ctnewsjunkie file photo
DMV in Wethersfield (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

Road tests for new drivers will resume in Phase Two of reopening Connecticut, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles, but driving students and driving schools say they have been left in the dark.

Driving schools have been teaching virtual driver’s education classes required for 16- and 17-year-old drivers since March. Now, many students have completed their classroom hours virtually and are ready to finish their on-the-road lessons with an instructor or take the road test to earn a license. But these students must first wait for the drivers who were scheduled to take a test in the past three months to take theirs.

“Obviously there is going to be a bit of a backlog, there’s no doubt about it,” said Tony Guerrera, deputy commissioner of the DMV.

Brandon Dufour, CEO of The Next Street Driving School, said he has been trying to reach out to the DMV for the past three months in hopes that the state’s driving schools can work alongside the DMV to eliminate the backlog and start testing again.

“They have communicated with us not at all,” Dufour said. “We have been met with nonresponses or, ‘We do not know the answer to that question.’”

Guerrera said he believes a letter was sent out to driving schools June 10, to inform them about the plans to restart testing with Phase 2. He also said that division managers at the DMV have been in touch with driving schools in Connecticut about plans for reopening.

Dufour said The Next Street sent the DMV two proposals last week to expedite the testing process while keeping students and test proctors safe. One solution would allow the certified driving instructors to administer the license test in one of the cars owned by the driving school which could easily be cleaned.

“Our licensed instructors go through a rigorous training program and are well qualified to judge a person’s capabilities and could very easily facilitate the test and send the result over to the DMV,” Dufour said. “It could be done in our cars, which is a controlled environment.”

Guerrera said this plan would be a conflict of interest because the student driver is a customer of the person testing them.

“How can you be objective when you fail them?” Guerrera said. “They will ask for their money back.”

Dufour’s other solution would eliminate testing on-site at the DMV. This would mean that DMV inspectors would not have to get into the student’s car, and instead could administer the test in the recently cleaned cars owned by the driving school.

Guerrera has been considering other solutions, and said Dufour’s second plan can go into effect once Phase Two of reopening begins. He said one way the DMV may be able to deal with the backlog would be offering overtime to the inspectors who administer the tests and increasing the number of inspectors going out to testing sites. He said they will try to streamline the permit test process to free up more inspectors to administer road tests.

“It’s making us think how we can try to tackle this in a way that maximizes all of our employees and the best benefits to the people out there that are ready to take their license,” Guerrera said.

Jen Cooper of Middletown has a son who is ready to take his license test. It was supposed to be March 26, just days after the DMV closed. Since then, she hasn’t heard from the DMV or his driving school about when he will be able to take his test.

“It is frustrating because he had his last class to take before the test and he would’ve been done so he could start working in his trade this summer and get a job lined up for work — base learning hours for school for September,” Cooper said.

Dufour said he wished he had more information to give to customers left in the dark.

“It’s really embarrassing for us not to have the answers our customers need,” Dufour said.

Guerrera affirmed that members of the DMV have been in touch with driving schools, but said that the agency is not responsible for telling a private business how to reopen. He said that inspectors will be coming to driving school locations when Phase Two begins as long as the schools have instituted measures to keep students and inspectors safe.

Other states across the country have had to get creative to do road tests while keeping students safe and socially distant from the instructor.

In Georgia and Michigan, new drivers are allowed to skip the test as long as they log the required number of practice hours. In other states, the driving inspector examines the student’s driving ability from outside the car in a different car.

Guerrera said having the inspector in the car is possible, as long as they take precautions.

“We’re going to try and put a plan in place that allows the instructor in the car but makes sure that all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed,” Guerrera said. “That before they get in the vehicle it is cleaned, the questions have been asked to that student in regards to COVID and the CDC guidelines, that they have a mask and that they take a temperature test.”

Ruth Lintz’s daughter hoped she would be able to drive herself to work this summer. The backlog of tests means she has no idea when her daughter will be able to take the test. While she understands the delays, her daughter estimates she won’t even be able to get her license this year.

“It’s a little scary, that backlog,” Lintz, of East Hampton, said. “The one driving school she goes to, there are like 70 to 100 kids in a class. How could the DMV manage all of that? It seems like an awfully big job.”

Dufour agrees that it will be a big undertaking. He said the DMV typically will test between 3,000 and 4,000 students a month. The closure for the past three months means there will be between 9,000 and 12,000 students who need to make up a test, plus those who haven’t yet scheduled one, but are ready.

Guerrera said that like restaurants and other businesses, the DMV will have to learn a new way to operate as a result of COVID-19. He hopes this can lead to some positive long-term changes.

“No one saw this coming to us,” Guerrera said. “It’s not a snowstorm where you plow the DMV and it opens up the next day. This is a whole new animal and we have to handle this in a thoughtful manner that doesn’t have ramifications later on.”