Driving Test Goes On The Road

Applicants Will Also Face Revised Written Portion

April 17, 2009|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,michael.dresser@baltsun.com

Applicants for a Maryland driver's license will have to demonstrate their skills on the road as well as on an off-road course, the head of the state Motor Vehicle Administration said Thursday.

John T. Kuo, the MVA administrator, said an on-road pilot project in Frederick and Waldorf that began in December has been successful.

Kuo said the new test, which splits the 15-minute driving test between on-road and off-road segments, has been especially well-received by parents. Driver's license applicants were less enthusiastic, he said, adding that the new test is tougher than the old.

"It's really a better gauge of the young driver's ability to drive behind the wheel," Kuo said.

In addition to first-time drivers, the change will apply to others currently required to take the off-road test - motorists licensed in most foreign countries and those who have to pass a new examination after losing their license. Drivers who hold licenses from other states, U.S. territories and Canadian provinces are covered under reciprocity agreements that waive testing requirements.

Young drivers will be the single largest group affected by the enhanced testing. The change, being made as an administrative action rather than a law, is part of a pattern of tightening up licensing requirements for teenage drivers in recent years - both nationwide and in Maryland.

Many states, including Maryland, have adopted programs known as Graduated Driver's Licensing under which drivers are issued a provisional license before they receive a permanent license. Depending on the state, drivers on provisional licenses face restrictions on such things as cell phone use, the number of passengers they can carry and the hours during which they can drive.

The Maryland General Assembly recently passed legislation extending the time young drivers must hold learner's permits from six months to nine months. The legislature also extended to 18 the minimum age for converting a provisional license to a permanent license.

The road-testing change would bring Maryland's practices in line with those of a growing number of states that require applicants to demonstrate their skills on the road, not just in a closed environment.

Associate administrator Christine Nizer said the new test is expected to be introduced as an expanded pilot project in the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas this fall and to be in use statewide next year. Kuo noted that the MVA has to adopt a standard route for the on-road testing near each of its full-service offices.

In addition to adopting on-road testing, the MVA is revising the content of its written test program. Officials said the MVA is working with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators to devise a national standard for driver's license testing.

Kuo made the announcement at a breakfast meeting of the Maryland Highway Safety Foundation, which has been lobbying to revise the state's driving test to better reflect the realities of today's roads.

Foundation co-chairman David Nevins said the existing test is "antiquated" and puts too much emphasis on skills such as parallel parking and not enough on such matters as high-speed merging.

"We have a 1950s-style driving test, and it needs 50 years later to be changed for the first time," Nevins said. "We're seeing a complete revamping of the test."

Kuo said the MVA also believes the driving test needs an update to look at a driver's skills under actual driving conditions. He said the revised test will emphasize defensive driving skills.

However, he said, parallel parking - the most dreaded challenge for many young drivers - will still be part of the off-road portion of the test.

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