Every day an adventure for road test examiner


POSTED: Monday, March 30, 2009

Cynthia Calvey never thought she'd be a driver's license examiner for the City & County of Honolulu, working out of City Square in Kapalama, but she viewed it as a a good career move in 2006 when she learned of an opening for that position.




Cynthia Calvey

        Title: Driver's license examiner I

Job: Administers road tests for driver's license applicants




Calvey got the job, and then learned how dangerous it can be. Accidents while road testing driver's license applicants were an unexpected occupational hazard, and every day is a bit of an adventure for Calvey, considering the variety of applicants she encounters.

The former Cynthia Akau nevertheless enjoys her job, which she said last week demands people skills, quick thinking and the ability to work independently.

Calvey has been a city employee since 1991, starting as a neighborhood assistant at the satellite city hall at Ala Moana Center. She got the job after moving back to Hawaii following 12 years on the mainland, in Denver, where she worked for the U.S. Postal Service.

Calvey, 46, attended Star of the Sea High School, which is near her childhood neighborhood of Kaimuki where she grew up as one of 10 children to parents Richard and Amy Akau, who still live there and have been married for 62 years.

These days Calvey lives with her husband in Pearl City. Together they four daughters and one son—and five grandchildren.

Mark Coleman: What is your job title?

Cynthia Calvey: I'm a driver's license examiner I.

Q: What does that mean you do each day?

A: Here at City Square, we basically we take the applicants out on the road test, and we also administer the written test for permits, and for out-of-state transfers. We also process all the minor applicants—anyone 15 1/2 through 17.

We also administer the oral testing for the taxi drivers. And we administer the road tests for the motorcycle applicants, which is done out by Stadium Mall.

Q: You're involved in motorcycle road testing?

A: Yeah. Actually we're just finishing up our training. We just became MSF-certified. That's the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, a motorcycle-safety group that has certification standards and training.

Q: So you don't just ride around in cars all day?

A: No. It just depends what the schedule is. All those duties are rotated. So on any given day you could do all of those, and some days you could be out on the road all day.

Q: How many people do you work with?

A: I think there's 11 examiners, and with Alan Nakamoto—he's the supervisor—that makes 12 of us.

Q: How long have you had this job?

A: A little over three years.

Q: What were you doing before this?

A: I worked at satellite city hall.

Q: Which one?

A: Oh, a lot of them. I started at Ala Moana, and then I went to Pearlridge, Waipahu, and my last station was Kapolei.

Q: How did you get this job, and what kind of qualifications did you have to have?

A: I learned about the job at Kapolei. It has dual offices—driver's license and city hall—so of course I was seeing the driver's license examiners every day, and that's how I found out about the position.

It was a promotional position. I don't really remember what the exact specifications for qualifications were, but I remember one of them was you have to be able to work independently, because you can't have your boss following you around everywhere, like out on the road. And there's scheduled appointments, and knowing all the different rules and regulations, the city statutes, and being able to keep abreast of all of those, because everything is ever changing.

Q: Is every day an adventure for you, or are most of the people you test pretty good drivers?

A: No, pretty much there is a little adventure somewhere along the way each day. (Laughter) I never imagined when I took this position how dangerous of a job it actually is. You don't realize it until you're actually doing it. You think, “;Oh, I'll just take the people around,”; but it is actually pretty dangerous out there. I know it's made me a much better driver, that's for sure.

Q: Have you ever gotten into an accident when you were out road testing?

A: Yes, unfortunately. And actually that happened within the first year that I was out there. It wasn't our applicant's fault. It was on McNeill and Dillingham Boulevard. We were making a left turn onto McNeill from Dillingham and a delivery van ran the red light and hit us. That was pretty nerve wracking because I was still on probation. “;Oh no! Getting fired now!”; (Laughter)

Q: Nobody got hurt?

A: No, actually I hurt my shoulder. I was under doctor's care for a little while. But no permanent injuries.

Q: I suppose you've ridden around in just about every kind of car there is.

A: Yep. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don't. (Laughter). But you're not going to discriminate. A car is a car.

Q: What about truck and motorcycle testing. How do you administer those?

A: We don't do trucks. The truck testing is done by commercial driver's license examiners. The motorcycles, we administer that, but we don't ride on the motorcycles with them. We just watch while they weave through the cones, make U-turns, make quick stops and things like that.

Q: How many people on average get road tested a day.

A: That'll vary. City Square takes in about 37 appointments a day, I believe. Then we take walk-ins, depending on what our staffing is like. So on a day-to-day basis it changes. In the morning, the number of walk-ins that we're going to take is determined by our staff. For example, yesterday we took 48 walk-ins, and today we took 40. Walk-ins are you come in, take a number, and you're worked in between the appointments.

Q: How many road tests do you personally do?

A: The most that any given examiner can do is 12.

Q: What advice would you have for someone who wanted to become a road examiner?

A: Oh my goodness. (Laughter) Well, I never dreamed I would be a driver's license examiner, but if that interests you, you really have to be able to get along with people, because you're dealing with a lot of different types of people every day. You deal with teenagers, you deal with 70-year-olds, and then, of course, you deal with the know-it-all, experienced drivers. (Laughter). My line to them is, “;We know you know how to drive, but can you drive according to the law?”;

That's the main thing, I think, for this position. You have to be a people person and you have to be able to handle stress, because it is a stressful job.

You also have to be a quick thinker, to make quick decisions and know when to intervene.

Q: You mean like out on the road?

A: Yeah, because, at all costs, being the examiner, you're there for them coming in for the driver's license, and what they're saying is that they're ready to drive alone, and being the examiner, you're there to be sure that they can operate their vehicle on the road safely.

A lot of people think the examiners are being mean because they don't talk. But it's not that we don't want to talk; it's that we don't want to be a distraction. They have to be able to drive without you having to intervene, is what I'm trying to say.

Q: What is the flunk-out rate?

A: My flunk-out rate is about 70-30, 60-40, with the high being the pass. Sometimes it will get even worse than that. Like 90-10. But usually it balances out. Sometimes I'll get all good drivers, and some days you just don't.

Q: Do people ever cry or get mad at you after they learned they didn't pass the road test?

A: Oh, definitely. There are some that start crying. People have even offered me money to pass. It's crazy what they will try to do. And it's a simple test—fundamental driving skills.

Q: What do you like most about your job?

A: Just being able to help the customers. I believe in service with aloha. I am a people person and I like being able to help. That would be one of the reasons I like working here. I get to a meet a lot of different people. And my co-workers are wonderful, too.

Q: Had any traffic tickets lately?

A: No. I haven't had any traffic tickets. Why, you gonna check? (Laughter)