Welcome to the State of California

SO22 DMV Drivers Teaching and Testing Improvement

Summary

More than half of the people who first take the written driving test administered by the California Department of Motor Vehicles fail. Nearly a third of drivers renewing their licenses fail the written test, too. Retesting these people costs the state more than $4 million a year and increases the number of people in lines at DMV's 168 field offices.[1] A computer based testing and training system would reduce the costs, shorten the lines and help people improve their driving skills.

Background

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) currently administers more than four million written driving tests every year. It costs $9.5 million to administer the test, $61,854 to print the test and $25,873 to translate the test into 33 languages.[2]

The current test is printed on paper then administered and graded by a DMV field office technician. A customer must answer a portion of the total number of questions correctly in order to pass. This means, for example, that if a customer failed all questions related to railroad crossings but answered the minimum number of total questions correctly, they could still pass. Because the test is not interactive, they might never know that they failed the portion of the test related to railroad crossings or what the correct answers are.

More than half of the first-time test takers fail, and about a third of drivers renewing their licenses fail.[3] A person who fails must then make another appointment or stand in line and take up a field office technician's time taking the test again. Yet the people who fail the test often do not learn the correct answers to the questions they got wrong and thus do not improve their knowledge of the driving rules.

There are no studies correlating the passage or failure on the written test and the customers' driving ability or accident rates. The DMV has determined that 31.1 percent of the customers renewing their driver's licenses fail the test.[4] A driver with a good record is given two five-year extensions beyond the original five years, so these drivers have been driving for fifteen years and still almost a third of them fail the written test. These test results would seem to indicate other issues such as language and study skills rather than driving skills.

Touch screen testing

DMV has experimented with touch-screen testing, and an example is on the DMV website.[5]

In addition to testing the applicant, the terminals become training tools. When an applicant fails a question in a given category, the computer asks another question from the same category and continues doing so until the applicant has successfully completed the required number of questions from each category. The terminals also feature moving graphics that help applicants visualize the written questions. This helps applicants who have reading comprehension or language issues. At the end of the test, the kiosk prints out the results for the test taker (pass/fail). This would reduce the time the technician now spends grading the written test.

The touch screen testing concept was tested at the California State Fair in 2000 and 2001 and at the Government Technology Conference in 2000. It received positive customer comments from both venues. However, funding restrictions prevented DMV from implementing touch screen testing.

In addition, DMV is already moving toward kiosk-based services. It is currently testing kiosks for vehicle registration which are similar to the machines that could be used for administering the written tests.[6]

Recommendation

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) should begin putting touch screen terminals in its field offices to administer the written driving test.

Fiscal Impact

Implementation of this computer based testing and training system will reduce costs, shorten lines and help people improve their driving skills when they take their driver's license exam. This should be phased in over a three year period. DMV has 168 field offices; therefore, 56 field offices should be phased in per year.

On July 1, 2005, 56 DMV field offices should be identified for implementation of the computer based testing and training system. The development of testing software will require one graphic artist with 3D modeling experience and one HTML programmer.[7] Total annual cost for two staff to be hired is estimated at $195,000. DMV will have to purchase 168 kiosks at $2,000[8] for a total of $336,000 over three years. The total costs for this computer process is $921,000 for three years. Costs will be reduced to $195,000 after the three-year phase-in of the kiosks.

Retesting costs the State more than $4 million dollars a year.[9] If the computer based testing is implemented this will save the state potentially $4 million dollars of retesting costs. This process should be phased in over a three year period to ensure a seamless transition. This may result in savings of $1.3 million per year the first year, $2.6 million the second year, $4 million the third year and $4 million after the full implementation of the 168 field offices is complete.

Special Fund
(dollars in thousands)
Fiscal Year Savings Costs Net Savings(Costs) Change in PYs
2004-05 0 0 0 0
2005-06 $ 1,300 $ 307 $ 993 2
2006-07 $ 2,600 $ 307 $ 2,293 2
2007-08 $ 4,000 $ 307 $ 3,693 2
2008-09 $ 4,000 $ 195 $ 3,805 2
Note: The dollars and PYs for each year in the above chart reflect the total change for that year from FY 2003-04 expenditures, revenues and PYs.

Endnotes

[1] E-mail from Eric Chapman, research analyst, California Department of Motor Vehicles, to California Performance Review (April 1, 2004).
[2] E-mail from Eric Chapman, research analyst, California Department of Motor Vehicles, to California Performance Review (April 5, 2004).
[3] E-mail from Eric Chapman (April 5, 2004).
[4] E-mail from Eric Chapman (April 5, 2004).
[5] California Department of Motor Vehicles, "Welcome to California Department of Motor Vehicles Driving Knowledge Tutorial," http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/interactive/tdrive/flash/flashtest.htm (last visited May 25, 2004).
[6] E-mail from Barbie Robards, manager, California Department of Motor Vehicles, to California Performance Review (March 30, 2004).
[7] Assumption is that the position has a cost of $97,500 (salary is $75,000 and operating expense and equipment is $22,500).
[8] http://www.carolnet.com/kiosk.htm offers a Kiosk for $1,099 with similar functions required to accomplish this task. It would take shipping and modifications of some functions to have it perform this function. So the estimated delivered working cost is $2,000 per unit. http://envisionkiosks.com/ offers a Kiosk for $1,915 starting price that would perform all the duties required for this program at this price. With shipping and larger quantity purchase these units would be around $2,000 each.
[9] E-mail from Eric Chapman (April 1, 2004).