A lot has changed for drivers in the last 10 years.
Some laws have been taken off the books, while others have been written into them.
Now, the written test the state uses to see if would-be drivers have the knowledge it takes to operate a vehicle is changing to reflect today’s roadway realities.
The Washington Department of Licensing written knowledge test expanded in recent weeks — from 25 to 40 questions — to cover more of the topics today’s drivers are expected to understand, including driving under the influence of marijuana and leaving the cellphone alone.
“It’s been more than a decade since we’ve updated the written driver knowledge test,” said Christine Anthony, a spokeswoman for the DOL. “We felt these were important areas to cover to help our new drivers be safe drivers on our roadways. The new and improved driver knowledge test supports the state’s Target Zero goal to reach zero traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030.”
New topic areas covered in the test include distracted driving, driving under the influence of marijuana or prescription drugs, and generally handling possible roadway hazards, including aggressive driving, merging into traffic and driving in bad weather conditions.
The Washington Driver Guide and the curriculum used by driving instruction schools was updated earlier this year in preparation for the changes.
Test-takers are still required to get 80 percent or more of the questions correct to pass. That’s 32 questions on the new 40-question version, which debuted Aug. 15. Around 60 to 70 percent of first-time test takers typically passed the old 25-question test.
“We will be tracking the passage rate of the new test to see if that changes,” Anthony said.
The more robust test is great news for local driving instructors like Gary Tate, who cringes when he sees drivers ignore basic driving rules, such as those who cut across the yellow lines when making a left turn.
“I would increase the driving qualifications tenfold, if it was up to me,” said Tate, who teaches at Munro’s Driving Instruction in Everett.
A couple decades away from my own driving instruction — which involved a madcap fire drill on an I-5 onramp, so you know how top-notch that was — I asked the DOL and Tate to test me on my, well, street smarts.
The state guards its questions closely, with several versions of the test given at random at test locations. But they’ve released a handful of the possible questions.
Tate is equally careful, noting Munro’s doesn’t teach to the DOL test but offers its own final exam based on its classroom instruction. Tate gave me a modified version of the Munro’s test.
I eked out a pass on each practice exam.
So, yeah, not much has changed.
Not until I hit college German did I feel the same angst as I did during driving school. For me, the tense horror of sidling up to the curb between other vehicles is akin to the three minutes it takes to find the correct declension for the English equivalent of “the.” Fahrvergnügen? Not so much.
Think you’re any better?
Below is the five-question practice test DOL shares. You need to get at least four answers correct to reach the 80 percent passing mark the state looks for on the (much longer) knowledge test.
This was the last in our Back to Driving School series. Read other topics in the series on the Street Smarts blog.