Why ARE Students Failing Their
Driver’s Test?

More than half of all hopeful drivers fail to get past the written exam.

by Anton D. Johnson II

(PITTSBURGH) -- Kayla Z’s teenage dream of receiving her driver’s license was crushed when she failed her test because she didn’t come to a complete stop at intersections.

For Gabe Sunderman, his dream of getting his driver’s license ended due to a faulty tail light. Then, on the next attempt, he failed during the parallel parking portion of the exam.


“I failed my test because of something called a ‘rolling stop,’” said Kayla Z, a 20-year-old HACC student from Washington, D.C. “Apparently, I didn’t completely stop at any of the stop signs.”

These students are among the 55% of test-takers who fail their driving exam. Luckily, in Pennsylvania, you can take the test up to three times before you are denied a driver’s license.

As of 2016, Pennsylvania had a 55% fail rate on the written portion of the driver’s exam,

according to DMV Cheat Sheets, a DMV study guide service. While states don’t offer statistics

on pass/fail rates for the road exam, it is more common for students to fail than one might think.

What are other common reasons students fail their driver’s test?

Kayla recalled sitting at the DMV, waiting for her name to be called.

“I got up and walked out with the lady instructor. Then I started to get nervous because she

was being rude the whole time. It started when I had accidentally left my radio on, ” she said.

“The first thing [the instructor] said when she got in the car was, ‘I don’t like things talking over

me so I suggest you turn the radio off.’”

After completing the test, the instructor informed Kayla that she had performed multiple rolling

stops at stop signs and that it was ‘too dangerous’ for her to pass the test.


Kayla attempted the test a second time at the same location about a month later, but this time

with more confidence.

“The next time I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to pass,” she said. “I knew the

route I would be driving whereas before, I didn’t. I feel like that could’ve played a part in why

I passed the second time.”

                                                                                               For Sunderman, however, the story didn’t end quite as easily. The 21-year-old                                                                                                             Pittsburgh native had to take the driver’s test three times in order to receive his l                                                                                                         license.

                                                                                                “I feel like my first evaluator was part of the reason I failed the first time,” said                                                                                                              Sunderman. “As I was pulling back into the parallel parking spot, he told me I had                                                                                                      some extra space that I could take, so I did. I hit the barrier in the back and he said                                                                                                    he had to fail me for that.”

                                                                                               After technically failing a second time due to a faulty brake light, Sunderman                                                                                                               decided to switch his test location in hopes of a fresh start.

                                                                                              “I failed the first two at New Kensington, but I heard the Greensburg location was                                                                                                       one of the easiest so that’s where I went and passed. It was like having a clean slate                                                                                                   for the third test,” said Sunderman.


On the contrary to both students, Noah Strackbein, Senior Writer for AllSteelers, passed his driver’s test on the first try. That’s most likely because he began driving at such a young age, around his hometown of Jessup, Pennsylvania.

“I started driving when I was like 14 years old, taking my parent's car to the grocery store or on short trips.,” said Strackbein. “I always wanted my license so I could get a car and start relying on myself to get places.”

Students typically begin driving lessons at age 16 after they receive their driver’s

permit. However, sometimes parents will take it upon themselves to teach their

children to drive earlier. Cindy Cohen, the owner of Cindy Cohen’s Driving School

and PennDOT Certified Testing Center, was critical of the traditional teaching style

used by parents. She said, “when parents teach their children how to drive by saying,

‘turn the key, put it in drive and press on the gas,’ that’s like playing Russian

roulette to me.”

Cohen has owned her driving school since 2011 with Fred Galati.

Together, they have built a driving school that has grown to teach over 500 students

a month with over 22 cars in their fleet.

When asked about the most common reason why students fail the driving test,

Cohen said, “Parallel parking is definitely the biggest culprit. That is the section

of the course that can be the hardest to teach. People don’t remember to

adjust their mirrors, and that’s huge.”

Cohen has a few pieces of advice for students currently pursuing their driver’s license: “Please don’t drive distracted. Always see what is in front of you, and don’t use your phone while driving. Distracted driving is scary, common, and can ruin someone’s life in a split second.”

Keywords: Driving, Students, License, Driver, Failed, Pennsylvania, DMV, Pass, Parking

Anton D. Johnson II is a Junior Mass Communication student at Point Park University’s School of Communications.

Gabe Sunderman, a Point Park student, holding his driver's license.

Cindy Cohen's School of Driving located in Pittsburgh, PA.

One of the cars owned by Cindy Cohen's School of Driving.


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