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Maine Unveils New Electronic Driver Testing System
08/20/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

It's a rite of passage: the written drivers' exam. But what for years has been a test on paper has finally made its way into the age of technology. Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap says the new touch screen electronic testing system will not only cut costs for the state - it will also make cheating nearly impossible. Because the computer system randomly generates each test from about 200 possible questions, no two exams are the same. A.J. Higgins has this report.

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To even qualify for a road test in Maine, you have to make it past the much-anticipated written test. The state Bureau of Motor Vehicles hopes some of the anxiety that accompanies written tests will be eased with it's new computerized version.

"At an intersection posted with a yield sign, you are required to: A. Stop before proceeding through the intersection. B. Slow down and wait for traffic to clear before proceeding through the intersection. C. Yield to oncoming traffic only when turning left."

The correct answer is, of course, B - slow down and wait for the traffic to clear before proceeding. That was one of the questions that Secretary of State Matt Dunlap got right when he tried the system out today at BMV headquarters in Augusta.

"So what I'm doing right now is I'm actually sitting at a console that our customers use, and I'm about to take the written test," he says, "and it's been about 33 years since I've taken a written test, so we're going to see how I do."

Dunlap listens to the questions posed by the computer that are randomly selected from about 200 options. He presses his choice on the computer touch screen and then is asked if he is sure that is his final answer. It's a system Dunlap says will ultuimately save the state money in printed materials and staff time, as well as provide a testing mechanism that employs today's technology.

"This is part of an intergrated rebuild that we've been working on for a long time," he says. "This particular component, we've been able to utilize some federal funds for, and we're able to parse together different funding sources to pay for these computer builds. They're really designed to improve customer service and our efficiency as well, so our data entry folks can focus more time on things like the title entries they've got to do, and the registration entries they have to do, which have much more complicated strings of information."

In addition to cost savings and a virtually cheat-proof method of selecting questions, the new system can quickly be revamped to be conducted in foreign languages to assist those who may rely on English as their second language.

For many younger drivers though, the mere opportunity to test via computer represents a communication breakthrough in and of itself. Felicia Baron-Lizotte, of Bair's Driving School in Bangor, says the new technology will be welcomed by younger drivers.

"I think it's great," Baron-Lizotte says. "Most of these kids, they don't even know how to print, or they can barely sign their name in cursive - all they know is computers. So for them, that's more natural for them. And so many kids speak so many different languages that the different language options are going to be very useful."

For the record, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap did pass the test, getting only four questions wrong. Three mroe errors and he would have flunked.



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