by Riley Sandoval ‘22
Like most things during the pandemic, the way teens receive their driver’s licenses has also changed. The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) has modified the drivers test for a provisional license in order to follow the guidelines laid out by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
With the modified exam, the driving instructor cannot be in the passenger seat of the vehicle like before. To properly social distance, they will instead evaluate from outside of the car. The new test will not include an on-the-road portion, as the instructor cannot monitor the driving on an actual road from outside the vehicle. It will be performed completely in a small parking lot, a closed course designed to mirror the real road test. Drivers will still be tasked with the vehicle inspection, head traffic checks, pull-in parking, back in parking, a three point turn, and stopping at three stop signs, all of which will be completed in the closed course.
To take the test, teens must have completed a driver’s education course, a valid learner’s permit, and an appointment for the test. The MVA is open for appointment only. There is no designated amount of time an appointment needs to be made in advance. However the earlier it is made, the more likely it is to get an appointment that works best for the teen. Learner’s permit tests are also available by appointment only at the MVA. The driver’s education courses are now available online.
Behind-the-wheel, also known as in-car instruction, is available in person by companies like I Drive Smart and Access Driving Academy. “I found that virtual drivers ed was a lot better than sitting in a room for three hours doing drivers ed because I was able to focus better and relax while learning. I also did all three of my in car lessons during the pandemic and they all went very well. We both wore masks and it was fine,” junior Eliana Lang said from her driver’s education experience with I Drive Smart.
A supervising driver must accompany the teen to the exam. Upon arrival the vehicle must pass a vehicle inspection. The instructor will look to see that the car is operational and clean. They’ll also look for things like proper tags and license plates, unbroken windshield and windows without cracks, intact rear view and side mirrors, working lights, brake and gas pedals, properly inflated tires, etc. Depending on the location, the supervising driver or teen will do the inspection with the instructor. Nonetheless the teen should know the vehicle and where everything is to be a safe driver. If the car does not pass the vehicle inspection, the teen will not be permitted to take the test and will have to reschedule and make a new appointment.
The other main skills to master are pull-in parking, back in parking, and a three point turn, which will be demonstrated in the closed course. “For parking, I was given two parking spaces, outlined by a set of about six orange cones, and I was tasked with backing into and pulling into both spots within the course of a two minute time period for each. As for the three point turn, I had to pull straight into a closed in square with three sets of concrete surrounding it, and attempt to finagle my way outside of the box and go back out the way I came in without hitting the curbs,” described junior Zoe Peenstra who took the modified test last August. There are three minutes provided to complete the three point turn, and it is similar to pulling in and out of a parking spot to leave after a shopping trip.
There are some important things to remember while taking the test that could result in an automatic failure. Remember to fasten the seatbelt and wear glasses or contacts if necessary. Obey all traffic signs and the instructor’s directions. Use blinkers when turning, and always come to a full stop at stop signs. Don’t hit any of the cones or curbs, and make sure to get the parking skills completed in the time constraint.
With the pandemic modifications to the test, some teens feel the test is easier and less stressful. “I’m normally a nervous test taker, but without the keen eyes of the instructor next to me, I felt more at ease alone in my car. I felt I had a clearer head space,” said Peenstra. While the modified test may seem easier to pass, it is still vital to learn how to drive safely for the real roads. Getting a license is always an exciting thing. “Just drive a lot and drive everywhere. Don’t be scared of the highway because everyone is paying attention to the road and with practice, driving is less scary!” added Lang.