The National Academies

BTSCRP BTS-16 [Anticipated]

Developing On-road Driver Skills Test and Scoring Guidance for Measuring and Predicting High Safety Risk Drivers

  Project Data
Funds: $650,000
Staff Responsibility: William C. Rogers
Fiscal Year: 2021

This project has been tentatively selected and a project statement (request for proposals) is expected to be available on this website. The problem statement below will be the starting point for a panel of experts to develop the project statement.

Developing On-road Driver Skills Test and Scoring Guidance for Measuring and Predicting High Safety Risk Drivers
On-road tests during driving licensure are conducted to assure that drivers have basic skill to operate a vehicle unsupervised (1). In the United States, driver training curricula offers minimal practice and skill development to pass the on-road skills test (3-6). While there is no debate that the curricula prepares students for licensure (i.e. passing the test), evaluation of safety benefits have not been well assessed (2, 5) and the evaluation of specific components of licensure are lacking (with Graduated Driver Licensing being somewhat of an exception) (2). “Despite the prominent role of experience in motor vehicle crashes (MVCs), much more attention has been on the post-licensure “problem” driving behaviors of adolescents, and scant attention is paid on the pre-licensure or permit phase” (3, p.21).
With an average of six hours of on-road instructor-led driver skills training prior to the road test, it is possible to teach and test only basic driving skills (6), and some novice drivers forgo any kind of instructor-led on-road training. Safe driving can only develop over time with experience and maturity (4), after encountering on-road conditions and scenarios that cannot be tested for. Despite this, driver licensure programs claim to produce “safe drivers” following the passing of all tests. For example, the Washington State Department of Licensing website claims the driving test measures ability to drive legally and safely (https://www.dol.wa.gov/driverslicense/drivingtest.html). This may affect both the young novice driver and the parents of that driver by creating an overly optimistic view of driver skill and safety (3), when in fact that level of achievement occurs in the stages following licensure and is most successful with sufficient parental involvement. Driver education should be promoted as the best way to learn and enhance basic driving skills, rather than to produce safer drivers (6). In addition, despite months of supervised practice, when novices begin driving without supervision their behavior becomes riskier; licensing systems must ensure appropriate protection for novices as they begin unsupervised driving (7). On-road driving skills exams and scoring must be deliberately designed to predict novice drivers that present high safety risk so that examiners can easily identify those drivers and delay licensure until they can obtain a driver skill level needed to drive unsupervised.
According to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) guidelines (1), two applicants with the same skill level should receive the same score. Based on an independent study demonstration using Washington state on-road driver skills exam score sheets, potentially high safety risk drivers are being passed with the same score as potentially lower safety risk drivers. This is due in part to the use of noncumulative scoring, or scoring a max overall deduction for a single driver error, even if that error is repeated multiple times. It is unclear how a change in scoring method would result in safer drivers, hence, the need for evaluation; however the Washington demonstration estimated that under simple cumulative scoring, approximately 40 percent of current passes would be fails, and of that 40 percent, 20 percent demonstrates high safety risk patterns (repetition of high-risk errors). Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) (2) and AAMVA (1) call for evaluations of driver skills testing and scoring. The intent is not to fail more drivers, but instead identify pre-licensure drivers that present a potential higher safety risk, and develop a risk profile for use by the novice and others (such as parents and driving instruction providers) to guide practice in both the pre- and post-licensure stages.
States need testing and scoring guidelines and best practices that identify high safety risk. The methods should weigh high-risk errors more heavily than basic mechanical skills required to maneuver the vehicle. Despite the prevalence and diversity of driver skills testing and scoring methods, robust evaluation is agreeably lacking for this standard practice of the licensing process.
1)      American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA). September 2014. AAMVA Guidelines for Noncommercial Knowledge and Skills Test Development. https://www.aamva.org/best-practices-and-model-legislation/
2)      Haire, Williams, Preusser, & Solomon. February 2011. Driver License Testing of Young Novice Drivers. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration DOH HS 811 440. https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/811440.pdf
3)      Mirman & Kay. 2011. From Passengers to Drivers: Parent Perceptions About How Adolescents Learn to Drive. Journal of Adolescent Research. DOI: 10.1177/0743558411409934 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0743558411409934
4)      Simons-Morton. September 2019. Keeping Young Drivers Safe During Early Licensure. RAC Foundation. https://www.racfoundation.org/research/safety/keeping-young-drivers-safe-during-early-licensure
5)      Simons-Morton & Ehsani. October 2016. Commentary: Learning to Drive Safely: Reasonable Expectations and Future Directions for the Learner Period. Safety. 2(20). DOI: 10.3390/safety 2040020. https://www.mdpi.com/2313-576X/2/4/20
6)      Williams & Ferguson. 2004. Commentary: Driver Education Renaissance? Injury Prevention. 10. DOI: 10.1136/ip.2003.004358. https://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/10/1/4.short
7)      Foss. 2018. Editorial: Adolescent Drivers, Experiential Learning, and the Driver Licensing Process: New Findings, Emerging Questions, and Continuing Policy Needs. Journal of Adolescent Health. https://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(18)30364-1/pdf
The objective of this research is to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of the current on-road driver skills tests and test scoring methods and develop guidance that include methods for on-road driver skills test administration and scoring that predicts high safety risk.
Many SHSO’s deal with the “young driver problem”, and pre-licensure countermeasures, such as Graduated Driver License, show more safety potential than most post-licensure countermeasures. Organizations like NHTSA and AAMVA cite a lack of robust evaluation of specific components of the driver licensing process, particularly driver education and testing.

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