Driving Test

As a senior driver, being told you have to take a driving test may make you worry that you are about to lose your independence.  However, it is an individual’s mental and/or physical condition or his/her inability to follow traffic laws and rules, regardless of age, that determines whether DMV renews, restricts, suspends, or revokes a driving privilege.  Senior drivers who are asked to take a driving test have usually:

  • Not met DMV’s minimum vision requirements, or
  • Have been referred from a Driver Safety office because of a physical or mental (P& M) condition or lack of driving skill. Sometimes a law enforcement officer, your physician, or a relative or a neighbor may refer you to DMV to check on your driving ability.

Even if the driver has a physical and/or mental condition, the DMV is likely to issue or renew their license if it can be demonstrated during a driving test, that they compensate for the condition and can still drive safely. The driving test is called a Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation (SDPE).  In certain situations, if the Supplemental Driving test is too difficult for the driver, he will have the option of taking an Area Driving Performance Evaluation (ADPE). You and the DMV examiner will pre-determine the driving test area and if you pass that driving test, your driver license will then be restricted to that area.

What is the purpose of a Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation?

When DMV asks a driver to take a Supplemental Driving test, it is to determine whether the driver:

  • Has the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.
  • Has formed or retained the proper safe-driving habits.
  • Can translate the knowledge of traffic laws into actual practice.
  • Can compensate for any physical condition that might affect safe driving ability, such as poor vision, loss of a limb, or the early stages of dementia.

During your driving test, your examiner will note any driving skill deficiencies or behaviors that need improvement, but that would not disqualify you from keeping your driver’s license. The examiner will discuss these issues with you when have finished your driving test.

A Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation:

The Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation test includes all the elements of a basic license driving test and some additional driving elements designed to evaluate a person’s cognitive function and safe-driving ability. These additional driving elements are:

    • Multiple directions – Your driving test examiner will give you two instructions at one time. The examiner is checking to see if you understand and can properly follow each instruction.  For example, the examiner will ask you to “Change lanes to the left and at the next street, make a left turn.” You should be able to perform all the tasks necessary to make a safe lane change and turn into the proper lane at the next street.
    • Additional lane changes– Your driving test examiner will evaluate how well you make lane changes. Do you signal properly and check for traffic in the lane into which you want to move (look over either your right or left shoulder)? Do you use your mirrors?
    • Concentration – Your driving test examiner will talk with you at certain times during your driving test. Distractions are common when driving, and the examiner is checking to see if you are able to respond briefly to these distractions without making any driving errors.
    • Freeway or highway driving – Your driving test examiner will ask you to merge onto a freeway and drive a short distance in freeway traffic.

IMPORTANT: If you absolutely do not wish to drive on any freeway, you should discuss this with the examiner. An option for you would be to have a “No Freeway Driving” restriction placed on your driver license, and then you would not have to take this portion of the driving test.

  • Destination trip – Your driving test examiner will ask you to drive to a location about two blocks from the DMV office.  She will then ask you to drive back to the DMV office without any assistance or direction using the same streets you just used to get to your location.  She is checking for memory lapses and disorientation. This task is usually the last part of the Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation test.

Area Driving Performance Evaluation (ADPE)

How does an Area Driving Performance Evaluation differ from a  Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation?

If you do not pass your Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation test, and your driving test examiner determines that you may be able to drive safely within a clearly defined (but restricted area), she may suggest that you take an Area Driving Performance Evaluation test.

When you take an Area Driving Performance Evaluation test, you will be tested in a specific area pre-determined by you and your driving test examiner. This driving test will be based on your most important driving needs and is typically given in the area where you live. Your driving needs may include trips to a grocery or department store, doctor’s office, bank, church, golf course, and hair stylist.

Area Driving tests are customized for each person. An Area Driving test route will be determined by the streets or roads you take to get from your home to a specific location and then back home again. If you pass your Area Driving test and meet all other license requirements, you will be issued a restricted license. The restriction would limit your driving to a specified area, and generally will not allow you to drive on any freeway.

If I have to take a driving test, how can I prepare for it?

If you need to take a driving test and are concerned about passing the first time, you may find it helpful to do the following:

  • Review DMV information:
  • Ask another driver to review your driving skills:
  • Ask a trusted younger driver (such as your adult child) to sit in the passenger seat and observe your driving. The observer should note any driving errors you make or any driving behaviors that would make a passenger feel unsafe. Your observer should critique your driving in a constructive and non-critical manner.
  • Do not be offended by what your observer tells you. You want your observer to be truthful.
  • Listen thoroughly to your observer’s remarks. Be open to suggestions. If your driving errors are correctable, you can, with practice, develop safer driving habits.
  • Consider your driving future carefully. If your observer tells you that he/she feels your driving skills have deteriorated to a point that it is no longer safe for you to drive, try not to get defensive or upset. Ask your observer for reasons and examples. Listen carefully to the reasons given and the examples cited. Use these to make an informed decision to either improve your skills to continue driving or to “retire” your driver license.
  • Practice, practice, practice:
    • Once you identify areas for improvement, practice performing them correctly. If certain driving maneuvers or situations confuse you, ask your observer to review them with you. If you choose, you may take a Mature Driver Course that covers classroom instruction on defensive driving and California motor vehicle laws. Your local ARRP chapter generally offers these classes.  You may also elect to take a behind-the-wheel driver instruction from a licensed driving school to help improve your skills.

Classes at Your Local AARP Chapter