A Traffic Time Bomb? Forgoing Road Tests and the Future of Road Safety - OZY | A Modern Media Company
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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because getting your driver's license is not as important as protecting the lives of others.

By Joshua Eferighe

Inspired by Georgia’s decision to grant driver’s licenses without tests, 17-year-old New Jersey high school graduate Jake Snyder petitioned his state’s governor, Phil Murphy, seeking similar leeway.

Titled “Allow 17-Year-Olds to Receive Their Driver’s License in New Jersey Without the Road Test,” Snyder’s campaign on Change.org got 11,000 signatures within five days last month. While New Jersey hasn’t changed its rules, Snyder’s petition marks a trend that experts worry could lead the country toward a crisis with thousands of untested drivers on the roads in coming months.

In May, a Wisconsin pilot program waived road tests for a probationary driver’s license for drivers under the age of 18 who have successfully completed training requirements. With Department of Motor Vehicles test centers shut, Texas in late April allowed those with a state learner’s permit and otherwise eligible to apply for a provisional or unrestricted license to get one by simply requesting it.

Waiving road test requirements … would be a short-sighted and dangerous move.

Alex Epstein, National Safety Council

“Waiving road test requirements for teens to get their driver’s license … would be a shortsighted and dangerous move that winds up putting all roadway users at risk,” says Alex Epstein, director of transportation safety at the National Safety Council.

Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of teenage deaths in the United States. And once lockdowns lift completely, experts expect a surge in cars on the streets as wary commuters avoid public transport.

Georgia, after facing criticism, has since backtracked, saying that the 20,000 students who benefited from the waiver must now take the test by Sept. 30.

The DMV could have avoided this impending crisis by allowing private third-party driving schools to test candidates seeking their licenses, says Christi Warthan, president of 843 Let’sDrive, one such school in Summerville, South Carolina.

Warthan says that they spray a disinfectant approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and place plastic slipcovers over the seats every time a student gets in the car. While instructor and student can’t maintain the recommended 6 feet from each other, both have their temperatures taken, and the student is questioned about their recent medical history. “My driving school alone has four safety officers who are certified to administer the road test,” she tells me.

For Warthan, making sure everyone behind the wheel is tested to drive safely is personal after she nearly lost her eldest daughter in a road accident. “I vowed to do everything I can to make sure other families are never put in that same situation,” she says. 

Thanks to the relaxed norms during the pandemic, it might already be too late.

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