SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Three DMV offices reopen Monday in South Burlington, Montpelier and Rutland for in-person road test appointments.
That means Vermont's first in-person driver's license test in almost three months is at 8 a.m. Monday and the road to get there is also a slightly different route than before the pandemic.
"It's why I do this. The classroom part's all well and good, but I love watching people learn and improve. So this is really why it's fun. This is the important part," said Mike Anderson, a driving instructor with Associates in Driving in Williston.
While driving is no different than before the pandemic, what happens before the car is turned on has changed. Before each session, Anderson sanitizes the car, takes the driver's temperature and asks if they feel any COVID-19 symptoms.
He and the student must also wear masks and drive with the windows down whenever possible.
"Just a little bit more thorough of a checklist. We still ask for their permit, we are still talking about what we're going to do," said Anderson.
But there is one big change, with only two people allowed in the car at a time per the DMV's restart rules.
That's one less student in the car during training sessions. A student usually sits in the back seat fulfilling a six-hour observation requirement to get a license. As part of the new plan, that's now the parents' responsibility.
Anderson has always used a small camera situated on the dash to record the view outside and the audio inside. He says the footage now offers liability protection in the car, but more importantly, provides teachable moments in the classroom.
"You learn a lot by watching people do things correctly as well as make mistakes," said Anderson.
Valuable lessons that Anderson says prepare students for the road test.
He says students will be earning licenses sooner than expected.
"Students are calling me and telling me they've gotten scheduled," said Anderson.
"It has gone exceptionally well," Vt. DMV Commissioner Wanda Minoli said.
Minoli says 387 standard road exams are on the books this week and almost 600 for next week, plus 22 commercial driver license tests.
About 1,000 standard tests and about 200 commercial exams were canceled because of the shutdown. Plus, Minoli says, so far, 649 of the 800-driver backlog have completed the new online permit test.
"We've managed our phone times, there's been limited busy signals -- maybe a four-minute wait," said Minoli. "It is a slow restart and we do need to have time to adjust to that and my staff have to adjust to it."
Anderson says he can confidently call the DMV restart plan a success. "It's nice to be back on the road," he said.
The DMV made calls to drivers whose tests were canceled and opened a phone line for others to make an appointment. As part of the DMV's restart plan, they are also hiring a team to get exams done even faster. Fifty-one instructors attended training last Thursday that certifies them as third-party examiners who can also administer the road test under the jurisdiction of the DMV.
Vermont used to have only eight examiners. About half of the participants are private commercial instructors and half are public school instructors. Minoli says 35 of them said they'd be willing to test students other than their own.
While they wait to finalize their certifications, instructors say they have plenty of protocols to prepare for.
"At this point, what we're all doing is getting the cars ready. We gotta get masks, we've got to get gloves, we've got to get hand sanitizer, washing stations in the trunk, so people can wash up and get in. We have to make sure we disinfect the car every time a student comes in and out," said Barbara Brody with the Vermont Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association.
In the meantime, the DMV will review road test routes and other documentation to ensure the exams follow DMV standards. Once a student passes the test, the examiner will issue a 90-day temporary license using prior permit information, like the signature and picture. They will have the permanent license ready and mailed before the end of that three-months.
These drivers ed rules only apply to private schools, as public schools follow the Agency of Education guidelines. Secretary Dan French is currently working on a plan for when those instructors can restart operations.
The DMV offices are not open to foot-traffic. All services and communication should be through mail, email or online. And all interactions should be outside the building.