Women are failing their driver’s license road tests at nearly twice the rate as men on the Vineyard, according to Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) data from January to September 2007.

While 24 per cent of males failed their road test on the Vineyard so far this year, 43 per cent of females failed. That difference of 19 percentage points is the biggest gender discrepancy of all 38 test locations in Massachusetts — mostly RMVs — for which 2007 data is available.

“I don’t know why there would be any difference at all. Basically, it’s how you prepare when you come in and how you test,” said state police Sgt. Neal Maciel, who administered the test on the Island for more than two decades — from 1985 until June of this year. “Maybe the males have a little more experience or time behind the wheel, but I really have no idea. That would just be a guess,” he added.

Women do fail at a higher rate than men statewide, but only by about four percentage points. So far this year in Massachusetts, 25 per cent of females failed the road test, while 21 per cent of males failed. In 2006, 23 per cent of females failed statewide and 19 per cent of males failed.

The Vineyard statistics may be a fluke — eight months of data doesn’t necessarily qualify as a trend. But one thing seems certain: the Island Registry of Motor Vehicles has one of the highest overall fail rates — averaging both men and women — in the state.

The Island RMV had the fifth highest fail rate among 38 test centers accounted for in the 2007 data. Data from July 2005 to June 2006 shows the Vineyard had the seventh highest fail rate of 78 RMVs and driving schools documented.

“It may be an area where you have a higher percentage of first-time drivers or a higher percentage of immigrant drivers,” Sergeant Maciel said. “There are a lot of things that could come into play here as far as statistics.”

Sergeant Maciel stopped administering road tests this year because in July the RMV replaced state police with civilian examiners for the tests. Now the Vineyard road tests are given by a woman who also gives the test on Nantucket.

“In post-9/11 days, [the state police] felt it would be a better use of personnel to take trained officers and put them back on the street. From our standpoint, having professional civilian road test examiners, it allows the RMV to have a more comprehensive drivers education program,” RMV senior communications advisor Ann C. Dufresne said. “It used to be — and we only know this anecdotally — that kids used to shop around. ‘Go to Waltham, they don’t have you do three-point turns there,’ ” she added.

Ms. Dufresne said there will be more uniformity in testing with the civilian examiners. But so far, it doesn’t look like the road test is any easier on the Island with the new examiner.

In three months of data with the civilian examiner administering the test, 40 per cent of all who took the road test in a car or truck failed. The average failure rate statewide in those three months was only about 22 per cent for both regular vehicles and motorcycles.

“We can only comment on three months worth of data that we have gathered so far. I can tell you that we are monitoring the pass/fail rates as our examiners grow more comfortable in the job and gather more experience,” Ms. Dufresne said. “When we see a pass/fail rate such as what we’re seeing on Martha’s Vineyard, it is cause for further — I wouldn’t say investigation — we want to know why. It’s higher than our average.” She continued:

“There could be all kinds of reasons for that. We have seen anecdotally [that] people coming in to take the road test in Nantucket have been a population that has not had any prior driver education training. And that may be the case on Martha’s Vineyard, as well. That makes a big difference when you go to take the road test.”

Ms. Dufresne said the civilian examiner reported that generally, test-takers on Nantucket who had not taken a driver education course were summer workers.

“We’re going to continue to monitor and look for any issue that needs to be addressed. The ultimate goal is to turn out qualified drivers, so the rest of us who are on the road can be assured of safety,” she said. “If we find that an examiner is being very, very stringent, we want to look into the type of applicant they’re getting and analyze what they’re failing them for. You could fail because the car failed,” she added.

This is the first time in 15 years that the RMV has handled its road tests in-house. Before the state police took over testing in 1992, the RMV had its own police officers who administered the driving exam. Sergeant Maciel was one of those officers. The RMV police then became part of the state police, and Sergeant Maciel continued giving the test as a state police officer.

“So far, we’re extremely pleased with the professionalism of the new examiners,” Ms. Dufresne said. “We’re very excited to have a customer-friendly approach to road tests. With the other changes we’ve made in the drivers education curriculum, with more standardized learners permit tests, we feel we’ll have better drivers on the road,” she added.

Sergeant Maciel said he was sorry to leave the post.

“I miss the interaction with the drivers — especially the younger drivers,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for the police to make contact with younger drivers before they get on the road. It’s probably the only time they’ll listen to every word you say. You’ll always remember your road test.”