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Mobility & Transport - Road Safety

The Driver Test



The Driver Test

In addition to the importance of good training, well-qualified instructors, and the availability of teaching resources, a well functioning licensing system needs a high quality testing system. First of all, the design and content of the test should enable a check on whether the stated training objectives have been reached. Secondly, a well designed test provides direction and content for the training process. If certain objectives are not covered in the test, and are not tested in other ways, most likely these topics will not be dealt with in the training process any longer. Therefore test and training need to reinforce each other. Discrepancies lead to a malfunction of the whole system.



In many countries, the driving test consists of a theory and a practical test. Tests are used to decide whether the learner has achieved the defined training objectives, so they need to be of high quality. Some countries have a separate hazard perception test.

Theory test

In a theory test the candidate needs to demonstrate that he/she has a good and thorough understanding of the traffic systems and the rules that apply. Although it can be assumed that this understanding will probably improve the quality of a driver's decisions, the relative contribution of this test to overall safety has not yet been studied, and hence no conclusions can be drawn about its effectiveness.

Practical test

When comparing the practical tests in different countries, two different ways of establishing the content of the test can be distinguished: In some countries, such as Norway and Great Britain, standardised test routes are used in order to guarantee that the test includes certain elements. In other countries, like Sweden, the examiner decides on the test route for the practical test, but ensures that all relevant traffic situations are present in the route.

The European Union project TEST[35] showed that the test procedure differed significantly between countries and that not all elements required by the European Driving License directive are tested. As yet no assessments of the quality and effects of different tests are available.

Hazard perception testing

Young novice drivers are poor in detecting and assessing hazards. Therefore, several countries have introduced hazard perception tests as a compulsory element of driver testing, to test the ability to foresee and react to hazards.

This kind of test is still under development and several other countries now consider implementing this type of test. It is currently too early to conclude whether hazard recognition tests will have positive effects, and further work is needed in this field.


Quality of tests


Any driving test needs to be reliable. Reliability refers to the degree to which test scores are free from errors of measurement. If the test is reliable, then the same candidate, when tested twice, should have approximately the same score both times. The European project TEST [35] concluded that a low reliability is undesirable because it is likely to be seen as unfair, and thus to randomly penalise some candidates and pass others. Moreover, an unreliable test is inefficient and costly, since it will result in unnecessary failures and subsequent retests, and is likely to be held in general disrepute.


Validity is also an important characteristic in any driving test. It refers to the extent to which the test measures competence and propensity to be a safe driver. In other words, how effectively does the test discriminate between those drivers that will be safe and those who will be unsafe in future? As yet, studies on this subject are not available. A test can be judged to have a good content validity if it (a) covers all aspects of driving known or judged to be relevant to its objective (e.g. safety) and (b) induces adequate training and practice in all of these aspects even if they do not feature in the test itself.


Aside from these more methodological issues, an additional point can be made about the importance of the legitimacy of the licensing process in the eyes of the public. Changes to the system should be convincingly related to safety and mobility in order to prevent public concerns about changes only being aimed at generating financial benefits for the licensing authority. In line with this, it is of vital importance to assure that the licensing process is free of any possible corruption.