9 Investigates: The safety concerns behind getting your driver’s license during the pandemic

9 Investigates: The safety concerns behind getting your driver’s license during the pandemic

NORTH CAROLINA — Long wait times at the DMV haven’t gone away during the pandemic, but driving tests have changed.

Young drivers are being road tested without actually driving on the roads. This begs the question: Are those new drivers ready?

Safety advocates across the country are sounding the alarm that the pandemic could lead to drivers less prepared for the roads.

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According to the National Highway Safety Administration, more than 2,100 people have died in crashes where a teen was behind the wheel in the last three years.

Currently, in North Carolina, road tests are performed in the parking lot at a DMV office.

Steve Abbot, assistant director for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, says the agency has had to scramble to provide services amid the pandemic while keeping their employees safe.

He says 18 DMV offices are closed across the state and only two in the Charlotte area offer road tests for drivers trying to get their full license.

Channel 9 anchor John Paul watched a road test at the Huntersville office. It took less than three minutes to complete. Before the pandemic, a test could take up to an hour.

“It was easy. It was really easy,” said 17-year-old Anthony Quartetti. “Make a left turn, back up, move forward and stop.”

Ryan Pietzsch is with the National Safety Council, a nonprofit that focuses on traffic safety.

He says he understands the reasons for the new, scaled-back test, but he doesn’t know how effective it is because the data isn’t available yet.

“The most dangerous, typically, are the new drivers because they lack experience,” he said.

He says North Carolina is doing a better job to prepare young drivers than other states because of the graduated licensing system here.

The first level allows teens to drive while supervised after completing a driver’s education course.

After 12 months and 60 hours of driving, a teen can move to level 2, which allows unsupervised driving during certain hours.

The third and final level comes six months later, after the new contactless road test.

Quartetti says he feels like he’s ready to be on the roads thanks to the graduated system. His mom says she’s glad the state requires it.

“It’s probably harder on the kids, but it’s better to give the graduated licenses,” she said.

Now, the state Senate is taking up this issue. Last week, a bill was introduced that would let the DMV outsource the road test so it could be offered in person.

Lawmakers push to help NC teens get their licenses during pandemic