After two attempts at Hamilton’s DriveTest centre, Sebastien Girouard was no closer to getting his G driver’s licence in Ontario.
The 44-year-old said he struggled while driving on Hamilton’s Red Hill Valley Parkway, a highway with an 80 km/h speed limit that is used by some 70,000 vehicles daily. He asked people online about what he should do.
“A lot of people told me [the town of] Simcoe would be easier,” he said. “It’s much better — no traffic, no cars.”
Girouard went to the suggested centre in Norfolk County, an hour away from his home, and said that after driving on an 80 km/h country road for the highway portion of the test, he finally passed.
Despite that, Girouard said, he believes it’s “not fair” how much easier Simcoe seemingly was than Hamilton.
The province’s DriveTest examinations are supposed to be similar to each other and test the same driving skills no matter where you go. But the percentage of people who pass tests at each centre varies drastically, according to new data obtained by CBC Hamilton through a freedom of information request.
The data shows the pass and fail rates of all Ontario DriveTest centres from 2022 and the number of tests at each location.
Simcoe’s DriveTest centre has a 73 per cent pass rate compared to Hamilton’s 67 per cent, but there are more drastic differences across Ontario.
The site with the highest pass rate is in Bancroft, where 88 per cent of drivers succeed in their tests, while the location with the lowest pass rate is in Brampton at 59 per cent.
The average pass rate across Ontario is 69 per cent.
A driving instructor said the findings may be the product of bad teachers, while a road safety group said the results shatter the “illusion of consistency” among sites.
Both said the province needs to make changes to how it runs DriveTest.
“It should be a concern for everybody,” said Brian Patterson, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Ontario Safety League.
The Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) and Serco Canada Inc., the private-sector organization licensed to operate DriveTest Centres, both declined to do interviews. Serco deferred to MTO.
MTO spokesperson Tanya Blazina said in an email there are reviews done to ensure the tests and examiners meet ministry standards.
The province also emphasized the same criteria is used to evaluate drivers, no matter where they take the test.
Why do test centres’ pass rates differ?
Patterson and Puneet Chadha, an instructor with Wards New Drivers Inc., said there are a variety of reasons test centres’ pass rates differ.
Chadha acknowledged driving in downtown areas or the Greater Toronto Area can be “crazy” due to inconsiderate drivers.
Rural test centres, meanwhile, may have a reputation for being easier and, as a result, get more out-of-town visitors showing up to do the test. In many cases, however, the drivers will be unfamiliar with the area and fail.
That said, Chadha noted he sometimes takes more anxious students or seniors who only plan to drive short distances for errands to locations with a “calmer atmosphere.” But that doesn’t mean the test is any easier because they all test for the same skills, he said.
“Let’s say you do a test in London, you’ve got a total of 12 to 14 turns you’ve got to do, but you go into a small town, there’s 30 turns,” he said, adding he believes the tests all have the same difficulty and the same standard.
Patterson doesn’t agree, saying the DriveTest routes need a more thorough review.
Chadha and Patterson said shoddy instructors may impact pass rates too.
Patterson said some teachers bring a whole group of drivers to an out-of-town test centre and charge them a fee to use the teacher’s car for the test.
Many of the students, unfamiliar with the area, will fail the test while the instructor gets a big pay day, he said.
Patterson said he has also heard instructors tell drivers to leave money in the car for examiners.
In an Aug. 29 email, Blazina said Ontario’s driver testing standards are among “the most stringent in North America.” She said the rules and marking guidelines that examiners use during road tests are based on the Highway Traffic Act.
Blazina said examiners evaluate drivers based on their ability to show they can safely operate a vehicle according to a set of road test standards — and those standards are the same for all drivers.
“Driver examiners have no discretion to evaluate outside of these standards,” she said.
“All road test appointments are randomly assigned to driver examiners, and any attempt to bribe a driver examiner would result in an immediate termination of the road test.”
What changes can be made, tips for drivers
Patterson said DriveTest centres should have drivers use a standardized vehicle equipped with cameras and microphones, instead of their own vehicle, to add more accountability and prevent instructors from trying to profit off students.
He also said the province should review the test routes and examiners, as well as track more data on new drivers.
“How many drivers are involved in a reportable collision within 12 months of receiving their licence? Is there a variance between people who have collisions having taken formal training or people not having taken formal training? We don’t know.”
Patterson said MTO may also want to consider having multiple organizations run DriveTest centres, instead of just Serco.
Chadha said DriveTest centres should check to see if the instructor bringing a student in is licensed or registered, has insurance and belongs to a school.
The province has a web page with a list of government-approved driving schools.
Patterson said he knows of cases of people buying driver education certificates from instructors for cheap without doing any practice. The certificate can allow people an expedited test and less expensive insurance.
Chadha and Patterson said they have told the province about the issues, but it has been unwilling to address them.
But Blazina, spokesperson for the MTO, said there are performance assessments and audits at DriveTest sites.
The province says all routes were reviewed for G tests in January 2022 at permanent DriveTest locations and all routes are approved by the MTO.
Blazina said drivers fail their tests because they either can’t perform a manoeuvre, make multiple mistakes or do something dangerous. Examiners, she said, can’t evaluate outside of the set of road test standards.
As for what drivers can do to better their chances of passing, no matter the location, Chadha said, anyone using an instructor should do their homework and choose a reputable instructor or school, rather than the cheapest or the most advertised.
He also said people shouldn’t focus on merely passing the test, but also driving safely and defensively to avoid dangerous situations and crashes.