Alcohol, Drugs, and Driving

Dear Students,

Yesterday was one of the most beautiful October Saturdays we've ever had here. Low humidity, a cloudless blue sky, a high temperature of 74, and just a slight breeze. And where did I spend that glorious day? Yuk! I spent the entire day in a driving safety class for folks like me who had received some kind of traffic ticket.

During our 8-hour class, we watched several videos supplemented by semi-formal mini-lectures from our instructor. This teacher was surprisingly good, and he helped make the day-long experience as interesting as a person possibly could. Amazingly, everyone in our group (N = 25) stayed awake and attentive for the whole day. That was a testament to the quality of our instructor, as we all knew from the very beginning that there would be no test at the end of our session to see if we "passed." All we had to do was be there!

The last of our many videos dealt with drugs and alcohol. In talking about this important topic, our instructor advised us that the written portion of the State Driving Test heavily emphasizes this material. "Based on my analysis of old tests (provided by the Division of Motor Vehicles for use in 'drivers ed' courses) and on recent reports from folks who have taken the real State Drivers Test," he asserted, "approximately one-third to one-half of the questions on the written test deal with Chapter 5 of the Driver Handbook."

After our class ended, I asked the instructor if he had a copy of the Driver Handbook. He quickly found a copy and let me look at it. The first thing I noticed was that Chapter 5 was entitled "Alcohol, Other Drugs and Driving." I then flipped to Chapter 3 of the Driver Handbook ("The Examinations") where I found this statement concerning the written test:

You will be given an exam covering knowledge needed to drive safely. This test will consist of multiple-choice questions based on information contained in this handbook. Roughly speaking, you can expect the test to cover the following areas:

  1. 25% Traffic signs and signals
  2. 25% Rules of the road
  3. 25% Safe driving principles
  4. 25% Drugs and alcohol

As you may have guessed, I was interested in the issue of content validity. The Driver Handbook tells people that about 25% of the written test will cover information contained in Chapter 5. In the actual test, however, between one-third and one-half of the test's questions deal this chapter's content. In my opinion, the fact that the test's emphasis on Chapter 5 is substantially higher than what the Driver Handbook says lowers the content validity of the test. To have high content validity, the test questions must (among other things) represent the various chapters in the same proportions as stated in the Driver Handbook.

I am VERY happy that my State is concerned about drinking, drugs, and driving. Far too many people are killed or injured because of "accidents" caused by people driving when they are impaired. We definitely need to do whatever we can to prevent these unnecessary deaths and injuries, and I think it is appropriate that the written portion of the State Driving Test emphasizes Chapter 5. I fully recognize that requiring drivers to know how alcohol and drugs affect one's ability to drive will not eliminate all alcohol- and drug-related traffic "accidents." But this requirement will undoubtedly reduce the chances that someone "under the influence" will get into the driver's seat of his/her car.

Thus, my concern yesterday at the end of the 8-hour class was not with the test's heavy emphasis on Chapter 5 of the Driver Handbook. Instead, my concern was and is with the information presented in Chapter 3 (where it says that about 25% of the test will deal with alcohol and drugs). If the test is to have high content validity, the claimed emphases of the test (that influence, one would hope, the way test-takers prepare for the test) must be in line with what is actually emphasized on the test.

Sky Huck

Copyright © 2012

Schuyler W. Huck
All rights reserved.

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