Testing and Licensing in United States

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Each Individual State Decides the Rules

In United States, the federal government does not issue driver’s licenses. Instead, each individual state, territory, and District of Columbia issue permits and licenses. The result is that requirements, testing quality, and test complexity vary greatly across the country.

The minimum age to get a permit or restricted driver’s license in the United States varies from 14 years (Arkansas) to as high as 17 (New Jersey).

Graduated Licensing System

To get a first permit or license, a young driver must visit a licensing office and pass a theory test and a vision test.

Before they can get a full, unrestricted driver’s license, the young driver must go through different phases of supervised driving and certain restrictions. This is known as a graduated licensing system.

After the first permit phase (step one) with supervised driving, the driver is ready for a road or behind-the-wheel test. Depending on age and state licensing rules, the licensing authority may issue a probationary license before the unrestricted license is granted. During this intermediate phase, a teenager can usually not drive with other teen passengers or drive late at night.

Waiting for the test

Which State has the Shortest Theory Test?

Pennsylvania has only 18 questions on the test. Alaska, New York, and Vermont have 20 questions.

Which State Test has Most Questions?

7 states have 50 questions on the test, including Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Wisconsin.

In other words, the length of the test varies considerably between states.

Which State has the Lowest Passing Score?

New Mexico, New York, and Texas have a passing score of 70%. In New York, you will pass if you correctly answer 14 of the 20 questions. In Texas, you must get 21 of 30 questions right, and in New Mexico 28 correct answers (of 40 questions).

Most states have a passing score of 80%.

7 states have passing score that is higher than 80%: California, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

All passing scores are found here: United States Permit and License Passing Scores

Woman at a computer station

Can Difficult Tests Result in Safer Drivers?

Some argue that more difficult license tests require more preparation, which result in a better knowledge and driving competence. Which also result in safer drivers.

Even if there is some logic behind this argument, the relationship between rigorous testing and safer drivers is not clear and is not proven by research.

Difficult tests that require more preparations can, however, delay the premiere for young drivers on the road. If you consider that young drivers contribute to more road accidents, it may have some effect on traffic safety – but, again, there is not much evidence to support this theory.

Testing in Other Countries

In general, tests in 28 European countries are longer and more difficult than those in the United States. There has been a major shift away from questions that are easy to memorize to questions that try to determine attitude and hazard awareness.

As part of the British driving license there is now a hazard perception test. In this test, an applicant is shown 14 video clips. The clips contain everyday traffic scenes that have at least one “developing hazard”. The test taker clicks when they see a hazard starting to develop and gets points depending on how quickly they see the hazard.

A car is parked at the side of the road and isn’t doing anything. It wouldn’t cause you to act, so it’s not a developing hazard.

When you get closer, the car’s right-hand indicator starts to flash and it starts to move away. You’d need to slow down, so it’s now a developing hazard.

Many countries also focus on maturity and attitude toward driving and drinking, use of safety belts, speeding and more. You are asked questions about how you would act in certain situations instead of what the law or local rules require.

Research, first released by the National Institute of Mental Health, suggests that emotional immaturity, not inexperience, is the primary reason that teenage drivers are responsible for far more car accidents than any other age group.

The teen brain is not fully developed until at least age 25

What to Expect from the Future

We may not see harder DMV tests in United States in the future – but we may see new kinds of testing and licensing procedures.

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