Winston-Salem Journal Op-Ed: Pump the brakes! Don’t eliminate the driver license road test… update it

  • June 15, 2020
150 150 Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

The Winston-Salem Journal first published the following joint op-ed on June 12, 2020:

Pump the brakes! Don’t eliminate the driver license road test… update it

By Cathy Chase and Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston Guest columnists
Jun 12, 2020

COVID-19 resulted in a number of state and local government functions coming to a halt, including driver license road testing. The North Carolina Legislature has passed House Bill (HB) 158 to temporarily eliminate the road test, and we urge Gov. Roy Cooper to veto it. This ill-advised proposal would result in untested young drivers on the roads imperiling their lives and everyone sharing the roads with them.

Road traffic crashes are a leading cause of death for teens in the United States. In 2018, nearly 4,500 people were killed in crashes involving young drivers (age 15-20), according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The road test is the final barrier preventing prospective drivers who lack basic operational skills from being “green lighted” onto the roads. In fact, the most recent NHTSA report on the issue finds that historically, approximately one in five license applicants fail their road test, showing the driver’s inability to reasonably control and operate the vehicle. Eliminating the road test will unleash under-prepared drivers which could result in numerous unintended consequences including increased risk for highway patrol officers, truck drivers and road crews whose “office” is the roadways and more crash victims being sent to already-overburdened emergency rooms.

With motor vehicle departments re-opening, new technology can be useful to safely determine which young drivers are ready to take the on-road licensing test. Simulated driving tests and computer-based hazard awareness tests are easy to administer and could be done while respecting social distancing and other health precautions. These virtual platforms can reliably put driver applicants in common and serious crash scenarios and accurately measure how they perform. They also have been validated in identifying under-prepared drivers who lack safety-critical skills. Simulation is not a radical approach. It has long been a tool used in assessing pilots, astronauts and others.

Some virtual driving platforms can flag applicants who are likely to fail a road exam, requiring them to return in the future for their road test. By doing so, they can reduce exposure for test takers and evaluators. A recent study performed by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia projected that using a simulation program as a screening tool for readiness to take a road test could potentially save thousands of examiner hours that would have been spent on failed road exams annually in one state.

Vehicle monitoring software and/or technology in newly licensed drivers’ vehicles can add another layer of protection. By identifying unsafe driving behaviors, the systems provide parents and caregivers with tools and information to help correct teens’ mistakes or dangerous driving practices. Lastly, strong, comprehensive graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws, which introduce teens to the driving experience in phases, are proven to reduce crashes. All states are lacking at least one essential component of a GDL law, according to Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety’s 2020 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws. While none of these safeguards can replace the road test, all are critical components or excellent adjuncts to produce a new safe driver.

So, pump the brakes on eliminating road tests and take action to ensure HB 158 is vetoed. Instead, integrate proven available solutions to help transform driver safety. These actions will ensure better-prepared novice drivers and keep all of us safe including examiners. Eliminating necessary protections, even temporarily, could result in increasing the already high toll of motor vehicle crash deaths and injuries.

Cathy Chase is president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston holds the Distinguished Chair in the Department of Pediatrics and is scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Dr. Winston each hold a financial interest in intellectual property licensed to Diagnostic Driving as well as in the company itself. Dr. Winston also serves as Chief Scientific Advisor to Diagnostic Driving. Dr. Winston operates under a Conflict of Interest Management Plan from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania.