Driving instructors

DMV closure puts strain on parents, teens and driving instructors

The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles offices have been closed for more than two months, with the state issuing no public plans to reopen anytime soon.

In March, the DMV suspended all in-person interactions until further notice, including the road test to obtain a driver’s license or permit. This has left many families wondering when it will be their teenager’s turn.

“It would be nice to be able to drive on my own, even though I couldn’t stop anywhere, just to get out of the house,” said Carmella Martone, a 16-year-old from Williston.

Martone thought she would be driving alone by March when she scheduled her road test. But like thousands of other Vermont teens eager to get their license, Martone’s appointment was canceled in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Most importantly, I really needed her to have the experience this summer because I wanted her to start driving in school,” said Mia Marinovich, Martone’s mother.

Marinovich says she was counting on her getting to Champlain Valley Union High School in the fall as she focused on getting her other daughter with special needs on the separate school bus.

Now, despite numerous requests to the DMV, the family has no idea if this will be possible.

“We would do whatever we had to do. They’re just not responding at all. I just want an answer on when they’re going to integrate all of this,” Marinovich said.

Like many moms, she worries once the DMV reopens there will be a huge backlog of test requests. Although the DMV recently said that those who had scheduled an appointment before the pandemic would be given priority, officials have yet to release a schedule.

Some parents who contacted us suggest the state pull a page from Georgia’s book, removing the official road test requirement for teens who have completed driver’s education. However, state officials quickly issued a new order requiring the tests, after all.

Driving instructor Mike Anderson says it would be extremely dangerous.

“Maybe they’re good drivers. The kids I drive with are good drivers. Does that mean they’re ready to get their driver’s license? No,” Anderson said.

Instead, he wonders why the authorities won’t allow him to offer road tests to his students.

“It’s not a new idea. There are third-party testers in the state already,” he said.

But only instructors who teach in secondary schools, under the authority of the Education Agency, can offer non-commercial operator license tests. All Anderson can do right now is host virtual classes a few nights a week when classes usually have to be in person.

“We paid the money to go through driving school here in Williston. At least the guy who taught her to drive – and I trusted him with her behind the wheel – at least allowed her to test,” Marinovich said.

WCAX also spoke with Northeast Driver Training owner Todd West, who says the suspension has crippled his business, as well as other businesses that rely on it. West was forced to close its Rockingham plant in March, which teaches students how to drive tractor-trailers and other large utility vehicles. At the time, he had eight students. Since then, 20 more have reached out, wondering when they might start learning.

West says he’s also received a number of inquiries from companies looking for a total of 40 competent drivers, but his business relies entirely on the DMV administering the road tests and ultimately the commercial vehicle licenses, although there are third-party CDL testers in Vermont. At this point, he says he just wants to know if the state has a plan ready to roll out very soon.

“I need the information. I really need a two week head start, so I can get my students to come and tune them in and give to the 20 who are waiting to come to the minus some sort of timeline on when they can come in here to go,” West said.

West says he wants the state to allow in-person road tests for commercial drivers by DMV appointment, like in New Hampshire. Until he can get his students out on the streets, the training center is in limbo.

WCAX has contacted the DMV several times for comment over the past three weeks. They said the commissioner was working on a restart plan, but did not explain what it entails or when it will be implemented.