Learners Permit – Alcohol increases your ability to drive

When I moved to London, I was lucky enough to be able to transfer my Aussie License into a UK one.  This is fortunate, as I’ve heard the UK drivers test is quite hard, and includes the greatest hits such as reversing around a corner and reversing into a parking bay (the Brits really like driving in reverse).

Unfortunately this isn’t the case in New York – I need to start from scratch – I need… to get my Learners Permit.

The process is relatively simple:

  • Read and review the NY Driver’s Manual;
  • Take a test at the dreaded DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles); and
  • Pay your tributes to the NY State.

The manual itself was OK, although it’s a sloppy document.  Why, for example, would you provide an accurate visual guide for one sort of sign, and an inaccurate one for another?

Exhibit A : Visual representation matches description
Exhibit B : Why oh why aren’t these signs yellow?

It also includes mind-bending sentences such as:

“At an intersection controlled by a STOP sign, YIELD sign or traffic light, there can be a white stop line painted across the lane, and/ or two parallel lines or light, you must reach the stop line, if there is one, or the crosswalk. You need a stop line or crosswalk if required to by a light, sign or traffic officer, or to yield to a pedestrian, in-line skater or scooter at a marked or unmarked crosswalk.”

Once swotted up, I went to the DMV to take my test.  Everything I have ever heard about the DMV lead me to believe I was entering the seventh circle of hades, however I think it was closer to the second.

I was expecting a fairly comprehensive test.  What I got was basically this:

There were 20 questions.  At least 50% of the questions (and it felt like more) were on drinking while driving.

What really disturbed me was the time my fellow test-taker took on the test.  I got through the questions in about 5 minutes.  Let’s just say that by the time he finished the test I’d:

  • queued for and filed my paperwork;
  • taken an eye test;
  • queued for and was in the process of paying for my permit.

One other objective I had at the DMV was to clarify when I can and cannot drive without a “supervising driver”.  You see, the DMV website clearly states:

“If driver license from another country and I have a NYS learner permit [sic]. Can I drive without a supervising driver?

Yes. Your valid foreign driver license allows you to drive without a supervising driver. You can drive on any street, road, highway, bridge, or tunnel, except in a DMV road test area.”

I was nervous how this would translate in other states.  I asked the very friendly lady behind the counter:

“So, you know how you can drive unaccompanied if you have both a foreign drivers license and a New York learners permit…”

“Oh, you can’t do that.”

“… but it says so on your website.”



So, who’s got two thumbs and won’t be driving unaccompanied?  I’m sure the printed rules are right, but if the DMV don’t know their own rules, I just can’t believe that your local traffic cop will – and that’s not situation I want to be in.

Guess I’ll need to take the drivers test sooner rather than later.

Shitty user experiences – a New York speciality

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to rant about New York’s shitty user experiences.  My mind is blown at just how often in day-to-day life a poorly implemented or substantially antiquated user experience is foisted upon you.

I’m going to start with one experience (done two ways!) that makes me cringe.  The MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) administers all of New York’s public transport infrastructure: subways, busses, trains, bridges, and tunnels.  They also created this abomination:

Metrocard ticket machine

This is a MTA Metrocard ticket machine, where you can purchase or top-up your ticket.

The main use-case for this machine is topping up your Metrocard (they do expire, but they have a relatively long shelf-life).  To do so you:

  • Start on the top touch-screen and select top-up  (I’ll do a separate piece about that UX);
  • Insert your Metro Card on the right;
  • Go back to the screen and select your top-up amount;
  • Put in your credit / debit card on the left;
  • Collect your receipt (if you want one) from the middle.

What do I find so offensive about this?

  1. Normal workflow is left to right.  Here it’s Right to Left to Right.
  2. The vast majority of the population (90%) is right handed, yet the activity requiring the greatest amount of dexterity (using the keypad and “dipping” the credit card) is on the left.
  3. There are too many transitions from the touch screen to the physical interface (You need to press start > top-up, then insert your Metrocard, then select a top-up amount.  You can’t just insert the Metrocard at the start of the process).

Now, this is poor design, but is it truly shitty?  I think so, but if you need to be further convinced…

MTA Metrocard to paper-ticket conversion machine

The purpose of this machine is to take your metrocard (that you’ve already topped-up at another machine) and to dispense a paper ticket for the bus.  Yes, that’s right, it takes one form of ticket to create another form of ticket.

So I question the need for this machine at all and, in fairness, not all bus routes need them as some busses have Metrocard readers in them.  This does create additional confusion though, as you need to scope out the bus-stop to verify what form of ticket you will need.

That aside, the process starts off well on this machine.  The instructions are clear on the left-to-right chevrons:

  1. Press the start button (left, blue)
  2. Insert your Metrocard (middle, yellow)
  3. Get your ticket (right, red)

Simplicity itself.  Wait?  WHAT‽‽‽‽ The actual execution is then

  1. Start (middle, blue)
  2. Metrocard (right, yellow)
  3. Ticket (left, red)

What on earth were they thinking!  In addition to the above, I again question the need for a start button, and despise the fact that the most dexterously challenging activity is in front of your left hand (pulling out those tickets is a PITA).