Learning to Drive in Baltimore

I am a slow learner, especially when it comes to motor skills. My mom told me I started walking at 18 months and saying “mama” at 24 months. When I obtained my Ph.D. degree in China and started my postdoc life in Baltimore, I still knew nothing about driving. Driving is unnecessary when you live near the East Baltimore campus or the Homewood campus, or anywhere with a Johns Hopkins University shuttle stop. I decided to learn to drive during the COVID-19 lockdown because the driver education class moved online and the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) canceled the public road driving test.

There are now four steps to obtain a driving license starting from zero in Baltimore. First, get the learner’s permit, which is the easiest part for many people. You must prepare at least two documents verifying you live in Maryland now, pass the vision screening, and correctly answer 22 out of 25 questions about road rules within 20 minutes. If you fail your test, you can schedule the next one for at least one week later.

Second, attend a driving class. There are over 100 driving schools in Baltimore. Although the price varies from $300 to $500 depending on the add-on services (e.g., pickup), every school provides the same schedule: 30 hours of class and six hours of behind-the-wheel (BTW) instruction. It usually takes 10 days (Monday through Friday for two weeks) to finish the 30 hours of class. Everyone in my class, including me, completed this part smoothly.

Third, practice with a supervisor. BTW is the most challenging part, especially for a slow learner like me. In my first hour, I only learned how to turn the wheel. My pull-in parking success rate was less than 25% after four hours. If you encounter a similar situation, you need more practice. Extra practicing in driving school is costly (about $150 per two hours), but it is much cheaper if you hire a driving instructor on Craigslist (about $70). I developed most of my driving skills from my private driving instructor rather than the instructor in the school. I do not recommend grabbing your friends for this, since they usually do not know how to teach others, even if they are experienced drivers.

Finally, pass the driving test. It is free, but you need to schedule it well ahead. Using the same car you practiced on is a great idea. I highly recommend checking where you will take the test and watching how people pass or fail. There are two nearby MVA sites: Essex and Baltimore. You will get a provisional driver’s license after passing the test.

Now, I can drive from my home in Mount Washington to my lab on the East Baltimore campus every day.

Have a safe drive!


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