The state’s top highway safety official asked Wednesday for patience from Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet as her agency struggles to deal with record failure rates on the state’s new written drivers license exam.
The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is studying the test results, getting rid of bad questions and trying to update its outreach programs to improve the failure rates, said Terry Rhodes, executive director of the DHSMV.
“I would just ask for your patience,” Rhodes said during a monthly Cabinet meeting. “My measure is going to be challenging me to get that passing rate up.”
The state shifted to a new 50-question written drivers test in January. The Tampa Bay Times reported last month that in the first two months, up to 80 percent failed the test in some counties. Statewide, almost 3 out of every 5 people who took the exam in the first six months of 2015 could not pass. The 41 percent pass rate is well below the state’s typical pass rate and far from the agency’s stated goal of having 70 percent pass the test.
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To address the failure rate, Rhodes said her agency is printing a new drivers license handbook, developing a teen study guide and increasing education efforts with schools and tax collectors offices where many of the tests are taken. A part of the new handbook’s overhaul will be trying to write the material in a more accessible way, and not in government lingo that has been criticized. The goal: to better prepare teens to take the new exam.
Still Rhodes defended the department’s shift to the new test which she said better gauges a young driver’s ability to operate a vehicle than the state’s previous, 20-question knowledge test, which she said was more of a memory exercise.
“We want them to study the manual,” Rhodes said.
The changes in the test come as data show teens are increasing involved in accidents in Florida. In 2010, teens were involved in more than 26,000 traffic accidents, according to the DHSMV. That grew by 35 percent to more than 36,180 by 2013, the most recent numbers available. And since 2010, an average of 78 teen drivers have been killed on Florida roads annually.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said he doesn’t want to see the test dumbed down to produce better pass rates but quizzed Rhodes on whether the test is asking the right kinds of questions in the right way.
“We are reviewing the test questions constantly,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes said she’s going to be looking at crash data around the state annually and will be looking to adjust the tests in the future to attack behaviors that may be resulting in the wrecks.
It won’t be the last time Rhodes is pushed on the topic. Next month, Rhodes will have to come back to the Cabinet again to give a more detailed explanation about how the state is attacking driver’s license failure rates.