WCX 2023: Can You Drive like SAE J3300

SAE puts the J3300 global standard for driving skills on track at WCX 2023 for attendees to measure their mettle on the pedal.

“It really captures the essence of towing a trailer and the critical elements of wide turns and backing up a trailer,” Rich Demary, director of SAE’s ITC Probitas, said of the WCX driving skills demonstration test for trailer towing. (Kami Buchholz)

A valid driver’s license from any country put attendees in the driver’s seat at SAE WCX 2023, allowing them to test their driving skills using SAE J3300, the driving skills standard used to certify test engineers, vehicle dynamics development teams and proving-ground testing staff. J3300 also is used to validate valet drivers and is even used by some driving schools.

WCX attendees can get behind the wheel of a new Mustang GT in a J3300 driving skills demonstration course at Detroit’s Huntington Place. (Kami Buchholz)

“We’re building awareness for SAE J3300 by giving WCX attendees a hands-on taste of what it’s like to go through the certification program,” explained Mark Zar, SAE J3300 standards committee manager. The WCX mini courses provide attendees with a simulated driving skills experience.

He noted that no one receives certification at the WCX event, held on two separate courses inside Detroit’s Huntington Place. “Participants might think they’re going to drive on a super-easy course, but it’s really not as easy as it looks,” said Derek Logan, SAE J3300 standards committee chairperson and senior engineer at Nissan.

A simulated basic level driving skills test at WCX lets drivers take the wheel of a 2020 Ford Mustang GT on a twisty course through orange cones. Another test puts the driver behind the wheel of a 2023 Jeep Wrangler 392 towing a single-axle U-Haul trailer. That demonstration involves backing up the trailer into a rectangular-shaped parking spot.

The driving skills certifications, maintained with annual validation requirements, are especially relevant for vehicle test engineers and proving ground test drivers as well as valet drivers and teen drivers. “Anyone who drives can benefit from receiving certification. When someone is certified to J3300 driving skills standards, that person has met objective criteria that is the same all over the world,” Logan said.

Shortly after the WCX ride and drive area opened on Tuesday morning, Alvin Ahn was piloting the Mustang through a cone-lined course. He passed a simulated Level 2 test, completing timed laps with less than a 10% variation from lap-to-lap. As also required, he did the driving without hitting any cones, without going off-course, and without missing gates while following instructions from an instructor in the front passenger seat.

“I just like cars in general and it’s a free opportunity to drive a Mustang, so I wasn’t going to pass it up,” Ahn told SAE Media after completing the course. Ahn will test his driving skills again at the Formula SAE competition in May at the Michigan International Speedway as the driver of the University of Southern California’s ICE-fueled race car.

Andrei Begu was mildly stressed when he began driving the Mustang through the course, but the nervousness soon subsided. “It was fun,” Begu said. Sometime during WCX, he intends to test his skills while backing up a trailer — a driving task that’s a bit alien to the systems engineering associate. “My dad’s a truck driver [18-wheeler], so I’m hoping it’s in my genes,” Begu said.

For individuals seeking formal SAE J3300 driving skills certification, testing occurs on a closed test track with pass or fail determinations made by SAE approved examiners. There are multiple driving tests for each of the various foundational driving levels, ranging from basic to extremely advanced. There are also endorsements for specialty applications, such as trailer towing and winter driving. Certifications are made through Probitas Authentication, the personnel credentialing body for SAE J3300.

Earning certification requires that a driver meet specific driving criteria, such as demonstrating the ability to maneuver the test vehicle without striking objects in the operating environment, demonstrating an appropriate level of vehicle control, and demonstrating the ability of consistently repeating the driving tasks.

“The certification process isn’t just about driving skills. There are also behavior/attitude components, such as not being distracted while driving and following instructions,” Logan said.

Current certifications cover a progressive slate of Driving Levels (DL 1-4) as well as endorsements for specialty applications. “We’re currently working on a fallback safety driver certification for vehicles equipped with automated driving systems, so that will be another standard within the family of J3300 standards,” Logan explained.

Additional driving skills endorsements might materialize in the future. “Although we don’t have anything on the books right now, we might consider adding an endorsement for manual transmission driving. We also might look at adding an endorsement for ambulance, police and other first-responder driving,” Logan noted.