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Why More Marylanders Are Passing Digitized Driver’s Tests

Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration overhauled its computer-based learner’s permit tests, and passing scores increased within months. Data obtained by Government Technology details the secret to their success.

The inside of a car with a person in the driver's seat with their hands on the wheel.
Taking a driver’s test can be nerve-wracking for anybody. But taking it in a language or format that’s not familiar can be even harder. The rules of the road might be clear, but deciphering complex test questions? Not so much.

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) experimented with solving that problem by transforming its learner’s permit exams to plain language and expanding the options to 17 total languages in early 2024.

The results are promising. Early data obtained by Government Technology through public records requests indicates that about 1 in 10 test takers who might have previously struggled are now successfully obtaining their learner’s permits.


Inspired by a young autistic man’s struggle with the traditional learner’s permit test, MVA embarked on an experiment to make the process more accessible for everyone.

“He had been unsuccessful after attempting the test many times and was just frustrated,” said Christine Nizer, administrator of the MVA. “His mother asked if we could work with him to try to translate the tests in a plain language and see if that would make him successful. Ultimately he did pass the test.”

This success story sparked a broader initiative. MVA administrators recognized the potential impact of plain language on the entire state.

“It was important for us to recognize that everybody needs to have access to these services, it is so critical. We want to make sure that we are providing it in the most accessible way possible,” said Nizer.

To get it right, the MVA consulted an expert on developmental disabilities. The result was a comprehensive transformation of the learner’s permit tests and driver’s manual, simplifying the language for everyone across all languages offered.
The impact was immediate: passage rates in English, Spanish and Chinese increased. This unexpected benefit taught MVA a valuable lesson: Plain language can make a big difference.

“It just helps everybody in different levels of reading skill throughout our society,” Nizer said. “Our test is not meant to be a test of your ability to read, but instead — are you safe to begin your driving career?”


Maryland is in the midst of an accessible digital transformation. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore issued the state’s first-ever digital accessibility policy at the start of the year.

A changing demographic is noticeable in the last three years of MVA data. The overall portion of learner’s permit tests taken in English has declined, while tests taken in many other languages has increased.
In line with the state’s initiative to become more inclusive, MVA has expanded its learner’s permit tests to Amharic, Arabic, Farsi, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, Urdu and Yoruba, based on census data of the most common languages used in the state. This is in addition to the previously available languages: English, Chinese, French, Korean, Nepali, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Notably, the MVA also now offers the test in American Sign Language (ASL) via a video with an on-screen interpreter. This is a significant change from the past when in-person interpreters were required.

“It’s a nerve-wracking test, we all kind of remember that time,” said Nizer. ”So the idea is that if English is your second language, having that ability to take it in your language that you’re more comfortable with, obviously would make it a little easier.”


MVA partnered with a vendor for translation services, but also had native speakers review the materials to ensure accuracy across dialects and regions.

“A lot of documentation needs to be done to make sure that it’s accurate, we did initially with some versions get questions back,” she said. “Dialects are often different in different areas of countries. So we’re just making sure that it’s accessible for the widest population as possible.”

This comprehensive approach was an investment, with the translation of tests and manuals, along with system upgrades, costing approximately $324,000.

“We did that analysis and it really made sense to make that investment upfront for the dividends it pays for the customer,” said Nizer. “Ultimately, the better experience means that our customers are more successful and are able to accomplish their business in one trip, which is ultimately an efficiency for the agency as well. So it really is a win-win scenario.”

The MVA also took a forward-thinking approach to the procurement process, ensuring the vendor could keep the translations up to date with annual law changes and policy updates.

Nizer pressed that the agency did not make the tests easier, but rather more accessible.


Since the expansions of the learner’s permits have been fully rolled out to 17 languages, MVA has seen a measurable difference in test outcomes.

About 1,800 tests have been taken in the newly added languages.
“Not only have we seen good success in terms of increased passage, but just some of the positive feedback we’ve gotten from customers who were able to take it in their native language and felt so much more comfortable,” said Nizer. “Really seeing that success has been very rewarding for the team who spent a lot of time getting this done.”

Interestingly, data also reveals a slight decrease in the total number of tests taken. Nizer sees this as a positive sign that the transformation is working.
“The hope is that people don’t have to come back again. If you pass the first time because it is more accessible, then that means ultimately the volume will reduce because you’re not coming back repeatedly,” she said.


The success of the learner’s permit test expansion has fueled further innovation at the MVA. The agency now offers commercial driver’s license tests in Spanish, addressing a critical need for more such drivers nationwide.

“There’s such a need throughout the country to have more individuals in that profession,” said Nizer. “So we’re excited to now offer that additional option to our customers.”

Looking ahead, the MVA is focused on another challenge: improving communication between examiners and test-takers, particularly those with developmental or language challenges. The goal is to create a more inclusive and supportive testing environment for everyone.
Nikki Davidson is a data reporter for Government Technology. She’s covered government and technology news as a video, newspaper, magazine and digital journalist for media outlets across the country. She’s based in Monterey, Calif.