Fully autonomous, self-driving cars aren’t here yet, so for anyone who wants to own a car, you’re still going to need to attend some kind of driver’s ed online course, learn your traffic rules and regulations, then get some actual driving experience on the road.
But we are living in the 21st century, and that means that technology has come a pretty long way from your parents’ “manual or automatic transmission” options when it comes to driving convenience.
These days, there are a lot of high-tech options built into different models of cars that make driving a lot easier. We refer, in general terms, to these types of devices as driving assists, since they’re meant to help people out while driving.
The assists do a variety of different things, like providing multiple camera views, with the correct approach for parking in reverse, to dedicated parking technology, where the car completely takes over to do a mechanically perfect parallel park.
In more expensive cars, like the luxury Tesla cars, we even have early versions of self-driving functionality, where, once you’re actually on the road, you can let go of the wheel, brakes, and accelerator and let the car drive itself under certain conditions.
So now comes the big question. If you’re being tested in your own car anyway, and you know you’re going to be relying heavily on one function or another, is it okay to rely on that function to do something for you during your driver’s test?
The Purpose of Testing
Of course, the thing to keep in mind with a driving test is that this is an evaluation of both your knowledge and your skill.
A driving test evaluator wants to make sure that you’ve retained all the information about proper driving regulation that you learned when you took your driver’s ed online courses.
In this regard, various types of driving assistance aren’t much help. You still need to understand who has the right of way at a four-way stop, and you need to keep in mind specific driving situations such as slowing down if you’re in a residential area with a school and children.
The evaluator is going to be observing you in order to make sure that when you find yourself in these specific situations, you know what to do.
Smaller instances of driving knowledge, such as the correct way to align wheels when parking up-hill or down-hill is, once again, down to how well you retained the lessons of both practical and driver’s ed online courses.
But beyond the test of your knowledge of driving rules and regulations, you do need to meet a certain minimum level of both driving skill and driver awareness, and this is where the use of driving assists becomes a lot murkier and more ethically troublesome.
Different Types of Driving Assists
Before we go into details of whether or not you can use driving assists during your driving test, let me introduce you to some of the most common driving assists that modern cars usually have these days:
Sat Nav (satellite navigation)
This may just be a piece of electronic equipment in your car, but it can be the most helpful driving assist that has been invented so far – it tells you which way you need to go by relying on satellite information alone.
Many newbie drivers fear reverse parking (same here!). Thankfully, these parking sensors are invented to alert drivers when a vehicle gets too close in proximity to an object while parking, whether in front or behind.
These e-handbrakes are very helpful in making any hill start easy as it eliminates the need to demonstrate basic handbrake and clutch control entirely. They simply put your vehicle in position until you gently release the clutch while pressing down on the accelerator to move away easily and smoothly. No sweat!
Also known as rearview cameras, these backups are becoming widely popular due to their widespread use in newer cars, and because it saves you the trouble of looking behind to check if something is directly behind your vehicle when you’re backing up. Some modern cars even have see-through cameras that switch angles manually when the system detects a potential obstacle on the road.
This driving assist, as the name suggests, sets your vehicle’s limiter to the maximum limit to avoid speeding. This can be really helpful as it can prevent you from accelerating unless you turn it off.
These are just a few examples of automated aids to assist you in driving. In the US, you’ll find that most states prohibit the use of such technologies during the driving test. So if your vehicle has such features, it is recommended to check with your DMV about whether you’ll have to disable them before the start of your driving test or not.
The Problem Areas
Failing at parallel parking is often considered an automatic fail in many instances of testing for a license. You can fail at parallel parking in any number of ways, from taking too many attempts to bumping up against the curb while parking, to even making contact with something as you back in and adjust your angle.
Of course, with a driving assist like something that handles parallel parking, all of this is a moot issue. Just activate the program and let the car do all the rest. A few seconds later, you’re done and perfectly parked with mechanical precision.
On the other hand, there are some features, such as electronic handbrakes, that make it possible for people who are driving a manual transmission car to experience a much smoother experience when coming to a stop on an incline.
In normal situations with a manual transmission, if you stop at an intersection where you’re on a hill, once you disengage the brakes to resume accelerating, the car will roll backward. Electronic parking brakes and other “hill hold” assists actually eliminate these kinds of problems.
Some of these driver assists vary from one state to the next as to whether they are acceptable or not, while others are just flat out universally rejected.
New Jersey is one of several states in the country, for example, that will not accept a car for use in driving tests if it uses more modern, convenient electronic hand/parking brakes. The reason for this is that some states regard a traditional, mechanical parking brake as a good emergency measure, should the driving evaluator need to put a stop to the test. He or she can simply reach down and pull the brake.
On the other hand, the presence of the electronic parking brake is not an issue in other states, so you’ll need to check with your individual state on exactly what can—and can’t—be built into a car or omitted before a vehicle is accepted for testing.
It’s A Big “No”
The fully automated parking assist that is included in certain models of Ford cars, on the other hand, is definitely forbidden. Unlike cars without traditional handbrakes, you are still allowed to use cars with this type of feature during your driving test.
You are NOT, however, allowed to actually use the self-parking feature during the parking portion of the test. The evaluator needs to see that this is something that you can do on your own, even if, once the test is over, you always plan to let the car park itself whenever possible.
Of course, there’s always new technology coming in, and that means that there are always new considerations that driving testers have to keep in mind when evaluating people. Parking sensors, for example, often can’t be turned off during normal car operation, so you may get audio warnings or even camera imagery, complete with a proper approach path to help you park correctly. Most evaluators will ask you to ignore as much of this as possible and do it the old-fashioned way.
Remember, when you are taking a driver’s test, it is you, your knowledge, and your driving skill that is being tested, not the car.