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Reality check: After almost 40 years of driving, I failed a driving test

If my 16-year-old self could have seen my fiftysomething self, she would have cringed and thought this is not the same person who so coolly and confidently took her driving test all those years ago. That younger me even nailed the parallel parking on a dime – in her mother's 1978 long-nosed Mercury Cougar, no less.

Here I was with nearly 40 years of driving under my collective wheels and I was tense about meeting Ron Wilson, who would take me on a mock road test. I reminded myself I'd never been in an accident while behind the wheel. I've had only one speeding ticket – I was trying to get to my sister's wedding on time decades ago – and one embarrassing incident of being caught without my licence sticker while wearing pyjamas. Long story.

But after this experience, I stand shame-faced among the hordes of drivers who are overconfident in their driving skills. Only thing is, most of us haven't subjected ourselves to a road test since we were first handed our licences at 16.

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Remedial training in Canada has been reserved for specific cases: aggressive drivers and repeated DUIs. Those with medical issues, such as stroke or diabetes, are also required to prove they're fit to drive.

Maybe the rest of us shouldn't be spared. Studies have shown as many as 75 per cent of us believe we're better drivers than we really are.

Wilson knows this as manager of operations for the Alberta Motor Association's (AMA) fleet safety program for 27 years.

"Driving is the most dangerous thing we do every day," Wilson says. "Drivers often overestimate their skill level and underestimate their risk of driving."

I completed an online practice written test and scored 77 per cent, only to learn a pass is 83.

So it's not surprising in a 2010 study done by the AMA, an affiliate of the Canadian Automobile Association, 2,400 Alberta drivers with more than 10 years of driving experience were given the Class 7 knowledge exam. Only 11 per cent passed.

The writing was also on the wall for me. When I showed up for my test, I asked if I could use my own car. Sure, said Wilson, we just need to make sure it's road-test worthy.

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Headlights. Check

Turning signals. Check.

Brake lights. Check.

Insurance. Check.

Vehicle registry. Choke.

ID lights (over rear licence plates). Choke.

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We couldn't take my car after all. And, in the first in a long list of humiliations, I'd forgotten where my hazards were. Instant fail, Wilson says.

I got a reprieve – in a shiny, black automatic 2014 Honda Pilot.

Over the course of what felt like several hours – in reality only about 45 minutes – Wilson took me through a typical road test. With my death grip on the steering wheel relaxing slightly, I eased out onto a residential street – with no posted speed limits in sight.

The roads were quiet and I drove unfamiliar, gently curving streets and T-intersections with no apparent signage. Along the way, Wilson asked me what signs we'd passed. Hmmm, I didn't recall seeing any.

I cruised along at 50 km/h, slowing to 30 for the playground zones – or so I thought.

On busier streets, Wilson tested to see how I do turning left at a light with a busy intersection. Then the part everyone dreads – parallel parking on an uphill. From my night-before cramming, I'd remembered if you park on an uphill incline, the wheels must face out to the left.

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It wasn't good enough; I hadn't turned the wheels far enough.

Back at the office, I rated myself at 60 per cent, to which Wilson replied, "The good news is, this wasn't a real road test."

My list of infractions is long. On the positive side, I'm good at shoulder-checking and merging, says Wilson. But the No. 1 reason I failed the test? "Driving too fast for conditions." That means even though I could be driving 50 km/h, if there's a blind intersection I should be doing 20 to 25 km/h.

"We're never too old to improve on our driving," he said, handing me the Driver's Guide handbook.

It's a humbling – no, humiliating – experience, made all the more complete with this story.

But then I think, if I'd passed what would I write about?

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