As It Happens

Georgia driving teacher 'terrified and furious' as 20,000 teens get licences without road test

Nearly 2,000 teenagers in Georgia have obtained a driver’s licence without taking a road test during COVID-19, much to the worry of Sarah Casto.

Sarah Casto calls on state to allow private driving schools to administer tests during COVID-19 restrictions

Georgians are forgoing the road tests normally required to get their driver's licences during COVID-19. (wellphoto/Shutterstock)


Nearly 20,000 teenagers in Georgia have obtained a driver's licence without taking a road test during COVID-19.

On April 23, the state issued an executive order to waive all road test requirements. The idea was to avoid a future backlog of tests suspended under the state's pandemic restrictions. 

Since then, 19,483 teenagers have gotten their licences without ever having to prove they can parallel park, the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) told CNN.

DDS commissioner Spencer Moore has defended the decision, saying most of the new drivers have spent plenty of time on the road preparing, and most would have passed their in-person tests.

"We see a very high pass rate. We see more than 80 per cent on the first round," he told NBC affiliate WAVE 3.

Sarah Casto, a driving instructor at the 1st Stop Georgia Driving Academy, isn't comforted by that argument. She has organized a petition to reinstate the requirement for road tests.  Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off. 

What are you thinking when you realize that there will be teenagers who never took the road test out driving in your state?

I was terrified and furious that it became an executive order. I'm confused as to how this happened.

You're a driving instructor, so you have a pretty good sense of what state of driving ability a teenager is at when they're going to do their test. What can you tell us about how competent they are, you think, the ones who are applying online?

If their parents are driving with them, then they're decent. But they still need me to kind of show them what they're really supposed to be doing.

But a lot of the students I've taught, their parents are not driving with them, not even close to the required amount.

So I would assume that the parents that are allowing their students to get their driver's licence online are probably the same parents that are not driving with their children. Otherwise, they would want them to take a test with a professional.

Shoppers return to their cars after shopping at Lenox Square Mall in Atlanta, Ga., on Monday, as the state begins easing its COVID-19 restrictions. (John Bazemore/The Associated Press)

Is that what is required for teenagers to get their licence online, that their parents have to approve?

Yes, they have to state that they've driven with their child for 40 hours. But like I said, all they have to do is check a box. So there's no actual followup or paperwork or proof that has to be given that they've actually driven with them.

Hypothetically, a teenager could just check that box himself. A teenager could just do it behind the parents' back.

So you have launched a petition to have Georgia reinstate the test. What are you asking for?

I have about 1,600 signatures on that petition right now. And what I'm asking for is for them to stop the online distribution of licences and allow the private driving schools to take over doing the test while the DDS remains closed.

We're allowed to do tests right now, but there's a requirement that each person does six hours of lessons, which does get kind of pricey.

So if they would allow us to give the test to anyone, just like the DDS does, we're ready, willing and able to do 12 tests a day, seven days a week

You would be comfortable being in a car that many times with somebody during the ongoing issue with COVID-19?

Absolutely. Just because we do the tests in our own vehicles, and in between each student, we wipe down the car with disinfectant. Our instructors are wearing masks.

And you mentioned it's not just the teenagers who are getting their first license. This is also adults. So are you concerned about them as well?

I'm actually a little more concerned about the adults, because the adults ... have driven less, if at all, than the teenagers that I come into contact with. Because the adults don't have their parents behind them, forcing them to drive. They might not even have a car to practice in.

A lot of the adults that I've taught have gone to the Department of Driver Services first and failed the test three or four times, and then realized, "Maybe I should buy some lessons."

Well, all of those adults, now they can just get their licence and don't have to buy any lessons.

I don't want one more person to be able to do this online.- Sarah Casto, driving instructor 

They don't have to do anything at all? They just tick some boxes and off they go?

Yeah, they just have to have a learner's permit, which is very easy to get. It's just a written test.

Isn't that the running joke, when you see someone driving very badly, you say, "Where did your licence, in the mail?" 

I know. Who knew that would actually be the reality right now?

Even if you can get this reversed, does it still mean that there are [tens of thousands] of people out there who have had no test in order to drive?

I can see lawsuits in the future from someone causing an accident and then figuring out that they were never tested, and they could sue the government for that. That's just a consequence that they're going to have to deal with in the future.

But I don't want one more person to be able to do this online.

Written by Sheena goodyear. Interview produced by Tayo Bero. 

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