BY NADYA ELLERHORST
One of the first things that ever caught my eye in Delaware was a “Novice Driver” sticker.
Upon seeing it, I held back a laugh. Frankly, I thought it was some cute little joke. Where I’m from, those sorts of stickers read “Student Driver.”
After seeing these bumper stickers decorating numerous vehicles throughout the state, I finally came to the conclusion that either the entire population of Delaware was playing a collective prank on me, or that things are just done differently here.
Confusion aside, these stickers also served as a somewhat pressing reminder throughout the last two semesters that among coursework, RSO meetings, dining hall visits and sleeping (sometimes), I also needed to get my driver’s license. At age 19.
I have a long-standing, probably exaggerated, fear of driving. Whenever I imagined myself behind the wheel, the fictitious car always seemed to burst into flames the second I put my foot on the gas. Sure, “Life is a Highway,” but you know what, I’m not in any sort of rush so I’ll just walk, thanks.
However, as I approached nearly two decades of existence, I figured it was time to overcome my fears and get my license. I wasn’t trying to become a NASCAR driver or anything — I really just wanted to take myself out for ice cream like a real adult.
In the summer of 2021, after passing a written exam and taking a temporary permit photo so unflattering I couldn’t open my wallet without shuddering, it was time to hit the road. I had exactly a year to complete a driving test and obtain my real license, along with a (hopefully) higher quality photo.
Over the course of the following semester, I learned from my friends and classmates that the process to obtain a driver’s license in Delaware is very different from my home state of Ohio. For starters, young Delawareans actually have the opportunity to learn how to drive in high school. I did not.
Sure, there are driving schools in Ohio, and while it’s very possible that the gargantuan state has some high schools that offer driver’s education, I certainly didn’t go to one. Instead, upon my return to Ohio for our infamously lengthy winter break, my mother enrolled me in a few professional lessons.
So I learned, driving through snowy landscapes with an instructor who had her own set of breaks at her disposal and who liked to call me “sweet pea.” I soon went from cautiously winding around the hills of my local park to going a gut-wrenching 60 miles per hour on the highway, all in the span of a few hours.
Come summer, my education resumed in a Mazda so close to the ground it resembled some sort of rogue bumper car. And a few days ahead of my temporary permit expiration date, I found myself standing among a group of high schoolers, waiting to take my exam. Ultimately, I passed.
Ahead of my photo, I had my make-up hastily done in a poorly-lit BMV bathroom by my mother. So now not only do I know how to maneuver my family’s squat little Mazda — R.I.P. the three parking cones crushed in the learning process — I’ve learned the art of effectively applying mascara with nothing but a phone flashlight as a light source.
Needless to say, no matter your home state, becoming legally certified to operate a motor vehicle is a highly-regarded milestone. I just went through it a little later. In high school, I was busy. I was uninterested. I was scared — and, who am I kidding, I still am scared.
Finally getting my license after years of mild embarrassment felt good, but sort of anticlimactic. The Mazda’s staying home for now, the license is securely tucked away in my wallet and in the future, should we run out of milk back home, I have no excuse not to go to the store and get it. It’s finally done – my dark secret is no more.
I will say that a part of me does not regret waiting to get my license until I felt personally inclined to do so. Driving is seen by many as a sort of freedom, yes, but it’s also a serious responsibility, one that I’m glad I learned when I had achieved a certain degree of maturity and effective decision-making skills. Even if I still cry a little whenever I switch lanes.
Although it’ll be awhile before I get behind the wheel again, for now I look forward to seeing familiar paths from a new perspective. And maybe, instead of chuckling at “Novice Drivers” stickers, I’ll give those behind the wheel a totally-non-creepy thumbs-up. I was just a novice/student myself, after all.