There's nothing like hearing 'you pass' from Rick Bottom

January 19, 2004|EMILY TOADVINE

Sixteen-year-old Hope Graves missed her biology class at Danville High School to do something important for her own life. With her granny riding in the front seat, Hope drove a white Ford Contour into the parking lot of Lexington Avenue Baptist Church. She had an appointment to meet Rick Bottom, a state driver's licensing officer.

After asking Hope to put the lights on high and low beams and checking that she had proof of insurance and a learner's permit, Bottom took the place of Hope's grandmother in the passenger seat.

"Do you have any questions before you start?"

Hope asked if it was OK to look over her shoulder when backing up or if she should rely on the rearview mirror. Bottom recommended looking over her shoulder. With this advice in mind, they left Hope's grandmother, Rose Stallworth, standing in the parking lot and set off to take the driver's test.


"I will not try to trick you. I will not ask you to do anything illegal," said Bottom, who has been giving the test since 1981.

After asking Hope to come to a smooth stop, back up in a straight line and do a turnabout, he advanced to what most people consider the most challenging part of the test.

"This is what you've been dreading for years," he said.

"Yes," Hope answered as she prepared to parallel park.

After completing this part of the test, Hope returned to the church lot and waited to hear the verdict.

"You passed," Bottom informed her. "Do you want to hear what you did wrong?"

Hope agreed that this would be worthwhile information. Bottom's summary was almost a return to point A.

"When you're backing, don't ever use your mirrors. Look over your shoulder," he said.

He also explained that she did not receive a numerical score, only a pass or fail.

"Drive careful," Bottom told Hope as she and her grandmother left with the important piece of paper that entitled her to legally share the road with other drivers.

At the courthouse, Hope and her grandmother arrived at the clerk's office only to find that she did not have her learner's permit. Knowing that she had to show the permit before taking the road part of the test, Hope was allowed to get a license.

As she waited to have her photo made, Hope said that she plans to use her license to take herself to her job at Krystal. Sometimes she is required at work at 5 p.m. and her mother, Gilda Carpenter, may not get home from work until 5:30 p.m.

Her grandmother said she is proud of her granddaughter's goals.

"She is a hard worker. I'm not just saying that because she's my granddaughter."

Hope has been saving for her own car, too.

"I'm getting my own. I've been working since I turned 16," she said, noting that her birthday is in May.

As she breathed a sigh of relief, Hope said she was nervous about taking the test from Bottom. She had even told some friends that she had a doctor's appointment.

"He scared me a little bit. I'd heard stories about him. I'd heard he was mean. But he's not. I learned that on my own. That's probably because he failed them."

Her grandmother recalled her own experience with learning to drive. She got a license at age 20 after teaching herself to drive a stick shift.

"I tore down I don't know how many gates," she said. "I finally told myself to calm down."

After mastering driving, Stallworth bought her first car, a 1962 Chevrolet, for $100.

After Hope's test, Bottom still had a few more driving tests to give. He serves Boyle County on Mondays and Wednesdays and travels to Lincoln, Woodford and Jessamine counties on other days.

On the day Hope earned her license, Bottom passed three people, failed two and gave one an incomplete. Incompletes are due to the driver not having a permit or insurance or if something is wrong with the vehicle, such as no muffler or horn. After a failing, the driver has to wait seven days to try again.

Although Hope was calm at the news of passing the test, Bottom said some people can't contain their excitement.

"I have some who get out and do cartwheels," he says.

On the flip side, those who fail don't usually say much. Because he knows some take it pretty hard, Bottom carries tissues.

"They cry when they fail," he said.

Most failures come from not re-reading manual

Most of the failures are because, he says, the driver reads the manual to obtain the permit and never picks it up again.

"They're forgetting how to do their turnabouts or when backing don't look over their shoulder."

Despite the tendency to not review the manual, Bottom thinks the graduated licensing program, which requires permit holders to wait six months before trying for a license, has been a good change.

"They can handle the car better," he says. "This graduated licensing is probably the best thing the state has done. And they need a 21-year-old driver. Before, it could be a 17-year-old friend teaching them."

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