COVID-19 has quickly changed nearly every aspect of our daily lives from school to work to recreation. It’s also put a serious damper on some major life milestones for teens, including prom, graduation and sports tournaments. Coronavirus has even made it difficult (if not impossible in some states) for teens to get their driver’s licenses on schedule.
Some states recognize this is a serious problem and are changing the process of getting a driver’s license to allow teens to get one during the coronavirus pandemic. Let’s take a look at what changes are being made and how these changes are affecting driver’s license applicants.
What Are the Biggest Changes to The Process of Getting a Driver’s License?
The changes that teen drivers and their parents experience depends on where they live, and they go well beyond wearing a mask. Each state has been impacted by the coronavirus differently and has developed its own safety protocols accordingly. Below is an overview to give student drivers a better idea of how different the process of getting a license is today.
Logging Time Behind the Wheel
In states like Pennsylvania that had strict lockdown orders, even driving practice was not an acceptable reason to leave the house. To log your required practice hours, your driving practice needs to be for “essential” errands like going to the grocery store or pharmacy. Currently, the road tests are still on hold so at least teens have time to get their practice hours done.
In many states, including California and Massachusetts, learner’s permit expiration dates were automatically extended until the states deem it safe to resume “normal” operations. You could still legally drive on your expired learner’s permit at the time. The extensions also pushed back the timeline for completing road tests now that they are being administered again.
Appointments Are a Must
At one time you could stroll into the DMV office whenever you wanted. You’d probably wait for hours, but it was possible. Today, that isn’t the case. Nearly all state DMVs, BMVs and DOTs now require that an appointment be made online before taking knowledge tests and road tests.
This was highly recommended before the COVID-19 pandemic, but now walk-in services are extremely limited.
Modified Road Tests
After initially waiving the road test for teens, Georgia decided that was a little too extreme for the state. Instead of giving 16 and 17-year olds a pass, Georgia is now conducting modified road tests.
During the modified road test, the administrator never gets in the vehicle. A licensed parent or guardian sits in the passenger seat while the administrator watches. Students still have to perform all of the same maneuvers on a closed course and will be scored the same as a regular test.
Georgia isn’t the only state using this new method of evaluation. Road test evaluators are staying outside of the vehicle in Ohio as well. In California, the evaluator is in the vehicle, but you have to drive with at least two windows down and a mask on the entire time.
Before scheduling a road test call ahead to figure out just what to expect during the exam so you’re fully prepared.
Which States Are Waiving Behind-The-Wheel Tests?
In an unprecedented move, some states are issuing driver’s licenses without requiring a behind-the-wheel driving test. That’s right - you could get your driver’s license without taking a behind-the-wheel test.
Georgia Renigs Their Road Test Waiver
As noted above, Georgia was the first state to waive behind-the-wheel tests for applicants on April 23, 2020. Drivers between 16-18 years old that held a learner’s permit for over a year with no violations were able to get a driver’s license online without passing a state driving test. But that quickly changed on May 12, 2020 when driving tests were reinstated. By then 20,000 teens received their license without taking the test. Now those teens will have to take the modified road test by September 30, 2020 or they’ll have their license revoked.
Wisconsin Waives Road Tests for Probationary Drivers Licenses
In Wisconsin, drivers under 18 can apply for a road test waiver if they have:
Completed drivers ed
Took a behind the wheel course
Clocked 30 hours of in-car training
Held a learner’s permit for 6+ months with no violations
Not failed the road test in the past
To get an online waiver you’ll need an adult sponsor. The state reserves the right to test drivers who used waivers once the pandemic has passed.
Texas Allows Third-Party Road Tests
In Texas, the Department of Public Safety is offering road tests by appointment only. However, qualified drivers are allowed to take their behind-the-wheel test through a third-party skills test provider (like your behind-the-wheel driving instructor) instead of taking the test with a DPS agent.
In North Carolina, 16 and 17-year olds that want to upgrade to a Level 2 limited provisional license may be eligible for a road test waiver. Older drivers could get a waiver for a Class C license. But if you failed the road test previously or have received a moving violation it’s an automatic disqualifier. Drivers under 18 must have also held a Level 1 limited learner permit for at least a year.
There are a number of criteria for different waiver scenarios. Until the state reaches Phase 3 of reopening the new criteria and waivers will remain in place.
What Does the Lack of Behind-The-Wheel Testing Mean for You?
While not having a behind-the-wheel test might feel like a free pass for you, it’s not! These changes are just shifting the responsibility of determining license-readiness from the state to you. They may also simply delay taking the test until after the pandemic is over.
Regardless, you’ll need to pay extra attention to your driver’s ed courses and be extra vigilant while you’re driving. Skirting the driving tests can make driving riskier because there are untested drivers on the road. Defensive driving will be more important than ever before.
How Long Will This Last?
Unfortunately, no one truly knows how long this pandemic will last. While many states have assigned expiration dates for their temporary driver’s license policies, they’re all careful to say that these dates may be extended as needed. Changes won’t happen across the country at the same time, and policies within the state could end up changing only in certain regions.
With many experts concerned about a possible third wave of the coronavirus in the fall, some states may choose to keep these temporary policies in place through the end of 2020 or even until a vaccine can be made available.
Always check your state’s driver’s bureau for the most up-to-date local information on the changing process of getting a driver’s license. We’ll continue to update our students on any changes being made by their State Governments so you have the latest details.
*This article was updated on 8/24/2020