TACOMA – How many years has it been since you had to pass a driver's license test? More importantly… if you HAD to take it today, would you pass? We decided to try it out ourselves, but our mission is twofold: First, to show adults everywhere that perhaps we have lost a few of our skills over the years (just us? No?); and second, to help parents learn the best ways to help make their soon-to-be-driving teens become safe, licensed drivers.
We teamed up with Jeff Westover, a former police officer and now the master driving instructor and owner of Tacoma & Lakewood 911 Driving Schools. He administered both the written and the skills test to us the same way he would if we were newly-driving teens. The verdict?
It's harder than it looks. It took me THREE tries to pass the written. I passed the skills test with an 88% the first try, but it was a close one for me on several skills I had forgotten.
Teens need to pass not one, but three things in order to earn a license in Washington State: an approved driving course, the knowledge test (or "the written"), and the skills test (the driving portion). And, parents, you may be surprised to learn it is no longer the case that you must take these tests at one of the Department of Licensing locations.
"We administer the written and the skills test here at the driving schools," Jeff says. That’s because three years ago, a house bill passed that aimed to reduce the lines at the DOL; that means there are now private driving schools licensed by the state to do the testing.
Back to how hard these tests are: they mean business. You must earn at least an 80% on both the written AND the skills test in order to pass, and Jeff says studying is the make-or-break difference. That, and practice.
It's an especially tough lesson for parents, he says. "They have to let their student practice, that's the biggest thing- just practice, practice, practice. For them, we understand it's sometimes stressful for them, with their own son and daughter in the car, but if they just trust us and let the student employ what we've taught them out on the road, it will come out successful."
And don't price shop. The driving courses, Jeff says, can cost from $300 to $600 dollars, but he reminds parents it's well worth the hours you get in return. "I mean, if you want to save a couple hundred dollars by going to Old Navy instead of Nordstrom, that's fine for a pair of jeans," Jeff points out. "But if you're trying to save a couple hundred bucks on your driving education, that's bad because… the number one killer of teenagers is cars."
That money, in the case of 911 Driving School, includes 35 hours in the classroom, spread out over 15 days for 2 hours and 20 minutes per session. And while that doesn’t change the fact that parents have to shell out money, Jeff says the state does offer some programs that can pay for a student to take the course.
Other tips and helpful hints for parents, from Master Instructor Jeff Westover:
- One big change in the last few years: You don't need to take your teen to the Department of Licensing to take these tests. In fact, only very few locations still offer them. That's because of a house bill that went into effect three years ago: it's aim was to reduce all of those long lines and weight times at the DOL. As a result, private driving schools like 911 Driving School are now licensed by the state to offer both the written and the skills test.
- If your teen is 15 years old, they can sign up for a drivers education program, and get a permit. Otherwise, they won't be able to get a permit until they are 15 and a half.
- Jeff advises against letting your teen wait to get their license, if their reasoning is simply that they want to avoid having to take a driving course. In our state, if you are at least 18 years old when you try for your license, you aren't required to have taken a driving course (as you are if you are 15--17). He says the driving courses are helpful for everyone, especially teens. The aim isn't just to get a license; it's to be a safe driver out there on the roads.
- You have to get at least 20 of the 25 questions of the written portion correct in order to pass. As you see in our video, there are three different versions, and I needed all three to finally pass. But in the real world, Jeff advises against re-taking each version one right after the other. You have a better chance of passing if you actually go back and study after failing the first version.
- While we can't reveal the answers to the specific tests WE took, you CAN study the Washington State Driver Guide. It's online HERE; it's offered in several languages.
- If you are an adult who has recently moved to Washington State, you have 30 days to transfer your license. If you don't, after 30 days your license is considered invalid. If your out-of-state license is expired prior to transferring your license, you will need to take and pass both driving tests.
To learn more, click HERE to go to the Washington State Licensing site. For more on the Tacoma or Lakewood 911 Driving School, click HERE.