Olivia Kim

DMV Closures Slow Students’ Ability to Get Driver’s Licenses

February 1, 2022

As senior Amy Maigler was driving her sister home from college in Boston for the start of her winter break, they found themselves in the middle of Indiana with two flat tires on the side of the highway. 

Because Maigler took an automotive systems class at Prospect and knew how to change a tire, she hoped that she could fix the problem. But without power tools and a breaker, they were out of luck. 

After calling roadside assistance, Maigler and her sister were told that they couldn’t be helped since they had only one spare tire available to fix their two flat tires, so they ended up waiting four hours for a tow truck to come. They finally got home at 3 a.m.

“At first, I thought this is my moment to shine,” Maigler said. “I can show my sister what I learned. And then I was like, ‘Wow, this really sucks. I just want to go home and sleep in my bed.’”

Maigler now ultimately considers this unfortunate experience to be worth the privilege of getting to drive, as well as a funny story that she can share with others. This is not the case for many teenagers who are eligible to get their driver’s license but were unable to because of COVID-19 Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) closures. 

Illinois Secretary of State Driver Services facilities have announced multiple closures since the beginning of the pandemic, including an initial closure through April 30, 2020, a closure from Nov. 17, 2020 through Dec. 7, 2020 and a closure at the beginning of 2022 that was eventually extended for another week, until Jan. 24. 

According to the Secretary of State website, the facilities closed in an effort to be as cautious as possible in the midst of increasing COVID-19 case numbers.

“It kind of gives me anxiety because I am planning on getting my license once the nine months [pass],” sophomore Bridget Derengowski, who plans on taking the road test at Top Driver, said. “I worry and I’m concerned, like what if it’s not even open and then I’ll have to wait for my license even longer.”

In response to this unpredictability, FIVE-O, like other driving schools such as Top Driver, a-Adams and Joyce’s, started offering the road test at their facilities. It wasn’t until about a year ago that private driving schools were given permission to allow students the option to take the test at their facilities rather than at the DMV.

Owner of FIVE-O Driving Schools Bill Golden said the primary reason for this change in rules was due to the fact that DMV facilities have been overwhelmed with old and new drivers; FIVE-O applied to give the road test option strictly as a service to their students that can make the process easier. 

“The student knows the route,” Golden said. “They know the car, they know the neighborhood, they know the instructor; so now, we’re really testing their driving ability. We’re taking the nervousness out of it; the unfamiliarity about it. Removing all those obstacles where students are most likely to fail their first road test.”

The cost for their road test is $65 for FIVE-O students and $100 for non-FIVE-O students, compared with $75 at Joyce’s Driving School and $30 at the DMV. 

To be eligible for this test, students must provide proof that they received an A or B on their driver’s education classroom final exam.

During their last lesson, every FIVE-O student is given the state road test in the last 20 minutes, which they can choose to opt in or out of. If a student opts in and then passes the exam, they will be given a bypass certificate and will only need to go to a DMV facility in order to get their picture taken to get their license. 

This is a popular option for FIVE-O students; Golden said over half of students in the program opt to take the test. 

However, there is one caveat to this process: the state has certain dates of the month in which students may be subject to audit, meaning that if a student comes in to get their license at the DMV with a bypass certificate on one of these audit days, then they would have to take the road test again. But, Golden said this rarely happens. 

“If you take our test, it’s a little bit harder,” Golden said. “And the reasoning behind that is since we’re harder and stricter than the DMV, I don’t worry about my students going to the DMV and taking an audit test, because they’re so good. And they’ve passed ours already. If you could pass ours, you could pass theirs.”

Prior to passing her road test at the DMV, Maigler had to get in line at 8 a.m. and didn’t get back to school that day until 1 p.m. Once inside the building, she sat in a chair, waiting further for her name to be called.

“Some girl walked past me crying because she had just come back from her test and she failed,” Maigler said. “And that sent my nerves through the roof.”

Maigler was so excited to drive that she enrolled in driver’s ed right as she turned 15 years old and was therefore able to get her license a few days after her 16th birthday, gaining a whole new world of independence. She also got a job that she liked, as she could drive herself anywhere she wanted to go and was able to explore more of her own interests. 

On the reverse side of Maigler’s situation, Derengowski, who turned 16 years old in July, took driver’s education in the fall even though she intended to take it during the spring.

Because she felt that she would benefit more from an in-person class, she waited longer, which she didn’t mind at first, but now, she tends to feel that she is missing out on the freedom that comes with being able to drive by herself. 

“It’s kind of harder, and I feel like I have to adjust to my parent’s schedules because they have to work,” Derengowski said. “So I feel like if I’d be able to drive, it’d be more flexible for me and my family.”

Similarly, junior Alex Granados, who attended Joyce’s Driving School and plans on taking the road test there at the end of January, looks forward to getting her license.

“I think it’s going to be so fun,” Granados said. “I’m going to be able to drive around and go get ramen anytime I want.” 

Both Granados and Derengowski feel that taking their road test at their driving schools will be a less stressful and faster process than it would be at the DMV.

Derengowski looks forward to the next step of maturity and responsibility she will gain from being able to drive home from practice with a license, or to go shopping whenever she wants to. 

“I think getting your license is super important,” Maigler said. “… Being able to drive has helped me explore more of my interests, … so being able to drive, you get a whole different experience than just being in the passenger seat.”

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