On June 2nd, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDot) resumed driver’s skills tests with certain modifications after the department cancelled about 28,000 tests scheduled between mid-March and the end of May due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While these modifications are helping to decrease the backlog in testing availability, driving tests have also become easier. Many safety experts are concerned about what this means for overall public safety.
Changes to Driver’s Skills Tests
To continue protecting against the spread of the coronavirus, PennDot examiners are staying outside the vehicle and evaluating drivers from a distance. The entire exam is being done on closed test sites instead of on the road. Testers must wear a face mask and take a health prescreening in “yellow” phase counties. Third-party testing sites, including Driven2Drive, a driving school with six locations throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania, are also being allowed to offer noncommercial driving tests.
Young and new drivers to the state are finding these driving tests easier to handle. Since the examiner is not inside the vehicle with the driver, many testers are able to maintain their nerves and focus better. However, since these tests must be confined to limited spaces, such as parking lots, examiners are unable to evaluate driver behavior in real time traffic conditions.
For founder and co-owner of Driven2Drive, Ronit Tehrani, resuming these tests has helped business, but he is well aware of how modified and limited these new tests are. Only basic requirements are being met.
Other states have made slight changes to their driving tests since the pandemic. In New Jersey, the examiner and driver remain in the vehicle but must wear protective masks with the windows rolled down.
Increase in Passing Rates
Since resuming the driver’s skills tests, passing rates have also increased in June 2020 compared to June 2019. Out of 22,500 PennDot tests conducted, there was a pass rate of 74 percent – the pass rate for last year was 62 percent for 16,500 tests. Driven2Drive and other third-party testing sites have seen increases too, from a pass rate of 82 percent in June 2019 to a pass rate of 89 percent in June 2020.
These increases are being reported due to lack of on-road assessments where examiners are able to deduct points for speeding or failing to stop at a sign.
How These Changes Affect Public Safety
Safety experts fear that changes to driver’s skills tests could further increase the risk of a crash. Motor vehicle accidents remain the leading cause of death for adolescents. Novice teen drivers are more likely to be injured or killed in a crash than older, more experienced drivers. Young people between the ages of 16 and 19 represent about $13.3 billion or about 8 percent of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries.
For others, including Melissa Shusterman, a Democratic member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for the 157th District, written tests are seen with more difficulty and importance than driver’s tests.
She recently proposed House Bill 2589 to waive the road skills test during COVID-19. Shusterman hopes to mitigate public risk by enforcing stricter rules on hours or mileage for young drivers and having them answer a series of questions and submit their practice hours for a temporary license.
Overall, safety experts agree that certain systems need to be put in place to evaluate these changes.
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