Q&A - The Driver's Testing Gap

Q&A ImageIt has often puzzled me that we undergo rigorous testing to get a driver’s license around the age of 16 or 17, and yet are not required to take a driving test again until some time in our 80s.  In some cases, that is 60 or more years of driving without re-testing.

Even with the best memory and frequent driving, our skills do deteriorate over time and the rules of the road change as well.  I know it would be costly to the Province to require re-testing in our 40s or 50s, or better still every decade, but in my view it would likely result in fewer accidents.

What do you think?

I know that it wouldn't hurt me to be re-examined. I would likely find out about skills that I don't have and habits that need breaking or establishing.

Would I like to have to do this? No, but sometimes it's for my own good and in this case, the good of other road users.

It need not be costly to the province as the testing would be paid for out of pocket by those being tested.

In reply to by DriveSmartBC

... And I think it would make sense in-order to ease the friction to have a two-tries-in-one-go system:

Everyone gets two tries in one appointment, if the driver fails the first try, the instructors tells them where they screwed up: i.e. Over speed-limit, no full-stop, no-shoulder-check; the driver then gets a second go on a different route to address their mistakes right away. But if they fail the second try they hand in their license and come-back two weeks later for another two tries, and so on, until they pass, and they don't get their license back unless they pass.

Firstly, we need to use the correct terminology.

A Driver Examiner is an employee of ICBC; they may at one time have been a Driving Instructor, although this isn't a requirement for hiring. If working as a DE, it's unlikely that they would be motivated to maintain their Driving Instructor license even if they had one in the first place. And, whatever class of license the Applicant may be applying for, the Driver Examiner may not actually hold that license themselves, or even have the ability to operate the vehicle.

A Driving Instructor is licensed by ICBC to instruct people about driving, and charge money for it; if you want a precise definition, you'll find it under MVA(R) Division 27.

Incidentally, and separately, ICBC Driver Examiners are not the only persons allowed to conduct Driving Tests, and not every person who provides driving instruction as part of their paid employment is required to hold an Instructor License. Under Certification rules, companies such as Translink will typically use their own senior drivers to train - and test - new bus drivers. And meanwhile, certain Driver Training Schools will provide Instructor Training courses, at the conclusion of which a Training Assessment Officer (that's a Driving Instructor, working for that same school, who has been given the accreditation by ICBC to do this) will conduct the Driving Instructor Examination. Note that in every case, the criteria are the same; also note that this has nothing to do with Class 7 or Class 5 drivers or Re-Examinations.

OK so far? Then let's consider this supposed 'two tries' idea.

A new driver in BC (that's to say, somebody who has never held a license before - here or anywhere else - or is unable to produce satisfactory proof of the same) will have to apply for a Class 7 license and will be subject to the rules of Graduated Licensing thereafter. They will not undergo a demerit points type test (that's where each error is marked against the driver, with a cutoff point for pass/fail) but a Global Skills type test (that's where essential skills must be demonstrated).

There's a really excellent explanation of how this type of test is constructed and administered on my friend Carmen's BC Driving Blog, here. At the conclusion of the test, the DE will advise the Applicant of the Result, and then explain the key weaknesses noted, with suggestions for improvement. Whether the Applicant has passed or failed is irrelevant, incidentally: the process is the same.

There is no limit on the number of attempts a person may make to pass the Class 7 Road Test.


Alright, let's get to the subject at hand, which is Re-Examinations. Rather than me trying to provide tons of information here in this post, there's an informative page on the ICBC website, here.

An ICBC Re-Ex, in common with Road Tests for higher classes of license, is a demerits based examination (though of course, one can fail due to a violation or causing another road user to take an evasive action).

On occasion, drivers required to take a Re-Ex may be young, healthy, fit (you get the picture) who are still within their 2-year probationary period on their Class 5 license; as an example, imagine somebody from Ohio or Korea or wherever who gets their BC Class 5 under a reciprocity agreement, but then becomes involved in collisions and/or accumulates traffic tickets. The system is set up to ensure their poor driving isn't allowed to continue, and they will have to take, and successfully pass, a Re-Ex in order to continue to hold that Class 5 license.

Alternately, a driver may have suffered serious injury, with a physical and/or mental consequence. Amputation, brain damage, like that. A Re-Ex will almost certainly be required.

But most often, the 'trigger' for a Re-Ex will be from a medical condition showing up on a physician's report, such as the one that's required around age 80 for Class 5 drivers. Let's face it, for every single one of us, one of two things is going to happen, eventually: either we're going to become unable to safely operate a motor vehicle, or ... we're gonna die.

The Re-Ex criteria on an ICBC Road Test are designed to allow for errors; no more than 5 demerits for any error, with a maximum of 60 demerits allowed.

And if the potential Applicant doesn't want to go through that process, then a DriveABLE assessment is an alternative for them.

And, a maximum of three Re-Examinations is normally permitted; after that, you're out.

A Driver License - of any category - has to be earned; in the case of the 16 or 17 year old's (or in fact, any new driver in BC) then the first license issued will be a Class 7, which comes with restrictions and potentially strong penalties if these are contravened.

That said, those Class 7 drivers, once they've gained their 'N' status, may of course renew that license every five years just like everyone else.

The thing is, once you've acquired your license - and let's keep it simple here, and address the general Class 5 license holder - then there isn't any necessary requirement for every driver to take a Re-Examination such as you're suggesting.

However, if something (such as a medical concern such as might be discovered around age 80), the consquence might then be a Re-Ex. For holders of Professional class licenses, this type of process kicks in as a precondition of gaining the license, and continues thereafter every two or three years under National Safety Code rules.

The thing is, if an individual has been driving for 60 years, then they've been surviving for all those years behind the wheel; they may not be the greatest drivers in the world, but they probably haven't killed or hurt themselves or anyone else, so far.

There are people who get Alzheimer's at 60 years of age. There are people who can make it past 90 and still have all of their faculties; it's impossible to write legally acceptable re-examination laws that wouldn't be discriminatory on the basis of age.

Besides which, every driver out there ostensibly knows the rules, and has definitely shown their ability to follow them, or they wouldn't have a license in the first place.

So expecting that mandatory re-examinations will change their behaviour behind the wheel is unrealistic - although they may possibly have to do this in order to pass the test. Maybe again, five years later. And again, five years after that. It's not that hard.

But will it effectively change the way they actually drive? I doubt it.

What we do need is more traffic policing, so that all the miscreants can be slapped with demerit points, with consequent penalties, including potential loss of license. Now this would make the world a better place!


I'm all for not necesarily another TEST, per se, but I would appreciate having to read a pamphlet regarding changes to the law in the last X amount of years. I wasn't aware that it's legal to make lane changes in intersections! It wasn't legal when I went for my license however many years ago, but I hear that now it is?

So count me in for knowledge pamphlets or something to make everyone aware officially! 

I obtained a commercial drivers licence roughly 25 years ago. It was an eye opener showing several problematic things in my skill and more importantly my driving psychie. As a CDL holder I had to eliminate my tendency to drive agressively with all the bad things that agressive driving entails. I learned and practiced how to watch further down the road for potential problems. I am courteous and don't block intersections and entrances from parking lots. There is more but the idea is that retraining can be effective at altering a person's driving and I believe a requirement for re-testing should be part of every accident settlement.