Should SUV Drivers Be Required to Pass a New Driving Test?

A Modest Proposal Concerning US Driver’s Licenses

I’ve seen many threads concerning SUVs, and one of the recurring themes in posts by the anti-SUV folks is the poor driving skills exhibited by some SUV owners. Personally, I know that if I were to drive a much larger vehicle than my current compact (a Prizm, FWIW), there would be a substantial learning curve. However, in my current state-of-residence, Pennsylvania, my class A license entitles me to drive any non-commercial vehicle not over 26,001 lbs. GVW. The idea that someone that passed their road test in a Civic (curb weight around 1800 lbs.) may now be driving a Humvee (curb weight 10,300 lbs. plus) on the Schuylkill Expressway next to me is not very comforting.

So, my proposal: given that the mix of private non-commercial vehicles in common use today is broader than in times past, states should implement more granular license classes, say one class for compacts/subcompacts, one for full-size cars and small SUVs, and one for large SUVs and trucks. To qualify for the new class, a driver would have to pass a road test with a vehicle in the higher class.

How say the Teeming Millions?

Well, no.

I can’t speak to the Humvee example, but the driving skills needed to operate cars and light trucks/SUVs are very similar. If you operate SUVs recklessly you may be more prone to a rollover accident and there are potential consequences to being in a subcompact struck by a larger vehicle - but I can’t see that different exams or classes of licenses will help much to weed out problem drivers who happen to be in pickups or SUVs.

Slight digression, as you are an admitted Schuylkill Expressway driver - what is it that causes such a marked slowdown at the Conshohocken Curve? It’s just a gentle bend in the road, folks - there are no tractor beams from outer space to slow you down!


Responding to the digression, I think it is KYW. No matter when you listen to the traffic report, there’s a slowdown at the Conshohocken curve. Since many people driving the Expressway listen to KYW, they all slow down when they get close, cause they don’t want to run into stalled traffic. Hence, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

No doubt there are problem drivers in any size vehicle you care to name, and I agree that the skills to drive a car and a SUV are the same. But, from personal observation I’ve seen many drivers who may have a bit more vehicle than they can currently handle having REAL problems with parking, merging, etc. Requiring a different license class would at least mean that at some point in time they actually knew how to park their vehicle before they took it out on the street.


However I’ve yet to see anyone here post factual information regarding the driving skills of SUV drivers vs. the skills of those who drive regular automobiles. I could give plenty of anecdotal evidence of people driving smaller faster vehicles causing problems in traffic but that would hardly be good proof.


Not as substatnial as you might think. Driving an SUV is not radically different from driving a regular sized automobile. I wouldn’t say there are no differences I just wouldn’t call them radical. Any time you drive a new vehicle there’s going to be some time it takes for you to adjust to it. I had to adjust to a 1996 Saturn SL1 after being used to driving a 1983 El Camino.

You haven’t demonstrated any need for special licensing for SUV drivers. Nor have you demonstrated how such licensing will make us all safer. Since there’s no justification for bigger pain in the ass at the DMV I’m going to have to say we don’t need it.


Well, I think the deeper issue is that most people don’t know how to drive, period. If you TRULY know how to drive, you should be able to park a 19-foot Suburban in a 20-foot space, nearly as well as you’d put a 14-foot Metro into a 15-foot space.

I do agree with you, though, that something with a 26,000 GVW is A LOT of vehicle; for example, I believe that would be the rating of the largest U-Haul box truck you could rent.

Insted of giving Civic and SUV owners different road tests…how about we ALWAYS require that drivers pass the road test in the largest vehicle their license covers? If you can’t drive the U-Haul box truck, including parking and backing up, you certainly don’t belong on the road.

For a summer job I once worked as a porter at an auto shop. I drove just about every model on the road that summer, from Mercedes to panel vans to Porches and Corvettes to Ford Escorts and BMWs, even drove an ambulance once. I would say there is potentially as much variation between two small cars as there is between a small car and a big car or pickup. Not sure what the curb weight of a Camero is, but I am guessing it is in the same range as a compact. There is a much stiffer learning curve going from an Escort to a Camero than from an Escort to a Suburban, IMHO. You might have a point that 26,000 lbs is too high, but I don’t think we need to go so far as to require a separate test for Suburbans.

Someone once made the more modest proposal of requiring SUVs and trucks to follow the same restrictions that commercial vehicles do – staying in the rightmost lane, minimal passing and lane changes, so forth and so on. That seems to me like an easier way to reduce the dangers of SUVs without modifying the current licensing process too much.


Bad drivers come in all vehicles. I fail to understand why a 30-year-old father of 4 driving a suburban should face more highway restrictions than a 17-year-old high school kid driving a camaro.

Or, why make more rules based simply on the model of vehicle, without taking into account any other factors?

Multiple posters have pointed out that bad drivers may be found in any vehicle, regardless of size. I don’t think there is any argument on that point. MGibson also points out that I provided no statistics showing that new SUV drivers are any more of a highway danger than other drivers. I freely concede that I have no statistical evidence, and based my statements on anecdotal evidence alone.

I am not a law enforcement officer, or in the insurance industry, so I’m not sure if any statistical data is even available in this area. The data point that would be needed is, in accidents where one or more drivers were found to be “at fault”, what percentage of those drivers were driving a vehicle with which they were unfamiliar. I doubt that is a piece of information currently available, and in absence of that I agree that there is no basis on which to make a change to the current system. Pending the availability of such a study, I withdraw my proposal.

However, if the data is now available, or becomes available in the future, and it shows that drivers unfamiliar with their vehicles (whether because of size differences or other factors) DO pose a greater risk on the highway, can we agree that a change to the system would be warranted?

I have no doubt, based on my own anecdotal evidence, that the popularity of the SUV has done much to make driving more of a hassle for me, the small car guy.

I cannot see the road ahead of me. He cannot see jack shit behind him. They don’t accelerate as fast as the ownsers seem to imagine they do, and that causes them to cut into traffic like they had a sports car (hint: you don’t!).

I hate these vehicles. They have the weight and maneuverability of a minivan without all that convenient storage space (duh).

OK, enough ranting about SUVs. Point of the matter is, we should indeed take our driver’s exam in the largest vehicle that our license affords us the opportunity to drive. I feel that driving large vehicles from higher up (like SUVs and big trucks) take a different method and awareness than driving a smaller car (Dodge Omni :slight_smile: or, in my case, Honda Del Sol). They handle different, have generally different blind spots, different turning radii, etc. Sure, every car is going to be somewhat different than others, but I think it is safe to say that the difference between driving a minivan and driving a UHaul isn’t the same as the difference between driving a Minivan and driving a compact car.

It is a realistic expectation, IMO, that drivers should be able to handle them differently, because they handle differently.

Of course bad drivers come in all shapes and sizes and are in all sorts of cars. But what one has to determine is whether a car or vehicle class is in some way harder to handle or more dangerous than other cars. The regular share of bad drivers who then drive that sort of vehicle will mean that we’ve got bad driver x difficult vehicle = yipes. A difficult vehicle is going to amplify the danger to other drivers and passengers.

I don’t know if anyone has determined that SUVs are more difficult/dangerous.

There has recently been new information about the maneuverability of large passenger vans, however. You don’t need a special license to drive one (hell, I’ve driven one, and I’m a lousy driver) but maybe they’ll change that.

Bad drivers are bad drivers. And they all passed the test at some point. I don’t think it would matter what kind of car they took the test in or if it was a special test.

For instance, I always look over my shoulder after looking in my mirror to change lanes. Does not matter what type of car I’m in. Some people don’t. Some people cut people off.

The only thing that may be a little harder to do in an SUV is parking. I noticed years ago that parking spots and lots were getting smaller and smaller (I drove a truck at the time).

I live in Pennsylvania, and I have a Class C driver’s license which states: “Single/Comb < 26,001”

Perhaps you meant you have a Class C license? Class A licenses in Pennsylvania refer to combination vehicles with a gross weight greater than 26,00 pounds.

PA License Class Information

Hmm. What would this test look like?

SIDESWIPE TEST: Successfully cut off a compact car and crush it into the side of a retaining wall. The car must be no more than 3/4ths of its original width afterward.

CUTOFF TEST: Similiar to the sideswipe test, but just scare them. You must pass within 3 inches. Bonus points for destroying their side mirror.

VISION TEST: Successfully reverse-tailgate your SUV so you cannot see any traffic behind you and they cannot see anything of the road ahead. You must provoke at least one honk.

MERGE TEST: Successfully block three lanes of traffic on a four-lane road without signalling.

PARKING TEST: Double-park on a busy street and carefully unload a Kleenex box from the back of your voluminous vehicle. You can substitute taking up two parking spaces.

MILEAGE TEST: Do your test in a vehicle that gets less than 5 miles a gallon.

HEIGHT TEST: Successfully navigate one block with your head below the level of the dashboard. You fail if you hit a building.

Bad drivers drive all sorts of vehicles, but a bad driver in a large, oversized SUV can cause more damage than a bad driver in a small, lightweight hatchback (just imagine how much MORE damage a bad driver could cause if he was behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer).

Exactly. And somewhere between the drivers test and getting home the knowledge of how to use a turn signal seems to evaporate from their brain.

As many have said, the problem isn’t the type of car, the problem is the driver. The best solution would be to require people to take driving tests every, lets say, 5 years.

So, are you going to take your exam in an SUV? What if you don’t pass?

And adam, that was the best post I’ve read in a while.

Adam, I agree completely. Drivers should undergo continuous evaluation. This doesn’t change that driving a large vehicle is different than driving a little one.

I’d have no problem taking an exam in whatever I had to. As far as what happens if I don’t pass, what does that matter? Why does requiring one be able to handle the most difficult vehicle of your class have to do with failing? If I’m correct then drivers gained a skill. If I’m not correct and SUVs aren’t any more difficult to drive, then there’s no reason I should fail.

This is a good point. I think instead of special licencing, a marketing campaign to make small cars irreistable to bad drivers would go a long way towards making everyone safer, except maybe the bad drivers themselves. How’s the subliminal message technology progressing?