Back-Seat Driver

Back-seat Driver: DMV touch screens: It’s like gambling!

Tony Bizjak
Tony Bizjak

They’ve thrown away the pencils and paper over at the DMV. As of now in California, the old written driver’s license test is no more. The state Department of Motor Vehicles is now giving the test on touch screens in 120 of its 170 field offices, including all offices in the greater Sacramento region.

State officials said they were worried that some older drivers would feel uncomfortable about using a computer screen. But that hasn’t been the case. It’s the same old multiple-choice exam. Instead of marking an X with a pencil next to the correct answer, the test taker now just taps the screen on the answer he or she thinks is correct. There is no keyboard.

Some DMV field office workers have told older drivers it’s similar to the blackjack computer touch screens at casinos. Apparently that bit of perspective has lowered the fear factor among some drivers.

DMV officials said the move to touch screens speeds up the testing process and reduces wait times. DMV clerks no longer have to hand grade the tests. Instead, the computer does the tally when the test taker is finished with the quiz. One major difference: After each question, the computer lets the test taker know whether an answer was right or wrong by showing a green check mark or a red X.

People 18 or older who fail the test are allowed to take the test again that day up to three times. People under age 18 must make an appointment to come back in a week to try again.

Previously, when the DMV gave the test on paper, the agency had 10 tests it rotated through. The computer version now randomizes the questions so that no two tests are exactly the same.

The DMV still has written tests for people who refuse to use the touch screen system, or for people who wish to take the test in a language other than the two languages currently available on the touch screen – English and Spanish.

DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez said the agency eventually will have up to 31 languages available on the touch screen exam.

Hwy. 50 weekend work

Warning: It could be a grind on Highway 50 over the Sacramento River this weekend. Caltrans will close several Highway 50 lanes in both directions between 15th Street in Sacramento and Jefferson Boulevard in West Sacramento for rehab work from 7 p.m. Friday until Monday at 5 a.m. Some ramps will close. Caltrans has a website with info at, but the best source may be Caltrans’ real-time freeway cameras at

What about Watt?

The big Watt Avenue interchange redo has been a big hassle for 100,000-plus east county commuters for two years now. The finish date has been delayed several times, but it is finally viewable on the horizon: late October. “It’s coming together,” county transportation spokesman Dan Regan said. “We can see the end.”

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