| Debbie Gardner
SPRINGFIELD – For those lucky teens who got their driver’s licenses before the coronavirus pandemic virtually closed down the Registry of Motor Vehicles, we’re in what’s known as the “100 Deadliest Days” - the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day when an average of seven people per day die in car accidents - many of them new drivers.
For those teens who were hoping to get that coveted learner’s permit - or finally finish their on-road driving instruction or take their road test - this may be a summer of frustration.
Though Gov. Charlie Baker reopened driving schools on June 8 as a part of the Phase 2 reopening of Massachusetts, the suspension of learners’ permit testing and on-road driving exams as of March 18 means there’s nearly a three-month backlog of individuals already in limbo that will need to be cleared before any new applications can be processed.
“A lot of families are frustrated. A lot of kids who would have been eligible to get their permits in March, April, May, up until June 8 - I don’t know how much longer [the wait will be],” Cherie Pease, driving school supervisor for AAA Pioneer Valley told Reminder Publishing, adding as of June 8 the driving school had “no word on when the RMV will resume driving tests.”
Pease said she suspects it will be ‘a minimum of six months” before the backlog is cleared, especially when it comes to applying for learner’s permits, which require the applicant to produce supporting documentation of age and residency to be considered. The RMV, she said, does not accept that type of documentation online.
Effective June 10, the RMV announced that individuals who have presented the required documents to apply for and take the learner’s permit test will be able to take the exam online. The RMV also began making in-person appointments at select locations for document verification, beginning with individuals who turned 16 years of age in March. According to the website, individuals should complete the learner’s permit application online at Mass.Gov/RMV, then go to the homepage, select make/cancel appointment and choose learner’s permit to make the appointment for document approval.
“Now you’re going to have a flurry of students rushing to get their permits and then trying to get lessons and get their license,” Pease said, noting the majority would most likely be able to get their licenses “toward the end of the year, depending on when the RMV resumes road tests.”
However, that, too, will prove problematic, even though the RMV has stated that individuals with learner’s permits expiring in March and April would have those permits extended until December, along with other extensions on licenses and ID cards.*
“Once the RMV opens up they have a large backup - they cancelled 60 days of driving tests - they [put off] over 7,000 road tests - they have to get that caught up too,” Pease added
The one bright spot has been that the RMV allowed the classroom portion of driving instruction to continue during the past three months, albeit online rather than in-person, as AAA and other driving schools have been accustomed to conducting the instruction. The move to an online format, however, wasn’t without its own complications, as information had to be reformatted to work within a new learning environment - some videos, for example, were too long - additional equipment needed to be purchased and teaching styles had to change.
“It's been huge expense,” Pease said.” We were able to run one classroom with one instructor. Now we needed two instructors because doing it on Zoom means you have one running the lesson, another taking questions, muting and unmuting students and taking attendance to make sure everyone is present all the time.” She’s hoping that, after the time and expense invested in creating online classroom instruction, the RMV will allow driving schools to continue to offer it as an option once in-person classes are allowed to resume.
Though on-the-road driving instruction has resumed, Pease said students and parents still need to be patient regarding completion of the required hours to take the on-road exam, and with scheduling the exam itself. Priority seating for the road tests will begin with those that were cancelled between March 16 and May 17, she said, and the structure of on-road lessons has had to change to meet new health and safety standards. There will only be one student and an instructor allowed in the car at any one time for now - meaning obtaining observation hours will be problematic for the time being - masks must be worn by both parties and the time between students will need to increase to allow for cleaning and sanitizing the car.
For parents of new teen drivers who did obtain their license before the RMV shutdown, AAA offers a guide to talking to their teen about safer driving practices during these ‘100 Deadliest Days”, including a parent-teen driving agreement template, online at https://teendriving.aaa.com/MA/.
*Individuals with driver’s licenses or ID cards that expired in March, April or May now have until September to renew their licenses. Those whose licenses expire in June have until October, in July have until November. The license or ID card must be renewed by the same date as the original expiration, in the new corresponding month. License renewals and standard ID cards can, in many cases, be renewed online. Those wishing Real ID licenses must wait to renew in person. AAA can now process license renewals, registration renewals and some other RMV tasks for members. Appointments are required.