Personal-injury law firm Siegfried & Jensen. Using state handbooks and public documents about the requirements of each state’s tests, the firm examined a variety of information, including the number of questions on the knowledge portion of the exam and the number of maneuvers tested in the skills portion.
The ratings also take into account the cost of getting a license, whether a state offers free retakes and whether a learner’s permit is required for applicants 18 and older, among other factors. Because the cost of testing in Washington varies by testing location, the study evaluated Washington state based on the typical cost of testing in Seattle, the most populous city.
Washington’s difficulty score (80 out of a possible 100) was almost twice that of South Dakota, which was ranked the easiest with a score of 42. The study controlled for mitigating circumstances such as veteran status or disability.
Washington state Department of Licensing (DOL) spokesperson Christine Anthony said no one she talked to at the DOL had heard that Washington had the strictest license requirements in the nation. In Washington, more people fail the written knowledge test than the driving-skills test, according to driving-school instructors, Ms. Anthony and DOL data.
In the first four months of 2019, about 77% of people who took the driving-skills portion of the test passed, regardless of whether the test was administered at one of the state Department of Licensing offices or through a private driver-training school.
However, only about half of the more than 84,000 people who took the knowledge test in that same time period passed on the first try, according to DOL data.
The knowledge test recently got more difficult: In 2016, the state added 15 questions, bringing the total to 40, Anthony said. And a new curriculum will roll out in August that addresses the important roles of decision-making and attitude in driving, she said.
Passing rates for the knowledge test were higher at private driving schools (55%) than at DOL offices (46%,) according to data provided by the DOL. That rate is likely affected by the fact that many driving schools allow applicants to retake the test for free, while the DOL does not, said J.C. Fawcett of the Puget Sound-based Defensive Driving School.
At $85 for the license and test combined, the whole endeavor costs more in Washington than in any other state. Washington’s road test is the most comprehensive, covering 19 maneuvers, including parallel parking, parking on a hill and backing up around a curve.