Driver’s test a rite of passage

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 21, 2000

&uot;Don’t let ’em make you nervous now,&uot; Laura Edwards told her 16-year-old daughter, Mary Ellen Edwards as she stepped out into the sunlight and onto the gravel-lined parking lot, anxious to prove herself to the Mississippi Department of Public Safety.

Armed with the keys to her mother’s maroon stationwagon and driving skills she learned in driver’s education class, Mary Ellen placed two hands on the wheel and started the car.

Dressed in a blue and gray uniform, Vicky Alexander, a driver’s license examiner for the department of public safety since 1988, casually instructed Mary Ellen while almost inconspicuously jotting marks on her clipboard paper.

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She knows her job so well that she carried on a conversation while simultaneously grading the driver’s abilities. &uot;I want to bring in current events and try to relax people,&uot; the veteran examiner said.

Driving over gray gravel, Mary Ellen began her test and Vicky cautioned &uot;you want to slow down on the gravel.&uot;

So after making it safely across the median on U.S. 61 north, Mary Ellen headed south, cruising cautiously at 45mph and made the loop around Liberty Road.

Shortly after passing Natchez High School, there was no turning back … Mary Ellen had to demonstrate a skill that smooths out over time … she had to merge.

Both passengers and drivers let out a collective sigh as the stationwagon passed a local landmark — the scales.

And on to the next sweatbreaker … Vicky instructed Mary Ellen to turn into a shopping center parking lot.

&uot;Pedestrians,&uot; Mary Ellen said, &uot;always have to yield to them … be courteous.&uot;

Then Mary Ellen had to demonstrate her parking proficiency — in front of strangers.

And after successfully backing up in a maze of cars and people, Vicky offered a few words of encouragement, &uot;you did real good with your backing up.&uot;

&uot;Thank you,&uot; Mary Ellen said sounding more than a bit relieved.

Then, a few minutes later with concern creeping back in her voice, &uot;isn’t this test longer than usual?&uot;

&uot;Just because of the traffic … it’s supposed to be 15 minutes, but this is what you call a drive time,&uot; Vicky explained as the novice driver navigated through afternoon traffic heading towards the end of her test.

Back in the gravel covered parking lot, &uot;you did real well,&uot; Vicky said.

So well, in fact that she got the long-coveted license.

&uot;Oh yes, I’ve been waiting for this for a while,&uot; Mary Ellen said.

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