No one can say for sure whether this will lead to an uptick in dented car bumpers and curb-gouged tires. But Maryland has announced that demonstrating an ability to parallel park — an impossible skill to master for a lot of motorists — is no longer a requirement for getting a driver’s license in the state.
Everybody knows people who can’t parallel park. Maybe the space is 12 feet long, yet they couldn’t squeeze a Smart Car into it. They would just as soon try to land a jet.
The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles driving test doesn’t include parallel parking. In Virginia, where the state DMV’s road-skills exam is administered to teenagers by private driving schools, there’s no demand to test parallel parking proficiency.
Now the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration officially doesn’t care, either. As of Wednesday, parallel parking was eliminated from the road test.
It’s simply a matter of “redundancy,” MVA spokesman Buel Young said. The test includes a maneuver called a “reverse two-point turnabout,” which involves the same skills at the wheel as parallel parking, Young said.
But a lot of driving instructors think there’s more to it than that.
“Not through any official channels, but I’ve heard that the fail rate for parallel parking was pretty high,” said Tom Pecoraro, whose Maryland-based chain of I Drive Smart schools teach about 5,000 new drivers a year, a vast majority of them teenagers.
“I didn’t hear that from the MVA,” Pecoraro said. “But we talk with a lot of the examiners. That’s what everyone in the industry is saying: the fail rate was pretty high, and they want to be able to push people through.”
In other words, if fewer people fail, then fewer people will have to come back, and lines and waiting times at the MVA’s 17 full-service facilities could be reduced.
A youngster trying to get a driver’s license in Maryland first has to take a “knowledge” test at a computer terminal at any MVA full-service office. Then comes a road test, first on the facility’s closed course, then on public streets nearby.
The road test usually lasted 15 to 20 minutes overall, before the parallel parking exercise was eliminated, Young said. The time limit for parallel parking, which was done on the closed course, was three minutes. As for the “fail rate,” Young said he didn’t know whether it was high or low. But that wasn’t the point of ending parallel parking, he said.
Although the reverse two-point turnabout (read: backing into a parking space) seems a simpler maneuver than parallel parking, skill-wise they are similar, he said.
“We’re constantly reassessing our testing, whether it be the knowledge test or the skills test,” Young said. “In reassessing the skills test, we looked at it and we thought, ‘Okay, we’re testing some redundancy here, and we shouldn’t be.’ ”
Here’s what the MVA’s Web site tells aspiring licensed drivers about the reverse two-point turnabout, which is also done on the closed course:
You will be asked to drive past an area that represents a driveway or alley. You will be required to back your vehicle into the designated area on your right until the front of your vehicle clears the front set of cones. You will have 3 minutes to complete this exercise.
So there’s no need to rush. In the real world, if some knucklehead behind you starts leaning on his horn, then roll down your window, tell him to go . . .
You will then be asked to exit the area to the right. You will be evaluated on your backing skills, visual skills, judgment of space, use of mirrors and turn signals, steering, braking, acceleration control and general driving skills.
As for whether parallel parking is harder than the reverse two-point turnabout, ask Bronya Lechtman, an 11th-grader from Bethesda. She took her first Maryland driving test in February and tried to parallel park her dad’s Saab convertible.
“I drove into the back of the cones, because I was too far away from the sidewalk,” Bronya recalled. She was on the closed course at the MVA’s Frederick, Md., facility. “So I wasn’t sure how to fix myself, and so I started panicking. So I, like, drove back and forth, and then finally I hit the back cones. I was really upset about it.”
She went back in March.
“I had the same instructor,” she said. “So I had, like, a bit of a panic attack and did the same exact thing that I did the time before, even though I felt really, really ready.”
She said, “Yes, I cried that time.”
In April, she tried again. “This time I went to St. Mary’s County,” Bronya, 17, said. “I passed finally. I think the atmosphere there was a lot less stressed out. I had a much nicer instructor. I think the first two times, my instructor was a lot more scary.”
Allen Robinson, chief executive at the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association, said he has heard complaints about the change from Maryland driving instructors.
“The schools are upset because they think parallel parking is one of the things that distinguishes between good drivers and bad drivers,” Robinson said. But he doesn’t agree. With parallel parking gone from the MVA test, he said, instructors won’t have to teach it, meaning they can focus more on traffic safety.
He said he doesn’t know how many states test for parallel parking. “I do know that one of the problems DMVs have is they’ve got so many people to serve. If you can find a way to reduce time without risking safety, you should do it.”
At I Drive Smart, owner Pecoraro said that his 165 instructors — all current or former police officers — will continue teaching parallel parking. He scoffed at the assertion that the reverse two-point turnabout and parallel parking entail identical skills.
“I believe backing into a space is a much easier skill to master,” said Pecoraro, who was a Montgomery County police officer for 25 years. “It takes more time to parallel park. Your head is swinging a lot more. You have to be aware of many more points of reference.”
He noted: “A lot of people have trouble doing it. They’re afraid of it.”
There’s a writer at The Washington Post, for instance, whose aversion to parallel parking borders on phobia. Before pre-work spin classes, around dawn, she would drive out of her way to a colleague’s house, leave her car and ride with her less-spatially-challenged friend to the exercise studio, where only parallel street parking was available.
She has often said that when the time comes, she might retire in Florida, having noticed an abundance of angled parking spaces in the Sunshine State.