The Effectiveness of Written Driver Knowledge Tests

Report No: 79-R41

Published in 1979

About the report:

Highway Safety Program Standard 5, Driver Licensing, issued by the U. S. Department of Transportation requires, in part, that the states test applicants for a renewal of their operator's license on rules of the road at least once every 4 years. The state of Virginia requested a waiver of the knowledge testing portion of the standard until evidence could be presented to show that it had the desired safety benefit. The Virginia Highway and Transportation Research Council and the Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles conducted an experimental evaluation of several alternative approaches to implementation of the standard. This evaluation randomly assigned members of the renewal population of drivers to four study groups: (1) a control group receiving no treatment; (2) a group that received only a driver's manual; (3) a group that received a manual and a test to be taken at home; and (4) a group that received a manual and were requested to take a test in the DMV examining station at the time of application for license renewal. The subsequent driving performance of members of the four groups was monitored and data for accidents, major convictions, minor convictions, accidents with associated convictions, and administrative actions taken under provisions of the Driver Improvement Program were tabulated at 6-, 12-, 18-, and 24-month intervals. For the two groups administered a knowledge test, comparisons were made of the performance of those who had passed, failed, or refused to take the test. Of the few statistically significant differences found between the study groups, none would suggest the practicality of knowledge testing as an effective highway safety countermeasure. A large number of the differences observed involved the group who had refused to take the test at home. Other than for the minor conviction entries for this group, there were no comparisons which showed differences across all four time periods. The results obtained at the end of the four study time periods supplied no substantial evidence for requiring the reexamination of the general renewal population. In light of these results, the U. S. Department of Transportation should make permanent the temporary waiver of the requirement for reexaminations on knowledge of the rules of the road in the Driver Licensing Standard granted the Commonwealth of Virginia. Further, the results indicate that the Standard should be amended to eliminate the requirement for such reexaminations.

Disclaimer Statement:The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.


  • Charles B. Stoke

Last updated: January 26, 2024

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