About half of the drivers who take their road tests in busy Brampton fail. In sleepy Kenora, the failure rate is lower than 20 per cent.
As Ontario's driving instructors have long known, some examination centres fail a far higher percentage of test-takers than others. Now the company that runs driver testing for the province has instituted pass-fail "norms" for each DriveTest centre based on their widely varying past results.
At the Brampton centre, for example, examiners who conduct the road test required to obtain a G2 license have been given a failure-rate norm of 53 per cent, the highest in Ontario. Conversely, examiners in Oshawa, have been given a norm of 36 per cent. Kenora received the lowest norm, 7 per cent.
The drivers test failure rate 'norms', obtained via freedom of information request, vary even within the GTA. The failure-rate norm is 52 per cent in Downsview, 43 per cent in Oakville, 40 per cent in Aurora, and 36 per cent in Burlington. Norms are lower for locations within easy driving distance, such as Orillia's 26 per cent.
Examiners whose pass-fail rates deviate more than 15 percentage points from a norm in any month are monitored to ensure they are following standard procedures. But the norms, approved by the provincial government, are not quotas. If the examiners are found to be following protocol, and their pass-fail rates are abnormally high or low because of a random streak of good or bad drivers, they are not disciplined.
"Employees were not told to adjust their work to accommodate the norms... variances may be perfectly legitimate," said Paul Dalglish, managing director of Serco DES, which operates Ontario's 55 examination centres.
"Deviation from the norm," he said, "is only an indication of the need for further investigation."
More than 50 examiners have faced "some level of remedial action" since the norms were introduced in January, Dalglish said. Remedial action includes both non-disciplinary measures, such as "clarification of expectations" and retraining, and disciplinary measures such as warnings and suspensions. "The vast majority of the follow-up with employees is non-disciplinary because that almost always has the desired effect," Dalglish said.
Ontario does not require drivers to take their road tests near where they live, so many drivers strategically schedule the tests at far-flung locations where they think they will get an easier ride. Some Toronto driving schools charge $200 to drive students hours away to small towns like Bancroft.
Driving instructors say pass-fail rates may differ by location for a number of reasons, such as difference in traffic levels or the difficulty of test routes. Urban centres like Brampton may also attract relatively high proportions of immigrants unfamiliar with Ontario's driving rules.
Ontario Safety League president Brian Patterson said the norms would help Serco monitor examiner performance. But he argued the government should force drivers to take exams at nearby locations so they are tested under conditions they will normally encounter. If the government does not, he said it should make tests more challenging in low-traffic areas. [Click here for driver's road test checklist and videos]
Serco must maintain a monthly province-wide pass-fail rate within four percentage points of rates from the three years before the company took over from the government in 2003. The norms, therefore, were determined in part based on province-wide rates from that period. But most of the norms are nonetheless similar to location-by-location rates for the period between 2006 and early 2008.