Rhinelander DMV road test examiner named 2021 best in the state
By Eileen Persike
RHINELANDER – One of the more terrifying rites of passage for teens is getting through the road test required to earn a state of Wisconsin driver’s license. Stressful, unnerving or downright intimidating, Rhinelander-based examiner Colette Grams has been along for the ride on close to 4,000 tests over her 13-year career.
This year, Grams has been named Wisconsin Examiner of the Year by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Division of Motor Vehicles.
Her work with young drivers, their parents and local driving schools was cited in Grams’ nomination for the honor. Though not part of her job description, Grams tries to settle the drivers before they leave the DMV parking lot.
“The kids are terrified, they’re shaking so bad,” Grams said. “I do an inspection of the vehicle and test the lights and so forth and tell them, ‘There. The worst part of the test is over.’ I tell them to think of me as their driving school instructor, but I don’t even know if they’re listening at that point.”
Grams has been working around automobiles for some 30 years, starting as a finance manager at a local dealership. When that lost its appeal, a friend encouraged her to apply to be a limited term employee with the DMV to road test during the summer of 2008. After that, she became a full-time employee, working behind the counter and road testing. Grams has been instrumental in developing the class D, class M and special exam skills test routes used at the Rhinelander DMV, according to her supervisors. In Nov. 2013, she became an AAMVA Certified Driver Examiner – this designation and the additional training required “promotes highway safety and protects the public interests.”
One skill that stands out is Grams’ ability to conduct fair and consistent tests, working to ensure new drivers understand the rules and responsibilities involved to be a safe driver.
“Colette takes her examining duties very seriously,” said WisDOT Program Supervisor Mike McKenzie. “She conducts post-test discussions in a positive manner and takes the opportunity with applicants and their families to coach, educate and promote the importance of traffic safety.”
It is an especially important skill when a driver fails the test.
“Of course, you have to give them the bad news, and hopefully go over the test with them,” Grams said. “Sometimes people don’t want to go over the test at the end because they are just plain mad. But they know they aren’t the only ones who didn’t pass, and I tell them, ‘You’ll get it next time because you know exactly what we’re looking for.’”
Using turn signals, checking blind spots – in front and in back – and slowing down at speed limit changes are few of the big things needed to get a passing score on a road test.
One previously dicey part of the test has been removed and replaced with a roundabout. Grams said when the intersection of WIS 47 and U.S. 8 was a traffic light, it was scary. The test required students to take a left turn from WIS 47 onto Kemp Street.
“I would hold my breath at that intersection, because the young ones, especially, the students couldn’t comprehend that they couldn’t see people coming straight across and they would just turn,” she said. “I vividly remember one time a kid turned and a motorcycle was coming that was hidden by the line of oncoming traffic turning left at the light. The kid turned and the motorcycle screeched, its back end swerved and I can still see the passenger on the back was pushed up. The kid made the turn and had no idea that happened.”
And yes, that driver failed his test right then and there. And no, Grams has never been involved in an accident while on the job.
“You run the gamut from people asking for hugs when they pass to the people who call me names when they fail,” Grams said. “The kids are cool, but some adults who fail swear, or come into the lobby yelling.”
Over the past year or so, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the DMV waived the road test for teens who had taken drivers education classes and had their parents’ approval, but Grams expects that next year testing will be reinstituted. For Grams, more testing means more opportunities to educate, more stories, and maybe more hugs.
Her accomplishments will now be compared with examiners of the year from other states. Next summer, the nation’s top road test examiner will be announced.