More Mississippians Fail After State Computerizes Driving Exam

Nearly 60 percent of people applying for regular Mississippi drivers licenses have failed the general knowledge test since the state switched to a computerized testing system in December.

Only 20 percent failed before, said Rene Morris, state administrator of the Automated Drivers License Testing System.

The passing rate for commercial license applicants declined slightly, from 60 percent to 54 percent.

All commercial license tests are now given through computers. Mississippi was one of 15 states last year to receive automated testing services from Openshaw Media Groups Inc., based in Birmingham, Ala.

Automated testing results in other states using the new system are similar to Mississippi's, said Alan Ridder, OMG executive vice president and chief operating officer.

The touch-screen technology eliminates cheating because the questions on the Mississippi driver-license general knowledge test are randomly chosen from a database of more than 600 questions. This process prevents any two applicants from receiving the same test.

"They don't have cheat sheets anymore,'' Morris said. "Most people had a copy of every test we handed out or had it memorized.''

Centers without the computer kiosks will soon be able to log on to the computer system and print randomly generated tests.

Until recently, Mississippi used three versions of the written test - popularly identified as green, yellow and blue - with 20 questions each. The new tests will be available at all centers within a month, Morris said.

The system also is set up to prevent fraud by asking specific questions to prove a person's identity and taking a digital image of each test taker. Homeland security officials were concerned of terrorists obtaining commercial licenses to transport toxic chemicals.

"People will do all kinds of things to get a driver's license and CDL license, and this virtually eliminates the games people play,'' Ridder said.

The time and money the automated system has saved the state is immeasurable, Morris said.

A grant from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration provided 80 percent of the funding, with a total cost of $611,000. State officials are seeking grants for the installation at the other 65 test centers in Mississippi.

The automated test features colorful pictures, video or 3-D animations of road signs and typical driving situations to help applicants better understand the questions. Each computer also is equipped with a telephone handset for applicants who need test instructions and questions read to them.

"There's no computer knowledge necessary,'' Morris said. "They just read the question and choose the answer they want. But some people say the computer makes them nervous.''

Once an answer is submitted on the touch-screen test, an applicant cannot return to the question, Morris said.

To save time on machine use, state officials chose not to allow the option, a decision made by most states that offer automated testing.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)