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Maryland Joins States That Won't Test New Drivers For Parallel Parking

A dying art? Maryland has stopped testing new drivers for parallel parking. Here, a car is seen in Baltimore.
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A dying art? Maryland has stopped testing new drivers for parallel parking. Here, a car is seen in Baltimore.

Saying that it tests parallel parking skills in other ways, Maryland's Motor Vehicle Administration is phasing out the portion of its test that has intimidated new drivers for generations.

Maryland is joining the list of states that have stopped making new drivers prove that they can maneuver a car into a parallel parking spot. Virginia, California and Florida are among those that have made the move.

At least a dozen other states don't test parallel parking, according to USA Today, which says the list includes Oregon, North Carolina and Illinois.

Explaining Maryland's shift, MVA spokesman Buel Young said that after the agency reviewed its tests, "We determined that we were testing the same set of skills multiple times, and it was somewhat redundant."

Comparing the reverse two-point turnaround maneuver to parallel parking, Young says, "the set of skills were the exact same."

Still, some critics have seen the change as a bid to speed the process of getting a license and cut down on the number of drivers who retake the driving test.

Young says that wasn't the intention — and he says there's a chance the change could increase wait times. That could happen, he says, if people who might previously have been turned away after botching tasks such as the parallel maneuver on a closed course now reach the second portion of Maryland's testing process, which takes place on open roads.

Citing the most recent figures in Maryland, Young says, "154,526 tests were administered from July 2014 to April 2015. Of that number, 53 percent passed, and 47 percent failed statewide."

He adds that those figures include people who took the test multiple times.

Online, many have responded to the news that new drivers won't be forced to pull off one of driving's trickiest moves — in front of a state examiner, no less — by calling it another example of how younger generations get an easier path.

A commenter at The Baltimore Sun writes, "I moved to Virginia and I can attest to the woeful state of young drivers and their parallel parking skills. My step-daughter wouldn't have learned it at all if I hadn't taken the time to teach her and keep her active at it."

A story about the change by The Washington Post's John Kelly, in which he asks, "Are you out of your flipping mind, MVA?" has garnered 218 comments. The top-rated one:

"Kelly need not worry. Because new drivers won't practice parallel parking, such spots will be available only to those of us that possess this skill ..."

The MVA's Young reminds us that in Maryland, all first-time drivers are required to take drivers education, which includes parallel parking. He adds that as of yet, using backup cameras on a driving test isn't allowed.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.