Driver education

After slowing down because of the coronavirus pandemic, driver education courses and road tests are beginning to restart in the area, with modifications to protect instructors and students.

Students in Central Virginia can start taking behind the wheel classes again but will not be able to receive their actual driver’s licenses just yet.

In Virginia, drivers under the age of 18 are required to take behind the wheel classes and pass a road test before receiving their licenses. Typically, these classes and tests are offered through a student’s public high school or through various private driver education companies.

As with nearly every aspect of everyday life, the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing have created complications for behind the wheel courses, in some cases leading school districts to temporarily suspend them.

However, even if a school district continues to offer behind the wheel, students in some localities will not be able to receive their actual driver’s license for an undetermined amount of time, as required juvenile and domestic court licensing ceremonies have been continued by the Supreme Court of Virginia orders.

According to an April 22 judicial emergency order from the state Supreme Court, all in-person ceremonies, including court graduation and juvenile licensing ceremonies, shall be continued unless a locality’s court decides to conduct the ceremonies “via a secure two-way electronic audio-visual communication system such as Polycom or WebEx, or by telephone, while protecting the health and safety of the participants and court personnel.”

The court’s judicial emergency has been continued several times since then, most recently on July 8.

Locally, the Albemarle County school division is again offering behind the wheel courses but, according to the county Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, juvenile licensing ceremonies have been suspended for the time being.

Juveniles who complete behind the wheel courses and pass their road test still will receive paper provisional licenses, which are good for six months. If the court’s judicial emergency continues to be extended, it is unclear whether the longevity of provisional licenses also will be extended.

According to Phil Giaramita, spokesman for the county schools, behind the wheel classes resumed this past week after James Lane, the state superintendent of instruction, advised school divisions to restart the courses.

“Our program will resume on [July 13th] with priority given to those students taking re-tests, those students whose classes were interrupted by the shutdown and students who were enrolled at the time of the shutdown and had their registration fee refunded,” Giaramita wrote in an email. “The program will operate at all three of our comprehensive high schools — Albemarle, Monticello and Western Albemarle.”

The county schools will continue to limit vehicles to three passengers; one instructor and two students. All will be required to wear masks, cars will be disinfected between use and all students will undergo a temperature check prior to each session.

According to Giaramira, the county schools currently enroll about 400 students per year in behind the wheel courses. The number this year was closer to 250, with the shutdown, but the district anticipates a number closer to normal count in the 2020-21 school year.

The district intends to open registration to any teen and will not restrict registrations to Albemarle County students, according to Giaramita.

According to Krissy Vick, a spokeswoman for the city schools, the district has suspended its summer behind the wheel classes and will be re-evaluating once more is known about fall learning plans.

“If/when we return to face-to-face learning, we will have to weigh our options then in consultation with the health department,” Vick wrote in an email.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, which does not do road tests for juveniles, recently announced that it has resumed passenger vehicle and motorcycle road tests, with modifications for COVID-19 safety.

As part of the modifications for the passenger vehicle test, the test examiner will communicate with the customer from outside of the vehicle on a closed, controlled course.

The road tests are being offered at a few DMV locations around the state right now, and will be available at the Charlottesville DMV sometime in the coming weeks, according to a news release, though no date has been announced yet.

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