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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 12, 2002

Woman gets driver's license after five tests

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer

Tamara Motteler was determined to get her driver's license. Really determined.

Tamara Motteler, with her driver's license and instructor Ernie Kop: "For my part it was patience, patience and more patience," said Kop; "I just made up my mind," said Motteler.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Never mind that she went nearly 50 years without one. Never mind that nearly everyone she knew, including two former husbands, said she wasn't cut out for driving. Never mind that she had to spend 177 hours in a driver's education school and take the driving test five times.

The important thing is that on New Year's Eve she finally got what she was after — a shiny, new license to drive in the state of Hawai'i.

"I just made my mind up I was going to do it, and I finally did," she said. "I was just determined that I'd get it."

Ernie Kop, the instructor in driving school who worked with Motteler for more than a year and a half, said he rarely sees that the kind of determination in a student. Typically, adult students need between 30 to 40 hours of driving instruction before earning their license, Kop said.

"I've never seen any stick it out that long," he said. "She gets my record."

By her own admission, Motteler was a slow learner, a person "who wasn't born to the wheel." When she was growing up in Switzerland, her parents didn't drive and she wasn't around cars much. For most of her life, she walked, caught a bus or rode along with others.

Mostly, she didn't miss driving. But as the years passed in Europe, then Kaua'i, and finally Waikiki, the urge to get the license, to prove all those naysayers wrong, grew stronger, Motteler said.

Finally, several years ago she saw a wheelchair user get into a car and drive away. So she figured "if he can do it, so can I."

Motteler's first driving instructor in Hawai'i didn't speak English, which, shall we say, made things difficult. So about 18 months ago, Motteler got in contact with Kop, who has been running the Honolulu Driving School for more than 22 years.

"Our relationship felt good right from the start," Motteler said. "He was somebody I was comfortable driving with." Today they think of themselves as old friends.

For an hour, sometimes two, every week, Kop would take Motteler to some of the quietest roads on O'ahu and let her go. They started with just learning to drive straight, then making a turn and eventually worked up to that demon of all new drivers: parallel parking.

"For my part, it was patience, patience and more patience," Kop said. "Driving is basically repetitious. You have to do something over and over and over until you get it perfect. It just took her longer to learn than most people."

Motteler's determination never faltered, though, even when friends would suggest that she quit. The friends told her, "Tell us when you're out driving so we can get off the road," said Motteler, a part-time advertising sales representative in Honolulu.

Kop never got upset or angry with her mistakes. "Once that happens, you've lost the battle," he said.

Motteler passed her written test on the first try, but failed the driving exam four times, something that Kop said isn't all that unusual.

On New Year's Eve both Kop and Motteler were feeling ill and almost didn't arrive for her scheduled test. Then, when they got there, "I got the toughest inspector of them all and I was worried that I would fail again."

Practice, apparently, made perfect. Motteler got her license. She spent most of New Year's Day calling all over the world telling her friends (and some of those naysayers) about the accomplishment.

Now that she has a license, Motteler is planning a trip to Australia, where she'll rent a car and not even worry that she'll be driving on the "wrong" side of the road.

She doesn't have any plans to buy a car of her own.

"It was never about getting a car," she said. "It was about proving I could get the license."

Reach Mike Leidemann at 525-5460 or e-mail mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com