Flunking the Driving Test

For many people, the written driving test is the last multiple-choice test of consequence they will ever take in their lives. Too bad that 1 in 4.98 licensed drivers fail it.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that 20% of licensed drivers flunk. After all, not everyone is a good test taker. Any surprise probably lies in the word “licensed”—20% of licensed drivers, who have passed the exam at least once before, when faced with it again—fail.

How does this happen? We are not even talking the nerve-wracking road test, with a State Trooper watching your every move. Experienced drivers should know this stuff by heart, of course. Right of way, four-way stops, signage, hand signals, stopping distance, and so on—things that must be distinguishable to any licensee of any age. In a sense, failure is a very good thing here. Who’d want a driver, who can’t get a measly 12 questions right out of twenty, barreling down the road uncomfortably close to you? At 70 MPH, driving knowledge can’t be improvised. It has to be memorized.

Of course, where there’s memorization, there’s cheating. (witness the 64% of high school students, or 1 in 1.56, who will cheat on a test at least once in a year.) For a very few drivers, the big, red F scrawled on their written exams will be from cheating and getting caught red handed. One hopes the DMV issues those folks a thumbtack, too, so they can pin the test on the wall of their prison cell: cheating on a driving test can be an arrestable offense.

Take Lefter Duka, a 33-year-old British man out of Gloucester. In July 2010, he came into his written drivers test looking suspiciously unlike himself. So different, in fact, that he was questioned by DMV employees about his changed appearance. His answer? That “English food had changed the shape of his ears.” Authorities later learned the truth: Duka had apparently hired an Albanian imposter to take the test in his place.

A French pro footballer, Charles N’Zogbia, was arrested in April of the same year for the same offense—committing fraud on a British driving test by false representation. The UK Driving Standards Agency estimates that 500 impersonators attempt to take others’ driving tests every year.

What’s so intimidating about taking a test in person? Is it the possibility of failure? Failure on a test is arguably better in every way than failing on the road: 1 in 19.53 licensed drivers will be involved in a motor vehicle accident in a year.

And after all, failure is an indispensable part of our lives—A’s are meaningless without F’s. Plenty of people fail every day, and plenty of things fail them.

  • Last year, 1 in 58.54banks failed, a miserable rate when you consider that just two years prior only 1 in 2,845 banks went under.
  • Among women 15 – 44, 1 in 13.33 who stopped using condoms did so because they failed and she became pregnant.
  • The odds an NFL field goal attempt will be unsuccessful are 1 in 4.99.

The odds a licensed driver will fail a written driver’s test are almost the exact same odds a field goal attempt will fail: 20%. Maybe it’s the nerves that can build up during the period before we are asked to perform—either on the sidelines or at the DMV.

There’s always next time. In most states, you can take the written drivers test again within a week, sometimes within a day.

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