s license. It was her 960th attempt. As a reward, Hyundai presented her with a brand-new car. (Note: It was the written portion of the exam that she repeatedly failed, mostly due to her limited education. For further information, be sure to read the story “At First She Didn’t Succeed, but She Tried and Tried Again (960 Times),” that appeared in the New York Times on September 3, 2010.
And if you are curious about me, it took me sixteen attempts to get my license. No. I am just kidding. I passed on my first try.
(This story was originally written and recorded for Retrocast #20, released on September 20, 2023.)