One in five drivers would fail driving test, survey says

Justine Adlong still remembers that day when she passed the driver knowledge test for her provisional license the day after her 16th birthday.

“I was elated,” said Adlong, a senior business administration major. “I felt like my value as a human being went up a few notches. I felt more accepted by my friends and family and would have felt like a loser if I hadn’t passed.”

Although she still remembers a few facts from the driving manual she meticulously read to pass her driver knowledge test, Adlong admitted that much of what she learned came from her road experience in the car.

“I remember few specific rules that I still go by,” Adlong said. “I think most of what I learned was from actual experience on the road, so it’s hard for me to say that I remember things specifically from the book.”

Adlong said she is confident she would pass the road test, but she noted she probably would not pass the knowledge portion of the test, which she originally studied 10 hours for nearly four years ago.

“I’d say that I’m a pretty average driver,” Adlong said. “I would definitely say that I have my own driving style. I tend to speed when I can, and I try to get to places as quickly as I can without getting tickets because I know where all the hot spots are to get them.”

According to a recent GMAC Insurance survey, Adlong is not alone. The survey, which analyzed simulated knowledge tests’ responses from 5,130 participants from all 50 states, revealed that nearly one in every five drivers, nearly 36.9 million American drivers nationwide, would not pass a driver knowledge test if they took it today.

“It’s a test, and it’s a test that people need to take to get a license to drive, and many drivers will do the same thing that they did in school, and that is to cram for the test and hold it in their short-term memory until they pass it,” said Scott Eckman, the chief marketing officer at GMAC Insurance. “It doesn’t mean that they’re not careful drivers or safe drivers. It just means that they’re forgetting the basic rules and may be adapting their own behaviors to their driving skills.”

“We think it’s troubling,” Eckman said. “We think that it’s not in line with what the Department of Motor Vehicles is seeking to do. When they issue a person’s license, they say, ‘We think you should be able to answer these questions to drive.’ I think what they’re really saying is, ‘We think you need to answer these questions today — the day that you get your license.’ Our point is that memories do degrade and that people do forget the things they’ve learned.”

Although the average score of all American drivers increased from 76.2 percent last year to 77.9 percent this year, Eckman said the study seems to indicate that many drivers still lack basic driving knowledge, which can ultimately contribute to dangerous driving habits.

“You could argue that even someone with great intentions to be safe who doesn’t know basic rules is at a greater risk of causing an accident or getting in a bad situation,” Eckman said. “We don’t like to say that someone who did poorly on the test is not a good or safe driver and will never get into a wreck, but there’s plenty of people, on the other hand, who could ace this test who know it’s wrong to run red lights but choose to do that. So, you can’t assume that test results and drivers’ choices go hand-in-hand.”

Although scoring well on a driving test does not necessarily guarantee that a person will actually practice safe driving, Eckman said the test is still essential for drivers to take because it provides advice and information about what to do in certain driving situations on the road.

“There’s a couple elements to being safe,” Eckman explained. “One is wanting to be safe and doing what you think is right and the other is knowing what to do. At a four-way stop, even if you have the best intentions, if you don’t know that you’re supposed to yield to the person to the right, with good intentions you can make a mistake, so it’s important that people understand the rules of the road.”

Oregon Department of Transportation spokesperson David House said drivers need to get at least 20 of the 25 questions on the driving knowledge test correct in order to receive their license. House said these 25 questions are randomly selected from the Department of Motor Vehicles’ database of 200 to 300 questions that are pulled from facts in the department’s free driving handbook that can be found at any DMV office. If a driver fails the knowledge test, House explained there is a one- to five-day waiting period before he or she can take it again, depending on how many questions were incorrectly answered.

“The knowledge test is part of the licensing process,” House said. “If you are on the road, you expect other people on the road to know and obey traffic rules as well, so everyone who has a license need to be able to take and pass that test. It’s essentially the bar that everyone needs to meet.”

Under Oregon’s current driving laws, a person may have to retake a driving knowledge test or road test for a number of reasons, including new Oregon residents who have never resided in the state before, license revocation and a physician-recommended suspension resulting from medical impairments.

Despite the high number of people on the road who would fail a driving knowledge test if they took it today, Oregonians have scored considerably well on the test over the past several years in comparison to other states across the nation. According to National Driver’s Test survey data, Oregon drivers had the fifth-best rank in the nation with an average score of 81.3 percent on the test, which is only a few spots shy of Kansas, which led the nation with an average score of 82.9 percent.

Although House said this development is positive news, he still advised people stay abreast on any developments or changes made to current driving laws, since the state’s driving manual is regularly updated annually or biannually.

“You could potentially go your whole life not having to take the test again, but it’s still your responsibility to keep up with the changing laws,” House said.

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