3. Evaluation of Driver Licensing and Selection Procedures

R&D has performed a number of studies on the psychometric properties of the various tests and criteria used in licensing drivers. Several of the more notable efforts are discussed below.

  • "Good driver" extension programs. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, R&D recommended that the department evaluate alternatives to the periodic in-person license renewal of all drivers. A federal grant was obtained in 1971 to evaluate the traffic safety impact of rewarding clean-record drivers by extending their license term 1 year by mail. In addition to cutting costs, it was reasoned that this approach might be an effective application of behavior modification theory (i.e., increasing desired behavior by positive reinforcement). The entire set of study results (Research Report No. 46) are too complex to summarize here, but the most important finding was that the extended group, on the average, showed an increased accident frequency during the 18-month period following the extension. Based on these results, R&D recommended that the extension program not be implemented, at least as constituted for the experimental project. However, the analysis also showed that the negative effects were limited to certain subgroups. Specifically, extended drivers who were rewarded on the basis of only a 1-year clean prior driving record exhibited substantial accident increases whereas drivers who were clean for the 3 prior years exhibited no accident increase at all. It was concluded from this result that a 1-year clean record was not a sufficiently reliable basis upon which to erect a "good driver" extension program.

After publication of the above results, three legislative bills enabled the department to continue experiments with the license extension and renewal-by-mail concepts. The first two evaluated 2- and 4-year extensions based on a prior 4-year clean record requirement. The third statutory change relaxed some of the eligibility requirements for RBM and allowed drivers not necessarily having more than a 2-year clean record to receive two successive RBMs (the effect of successive RBMs was never evaluated). Currently, approximately 2,500,000 drivers per year receive RBMs, producing large cost savings, increased public convenience, and decreased office congestion. Over the past 15 years over 30,000,000 drivers have received RBMs, producing a net cost savings to DMV of $366,000,000.

  • Evaluation and rejection of the selective-testing concept. In the mid-1970s, the department successfully sought legislation and funds to consider a new approach to driver licensing referred to as "selective" testing. Under this concept, the extent and type of driver testing was tailored to the driver's past record and driving experience. The objective of the program was to use the testing process to increase safe driving knowledge and to reduce accidents. The selective testing configuration is too complex to describe here, but varied from a simple take-home self test for clean-record drivers, to a more difficult drive test and counseling or traffic safety films for drivers with the worst records. None of the tests proved effective in reducing accidents. Although this approach proved unsuccessful, it illustrates the use of controlled evaluation as a method of assessing alternative approaches (and, in this case, cost avoidance, since the selective testing concept had a great deal of logical and intuitive appeal and might have been "sellable" without compelling evidence showing that it was not cost-effective.) The study results convinced decision-makers to reject the selective testing program, thereby avoiding the increased costs that would have been entailed.
  • Elimination of the drive test for out-of-state applicants. Prior to 1973-74, the department's policy was to require all driver license applicants from other states to pass California's road test before being licensed in California. Given the fact that out-of-state drivers are experienced drivers and have already undergone some form of license qualification in another state, R&D questioned the safety value and need for the road test requirement and proposed that a controlled evaluation be performed (Research Report No. 44). Such a study was conducted by having the test requirement waived for a large sample of applicants and comparing the subsequent records of the waived group with those of a similar group who took the test. No differences were noted between the groups on subsequent accidents, traffic convictions, or fatal and injury accidents. The study also found that very few (8%) out-of-state applicants failed the drive test and that most of these passed on subsequent attempts. The department implemented the study's recommendation to do away with the testing requirement, resulting in elimination of 200,000 drive tests at an estimated cost savings of $381,000 during the first year alone. It is estimated that this policy change has eliminated almost 5 million road tests since 1974, resulting in a direct cost savings to DMV of 40 million dollars over this period. (see footnote 4)
  • Development of a competency-based driver license assessment system. In 1990, at the request of the Director, R&D initiated a major research and development effort aimed at enhancing driver competency. Thus far R&D has completed four reports, one relating to vision testing and three relating to the development of a more reliable and valid road test (Driving Performance Evaluation, or DPE). The phase 3 and phase 4 DPE reports (Research Report Nos. 150 and 154) document the improved reliability and validity of the road test in assessing the driving competency of novice applicants. The DPE is now being used in 50 southern California DMV field offices.

Table of Contents | Previous | Next