The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

First it was trophies. Now it’s driver’s licenses for all.

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Remember the olden days when only a select group of children got trophies? When leagues eliminated the requirement that trophies were only given to the champions, the floodgates opened.

Today, every 4-year- old who shows up to soccer tots gets some form of bling to celebrate her accomplishments. Sporty families across the nation have dozens of trophies to dust by the time their children reach age 12.

[Trophies for what?]

But what about the teenagers? The ultimate teen trophy is a driver’s license, right? Well, my home state of Maryland decided to follow a trend; as of this week, our state has eliminated parallel parking from the road test. Like trophies, it just got a whole lot easier to earn a driver’s license. Teens across the state are thrilled.

There’s an official reason, of course. Buel Young, a spokesman for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration told local news source MyMCMedia that completing a two-point turn and backing up are similar enough to parallel parking to eliminate the parking element from the test.

[Parallel parking becomes an untested skill in Maryland]

Right. As a seasoned driver of many years, I can confidently back my minivan into any parking space in the world. One of my all-time parking highlights was reversing the van into a very tight spot between two Jaguars.

Washington Post article detailed other reasons for the change. One driving instructor indicated it was a matter of time and priorities, that in the time allotted to learn to drive, it was more important for teens to learn to handle busy highway entrances and mergers than to learn to parallel park. (I guess they’re too busy to do both?)

Tom Pecaroro, owner of a fleet of Maryland-based driving schools, offered another reason, indicating that while the MVA didn’t give the stats, parallel parking fail rates were a problem. “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.”

So if more teens pass the test on the first attempt, fewer people come back to retake the test, lines are shorter, and if they’re really lucky, the MVA can cut staff. It’s a win-win, right? Parents and instructors can skip the dreaded parallel parking practice and thrilled 16-year-olds across the state get the teen version of a shiny trophy: a driver’s license! Who needs that arcane skill anyway?

After all, not every tradition is sacred or practical. I just returned from an elementary school field trip to Williamsburg, where the children observed all sorts of old-fashioned re-enactments. The wig-making craft garnered particular delight. The kids found the idea of  plopping an eight pound curled horsehair wig onto one’s glue-covered head hilarious.

Thankfully this practice went out of fashion. The problem is, unlike the art of horsehair wig-making, people still need to know how to parallel park. Children don’t need to go to a historic site to see this challenging form of parking; they can see it anytime they hit the city.

In Maryland, the majority of the population lives in close proximity to either Baltimore or Washington. Any city driver will tell you that parallel parking is a necessary skill set. And have you ever been to our beautiful capital of Annapolis? Maryland’s early residents didn’t put in driveways. It’s narrow street after narrow street of parallel parking.

Street parking isn’t limited to just historic sites and cities. Less than five miles from my house there are plans to demolish a suburban mall surrounded by parking lots and replace it with a main street residential/shopping/working ideal. There won’t be giant parking lots. There will be garages and street parking.

Sorry, MVA, but parallel parking remains a necessary skill in urban and, increasingly, many suburban areas. As many of us can attest from experience, it’s a different form of parking than simply reversing into a space.

But, it’s done. What’s next? Well, for starters, Jaguar drivers may want to limit themselves to garages. As for parents of teens and pre-teens (myself included), Maryland may have let us off the hook, but in the interest of our cars and fellow drivers, it’s probably best we still continue to teach our kids parallel parking. I know we’re all crazy busy–what with dusting their trophies and all–but driving, including parking, is a skill set for life. Let’s slow down and take the time to make sure our teens can do all of it right. Because even if the test went away, the need to be able to parallel park didn’t.

Kristin O’Keefe is a writer living in Kensington, Md. You can can read more of her work at her blog,

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