State to road-test in-traffic driver exam

500 license applicants to be chosen for study

January 25, 2000|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

Some fledgling motorists in Maryland soon will take their driving tests on actual roads, instead of on the traffic-free courses now used by the Motor Vehicle Administration.

The agency will begin a study Feb. 1 of the more realistic in-traffic exams, randomly selecting about 500 license applicants from its Annapolis office to take the tests.

The General Assembly called for the study last year in response to pressure from driver education advocates. Maryland is among only a handful of states that tests drivers in artificial conditions rather than in real traffic.

"In-traffic tests are the only way you're going to see a person's real reactions to other vehicles," said Allen Robinson, director of the Highway Safety Center in Indiana, Pa.

The existing system has been in place since the late 1970s, when the MVA sought to standardize tests as it expanded its branch offices. The current tests, which last 10-15 minutes, require a driver to make a three-point turn, parallel park, back the car between two parallel lines, and drive a short course that features two stop signs.

All this takes place on paved areas not unlike parking lots.

"It's all at low speed " said Andrew Krajewski, MVA's program director for driver education and licensing. "It evaluates basic driving skills, but not the ability to avoid risk, manage risk, or communicate and share the road with other drivers."

The test will check motorists' skills on urban and rural roads, as well as highways, and will last about a half-hour. The examiner will be able to judge whether the motorist maintains a constant and legal speed, drives defensively, maneuvers the vehicle appropriately and obeys traffic signals.

"Realistically speaking, it's probably the best way to evaluate a person's ability to drive," Krajewski said. "But it can require a lot of resources. Will we need more examiners? Will it affect customer service? It's the sort of thing we'll be analyzing."

The MVA is to file a report containing study results next January with the General Assembly, which then will decide whether to require the new testing and provide resources for it.

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