HomeMarchLicensed to Drive: COVID-19 makes prospective drivers shift gears

Licensed to Drive: COVID-19 makes prospective drivers shift gears

Published March 31, 2021


Despite being under continued COVID-19 restrictions, sophomores at Carmel High School still have something to look forward to: their driver’s license. The process to get that revered plastic card has changed during the COVID-19 era as protocol in driving classes has shifted, but this has not inhibited some students’ newfound driving freedom.

Once students turn 15 and a half, they become eligible to receive their learners permit, but much to the dismay of many teenagers, a lengthy procedure of 30 hours of online instruction precedes their learner’s permit application. 

“The course was a little bit extensive,” notes CHS sophomore May Drummond. “The 30 hours didn’t seem necessary. I think it would be better and easier to learn if you could do it in less time, especially because you have to do driving practice on top of it.”

After students complete their online course, they turn to the Department of Motor Vehicles with their birth certificate, Social Security card and two bills for proof of residence in hand. At this stage, they receive the honor of being able to take their permit test, with the hope of passing.

“The wait leading up to the test was stressful,” CHS sophomore Reygan Bethea says. “Filling out all of the forms was quite nerve-wracking, but once I started to take the test, I felt pretty comfortable. I had taken plenty of practice tests, which honestly was the thing that prepared me the most.”

Once they receive their instructional permits, students are halfway done with the battle to get their driver’s license. Next, prospective drivers must complete 50 hours of practice behind the wheel, 10 of which must be done at night, and 6 of which need to be spent getting instruction from a DMV-certified instruction program. 

CHS sophomore Maya Yamada shows friends her new car. (courtesy of Maya Yamada)

For CHS students, many of them chose Drive Carmel as their program of choice, but during COVID-19, the classes look a little different. Students explain that when they get in the car with their instructor, both of them wearing masks, then check their mirrors, adjust their seats and then open two windows: one in the front of the car and one in the back. This addition to the pre-driving procedure allows for air circulation, which makes the process more COVID-19 safe. 

Fifty hours later, the permit-clad teenagers are in the home stretch of the driving process. During a second trip to the DMV, they take their behind-the-wheel driving test, the final obstacle between them and a license. The majority of CHS teenagers choose to take their test at the Seaside DMV, and once in the car with their DMV driving instructor, students review all of the signals before driving around downtown Seaside and the residential areas surrounding it. 

“I was very nervous to take my in-person driving test at first, but those nerves were totally not necessary,” says sophomore Maya Yamada. “The test only took 15 minutes total and the instructor was very clear about the directions when we were driving.”

After passing their driving test, these 16-year-olds become licensed to drive, though with regulations on their abilities. For a year following their driving test, new drivers are not permitted to be on the road between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. or have people under 20 years old in the vehicle, unless another licensed driver over 25 is also present.

Despite the lengthy process towards complete autonomy, these regulations have no effect on the mood of teenagers after getting their ticket to freedom, the majority of them expressing excitement about their newfound independence and the feeling of becoming an adult. 

“My favorite part of having my license is being able to run errands for my parents,” Yamada explains. “For the past 16 years of my life, my mom has driven me everywhere. So it’s nice being able to do things for my parents as a thank you for everything they did for me growing up.”

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