Different DMV Preferences


Photo illustration by Jean Sanders/Chronicle

Layla Moghavem

When Naomi Barlava ’17 made her appointment last May for a behind-the-wheel driving test, she did the unspeakable — she made the appointment at the Santa Monica branch of the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Her friends had told her to save herself the trouble and take the test at the Winnetka DMV, which has a reputation among students for being the DMV where it is the easiest to pass.

Even though the driving test “is the same for all drivers” according to the website of the California DMV, certain DMVs have a reputation among students for being pass-happy, while others have been said to fail everyone who walks through their halls. Students often choose to take their driving tests based on these reputations in order to pass more easily and on their first try, sometimes venturing to places in greater Los Angeles that they are not familiar with so they can get their license sooner.

Barlava was familiar with Santa Monica, however, and felt that her prior experience driving in the area and her knowledge of the city’s specific rules would make it easier to pass there. But the way people talked about that DMV made her nervous. She wanted to get her license as soon as possible, but passing the test started to seem less and less possible as she approached her test date.

When she told her friends that she had passed on her first try at the Santa Monica DMV, most of them were shocked.

To get a license in the state of California, drivers must first take a written test to obtain their learner’s permit. After having a permit for six months, teens can take a behind-the-wheel test to get their license, and the DMV allows just three attempts at taking the test. After the third failed attempt, drivers have to start over and take their permit test again.

Harvard-Westlake students have said that the Winnetka DMV is known to be the easiest to pass at and that the Van Nuys and Culver City departments also have similar reputations.

Lola Clark ’17, who took her test at Winnetka, thinks it is easier to pass there due to road and traffic conditions.

“I took my test at Winnetka because it’s known to be the easiest DMV,” Clark said. “I passed on the first time, thank goodness. I think Winnetka gets the reputation it does as the easiest less because of the people that work there and more because that area is just pretty easy to drive around and there aren’t many difficult intersections.”

In an April 23 Chronicle poll of 329 students, 82 percent said that Winnetka was known for being a DMV where it was easy to pass a behind-the-wheel driving test.

Some say that this status is due to the “friendliness” of the driving environment in the area. Wider streets, less traffic and fewer specific regulations make it easier to avoid “critical errors” such as not signaling when switching lanes or not fully stopping at a stop sign, for which proctors automatically fail the driver.

Others report that the proctors at the Winnetka DMV are more lenient with errors in general than other DMVs.

Out of 329 students who responded to the Chronicle poll, 52 percent said that they felt that the proctors at the Winnetka DMV are less strict than at other DMVs.

Ashley Frey ’17, who failed at Winnetka on her first try but passed there on her second try, said that she believes the proctors at Winnetka are less difficult.

“I made a really idiotic decision the first time I took the test, so I failed automatically,” she said. “[On my second try], I had an alarm that went off while I was driving, so I pulled over and turned it off, but I’d accidentally snoozed it, so it went off again five minutes later. I thought I failed for sure because I touched my phone while driving, but I passed. And more kids do seem to pass there, so I’d say the proctors at Winnetka are more lenient.”

In contrast, many say that the Santa Monica DMV is the most difficult.

The DMV’s online appointment system shows that, while Winnetka is completely booked for the next month, the Santa Monica DMV is only booked for the next two weeks.

Students say that Santa Monica has more specific and stricter laws that drivers must abide by.

Due to the large number of bikers who ride on the road, the City of Santa Monica instituted bike lanes on major streets to protect them from traffic, according to the city website.

These bike lanes must be treated as driving lanes, meaning that a driver must signal before moving into the bike lane when making a right turn.

Particular rules such as this make it harder to pass at the Santa Monica DMV, some students said.

“The Santa Monica DMV is more difficult than other DMVs because Santa Monica has a lot of bicycle riders, and the city has implemented bike lanes on almost all the streets,” said Keon Niknejad ’17 , who said he failed his driver’s test at the Santa Monica DMV. “Santa Monica is also a very busy part of Los Angeles, and you have to pay attention to literally everything, while if you take the test in some isolated part in the valley, there is less you have to watch out for.”

Barlava, however, said her experience taking her behind-the-wheel test at the Santa Monica DMV, which is in the same area that she lives and learned to drive, was not as difficult as others had made it out to be.

“I passed [on my first try],” Barlava said. “The test was super easy and took 10 minutes. I have no clue anymore why people think Santa Monica is hard. It was so easy.”