1. Negligent Driver Post-Licensing Control Research

This has been the single largest area of research within R&D. The following examples are noteworthy:

  • Replacement of individual hearing with group meetings as the first in-person contact for most negligent drivers. Prior to 1960, persons meeting the state's prima facie definition of a negligent operator were routinely required to attend an individual hearing (I/H) before a Driver Improvement Analyst.

In 1961, R&D published the results of a study (Research Report No. 9) on the effectiveness of an experimental group driver improvement program. This study found that the group approach was effective in reducing the subsequent traffic conviction frequency of negligent drivers. Based on the above findings and the obvious cost savings of treating drivers through a group process, the department began scheduling some first-time negligent drivers to group meetings instead of individual hearings.

In 1965, R&D and the Division of Driver Safety and Licensing (DDSL) initiated a much larger study of group meetings. This project, known informally as the "1965 Negligent Driver Multi-Treatment Study" (Research Report No. 36), compared a variety of group and individual sessions in terms of their relative impact in reducing subsequent accidents and convictions. The most effective (and cost-effective) approach to emerge from this study was a group meeting which emphasized accident avoidance and perceptual skills (Group Educational Meeting or GEM). The GEM replaced the previous group meeting as the department's first in-person contact for the majority of negligent drivers. This program remained in effect until 1982 when, in response to evidence of a decline in its effectiveness, it was replaced by a new approach consisting of suspension by mail combined with an individual hearing option and license probation (see below Post-Licensing Control Report and Evaluation System [PLCRES]/Negligent Operator Treatment Program Evaluation System [NOTES]).

The cost savings associated with the group approach have been substantial. Considering just the decade 1970-1979, roughly 400,000 negligent driver individual hearings were replaced by the GEM. Since the per-subject GEM averaged $30.00 less than the per-subject I/H cost, the operational cost savings resulting from implementing the GEM alternative was 12 million dollars over the 10-year period. The GEM was also found by three separate studies during this period to be cost-effective in reducing accidents. It is conservatively estimated that at least 5,000 accidents in California were prevented by the GEM during 1970-1979. Using the most conservative estimate of the average cost of a California traffic accident, the net economic value of this reduction (dollar value of the accidents prevented minus the cost of the GEM) equals $30,000,000.

  • Establishment of a computerized negligent driver post-licensing control reporting and evaluation system (PLCRES/NOTES). In 1975, R&D and DDSL designed an "on-line" computerized evaluation system for monitoring the effectiveness of each component of the department's sequential negligent driver program (warning letter, GEM, I/H, and probation-violator hearing). This evaluation system was implemented in response to a prior Legislative Analyst's Office request and provided annual reports to the joint Legislative Budget Committee. These reports showed that the overall program reduced accidents and was highly cost-effective until 1981, at which time clear evidence of declining effects emerged. During the years 1975-1981, the annual reports were successful in convincing the Legislature and Administration that the program was effective and should be retained. Based on a 1995 R&D report, it is estimated that 30,000 additional accidents would have occurred had the program been eliminated.

Evidence of declining efficacy after 1981 convinced DMV management to dramatically alter the negligent driver program in order to increase its cost-effectiveness. The new program (Negligent Operator Treatment System, or NOTS) was implemented and evaluated between 1985 and 1995, and reported upon in a series of annual and biennial reports to the Legislative Analyst's Office. The department's final NOTS Evaluation System (NOTES) Report (No. 155) documents that the changes initiated by NOTS prevented 13,000 more accidents than would have been prevented had the program not been restructured.

  • Development of an alternative to GEM. In 1978 R&D published a report (No. 66) on the effectiveness of various alternatives to the GEM. The most effective and cost-effective alternative was a program called HI/PRI (home instruction/point reduction incentive). This program involved the completion of a home study traffic safety kit and the deletion of a negligent-operator point from the driver's record if the driver maintained a clean subsequent record for 6 months. To make certain the finding was not a chance event, the department sought and received legislative authority (AB 2505, Calvo, 1980) to implement and evaluate the concept on a larger scale as part of a demonstration project. The results (Research Report No. 91) confirmed that the HI/PRI was more effective in reducing accident risk than was the GEM, and was also much less costly. However, legislative authority for the HI/PRI program sunsetted, and the program was discontinued.
  • Development and validation of an optimum warning letter for negligent drivers. In 1971, R&D published the results of a study (Research Report No. 30) on the effectiveness of various warning letters in improving negligent drivers. The study concluded that low-threat letters were more effective than high-threat letters. Several types of letters had a significant cost-beneficial effect in reducing subsequent accidents and convictions. One of the low-threat letters was incorporated into the department's negligent driver program. Several subsequent evaluations showed that the letter continued to be cost-effective, although the size of the accident reduction declined from that found in the original study. In the current negligent driver program (NOTS), a sequence of two new letters (a low-threat one and a high-threat one) is used and these letters have proven to reduce subsequent accident and citation frequencies.
  • Probation by mail and no-action hearings as alternatives to the department's standard individual hearing program for negligent drivers. Prior to 1977, the department's policy before taking action against negligent drivers was to schedule an individual hearing with a driver improvement analyst. Each driver was required to attend the hearing, after which he or she was usually (70-80% of the time) placed on probation. In 1977, R&D recommended that two experimental, less costly, alternatives be evaluated. The first alternative was to take probationary action against negligent operators not considered to be extreme risks and to schedule a hearing only upon demand ("probation-by-mail"). The second alternative was to schedule all eligible negligent operators for hearings but to take no license action against those who were considered relatively low risks. The first option would produce savings by eliminating costly hearings and the second by eliminating processing costs associated with taking and reinstating probationary license actions.

Each alternative was evaluated against the standard individual hearing program in separate experiments (Report Nos. 69 and 70). The results of the two experiments were very similar. Both experimental options were less costly than the standard program, but were at the same time equal to the standard program in terms of accident impact. However, the standard program produced a slightly greater reduction in traffic convictions. Based on a comparative cost analysis of the probation-by-mail and no-action programs, the department decided to implement the mail probation approach in place of the individual hearing for the majority of eligible (lower-risk) negligent drivers. This program remained in effect from 1979 through 1982 and, in addition, was also extended to higher-risk negligent drivers on an experimental basis. Although this approach saved DMV several hundred-thousand dollars during this period, subsequent PLCRES reports (Status Report Nos. 7 and 8) indicated that the accident impact and cost-effectiveness of all negligent-driver treatments declined, resulting in a decision to revamp the entire program and establish a new set of sequential licensing control actions (NOTS) as described above. Under NOTS, the "action by mail" concept is still used, but in a way that has greater impact on subsequent driving records. All negligent drivers are sent notices of suspension by mail prior to a hearing and hearings are scheduled only on request.

  • Evaluation of court traffic violator schools. In 1976, SB 193 (Roberti) mandated DMV to assist the courts by "regulating" traffic violator schools (TVS) through setting instructional standards and publishing a list of accredited schools. It further allowed for discretionary monitoring, but mandated disaccreditation of schools for failure to maintain standards. This provision necessitated such monitoring. Even though SB 193 did not mandate an evaluation of the new accreditation program, the DMV Director requested R&D to undertake one. The evaluation (Research Report No. 71) involved a 6-month follow-up of the driving records of 9,318 drivers assigned to accredited TVS programs and 4,960 who were given a waiver in lieu of attendance. The results indicated that attendance at TVS did not have a significant effect on subsequent 6-month accidents or convictions.

As a result, R&D recommended that the accreditation program either be discontinued by repealing SB 193 or that substantial funds be invested to improve it. However, the latter alternative was viewed as having doubtful cost-effectiveness potential. In addition, R&D recommended that TVS attendance be reported to DMV and considered as part of the driver record, regardless of whether the original charge was dismissed as is the standard practice in most courts. The report observed that there was no control on repeat attendance and that the dismissal of such offenses could be detrimental to traffic safety in several ways. It was noted that a much earlier DMV study of court TVS, in which the violations were not dismissed, resulted in significant accident and conviction reductions. The department was not successful in passing the recommended legislation; however, similar legislation sponsored by the Auto Club of Southern California passed in 1982. Under the new law the school attendance information, even though placed on the driver record, can only be used by DMV for statistical and research purposes. Subsequent evaluations (Report Nos. 113, 133 & 147) by R&D indicate that the TVS citation-dismissal policy has a detrimental effect on traffic safety and that very little knowledge gain or attitude improvement is produced by TVS attendance.

  • Development of improved accident-risk prediction models. A large number of investigations have been conducted by R&D in an effort to identify drivers who are most likely to be involved in future accidents. Much of this effort has been directed at "optimizing" the current point system used for identifying and taking action against negligent drivers. Optimizing entails development of a system that selects for treatment drivers posing the greatest traffic safety risk (i.e., identifies that subset of the population with the highest per-driver per-year accident rate). Such a goal has a definite bearing on the accident-reduction potential of driver improvement/control programs, because interventions have the greatest payoff potential if applied to drivers who pose some heightened degree of elevated accident risk. The greater the risk, the greater the potential for accident reduction. The R&D studies on risk factors have consistently shown that the current point system is valid in the sense that accident risk increases with increasing points. Drivers defined as prima facie "negligent operators" have roughly 3 to 4 times as many accidents in the subsequent year as do drivers with zero points. The R&D Branch has developed methods which modestly improve the accident discrimination value of the point system. Some of these findings were incorporated into DMV's computerized selection procedures for assigning points to traffic convictions. However, R&D's research has also shown that highly complex point schemes, whereby specific types of moving violation convictions (speed, left turn, etc.) are given differing point values, would not improve the predictive value of the point system.
  • The development of an improved accident reexamination program. This project developed and evaluated two alternatives to the department's standard accident reexamination program. One consisted of an in-person session with a driver safety hearing officer emphasizing hazard recognition and accident avoidance skills, and the other was a home-study accident avoidance/self-test kit. The accident avoidance program proved to be more cost-beneficial than the standard reexamination, and was therefore implemented statewide until 1993, when a decision was made to hold most hearings and reexaminations by phone. The study also evaluated an alternative set of criteria for identifying accident-involved drivers for the two experimental treatments, and the home-study pamphlet proved highly effective for a large segment of the alternative-criterion group. Implementation of the accident avoidance and pamphlet programs was estimated to prevent an additional 400 accidents per year. Several operational problems have delayed implementation of the home-study program. Procedures are currently being developed to install the necessary computer programming to implement the program.
  • Evaluation of conducting hearings by phone. In the early 1990's the department altered its administrative hearing policy by offering negligent drivers and certain medically-impaired drivers the option of a hearing by phone. An evaluation of this policy change for negligent drivers indicated that the phone hearing was as effective as the in-person hearing in reducing accidents and convictions among negligent drivers (Reports No. 153 and 155). A subsequent evaluation of the phone hearing for medically-impaired drivers produced similar results (internal report, 1997).
CA Department of Motor Vehicles- Licensing Operations Division, Research and Development
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