Should Licensed Drivers Go Through Regular Testing?
If you drive a car, it's likely that you've encountered a few very poor drivers who have made driving annoying or frightening, like the person behind you who crosses the double yellow line to make an abrupt whip-around pass into oncoming traffic. Or the driver who carelessly touches the brake and speeds past a stop sign without coming to a complete halt. Never mind the tailgaters, habitual speeders, or reckless dangers who appear to have forgotten how to utilize a turn signal.
According to a 2011 research by GMAC Insurance, over one in five drivers couldn't pass a test of fundamental driving skills required of license applicants. Although the majority of participants passed, there were clearly obvious deficiencies in important areas. For instance, 85% of those examined were unable to identify the proper course of action when approaching a yellow traffic signal, and just 1 in 4 were able to determine the appropriate following distance.
In the United States, where some states didn't even require new drivers to pass a road test until the 1950s, there has never been a common practice of requiring experienced drivers to periodically verify their ability. Only drivers over the age of 75 must take driving skills exams in Illinois under state law, and even then, only for license renewals. Prior to its 2011 repeal, New Hampshire had a similar age-related testing requirement. According to a 2014 Pennlive.com article, Pennsylvania randomly chooses a small sample of its drivers 45 and older and subjects them to additional medical and visual tests. Depending on the results, they may also be required to take a driving test. A few other states, including Iowa, Missouri, Michigan, and California, also permit authorities to demand road tests for license holders who they have cause to suspect may be risky. According to this compilation of driving license laws by AAA and Claims Journal.
The Iowa Department of Transportation's Andrea Henry, director of strategic communications and policy, notes in an email that "drivers with valid licenses may be requested to show their driving capacity prior to renewal due to changes in their health." The majority of those drivers end up getting renewals regardless, though many have restricted privileges like a lower personal speed limit or daytime only driving. This includes physical and mobility conditions, as well as reduced vision and cognitive issues. Data on how many retests are conducted wasn't available.
Too Many Drivers, Not Enough Time
The fact that experienced drivers would have to wait in line with all the first-time applicants is an obvious issue with routinely retesting experienced drivers, who numbered roughly 210 million in 2009, the most recent year for which Federal Highway Administration data was available. That would result in even longer lineups at testing facilities, which already struggle to deal with anxious teenagers trying to accomplish maneuvers like the dreaded reverse two point turnabout without hitting those tiny yellow cones.
Many of those young licensing applicants eventually return for second exams. A 2011 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey indicated that a shocking number of those newcomers fail the test on their first attempt; for instance, in California, 42.7 percent of applicants failed the knowledge test and 32 percent failed the skills test. With a failure score of 61.4 percent on the knowledge test, Missouri had the lowest performance, while Maine's prospective drivers had a 40 percent failure rate on the driving abilities test.
All of this is true, despite the fact that driving tests in the United States tend to be more simpler than those in other countries, according to NHTSA. For instance, prospective drivers must pass a 45-minute test on a variety of roads in the Canadian province of British Columbia. They must also vocally explain the exact road dangers that are right next, a block ahead of, and behind their vehicles in order to demonstrate their awareness.
There isn't any proof that more testing over time would inevitably increase traffic safety. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, investigations on the subject of whether age restrictions lower the number of collisions have shown mixed results; in Illinois, they did, but not in New Hampshire. Furthermore, as this 2017 AAA research brief demonstrates, the risk of injury-causing collisions per 100 million miles driven is actually highest among juvenile drivers, then declines and levels off for decades before beginning to modestly increase again among persons in their 70s and 80s. If many people saw a big decline in their education or driving abilities by the time they reached middle age, you wouldn't notice that pattern.
Testing Again Does Not Boost Safety
Jake Nelson, AAA's director of traffic safety advocacy and research, writes in an email that "retesting if you fail the test you lose the license has been proved to have ZERO safety impact on the drivers involved." There is no justification through data or research for testing or screening at a certain age, according to Nelson. "And, it has been shown to reduce mobility by way of drivers voluntarily giving up their licenses due to fear of having them taken away rather than any legitimate concerns about their driving," Nelson added.
The National Motorists Association's president, Gary Biller, shares this skepticism regarding the necessity of retesting experienced drivers. He says in an email that safety data "repeatedly shows that the accident rates of drivers 70 years of age and older are not considerably different from those in the 35 to 69 age group."
Drivers under the age of 35, on the other hand, have the highest accident risk, says Biller. That suggests a few things, including the importance of driving experience and the reasonableness of state requirements for license renewal, which vary from state to state but typically involve more frequent relicensing and vision tests once a driver reaches 65, 70, or in some cases, 75 years of age.
According to Biller, "the NMA doesn't feel that states should raise their present criteria for licensing requirements for older drivers." He does, however, believe there may be merit in giving officials the choice to reevaluate some possible problem drivers. "In fairness, there should also be an appeal process for the person who is in danger of losing his or her license or having it restricted. There should be an objective process through which the licensing agency could be petitioned to do an evaluation of a given license holder based on first-hand knowledge of family members, a law enforcement agency, or the courts." That strategy might provide some defense against the most obviously intoxicated and potentially dangerous drivers on the road. However, you'll probably only need to be cautious of those drivers who break the law because they believe they can get away with it.