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Education

Like Most Milestones, Learning To Drive In A Pandemic Looks Different

The photo shows a steering wheel and the dashboard of a car.
Rachel Lippmann
/
St. Louis Public Radio
From virtual driver's ed to long wait times at the license office, the coronavirus pandemic changed how teens learned to drive.

Learning to drive is a rite of passage that teenagers across the country look forward to. But as it did with nearly everything else this year, the coronavirus pandemic changed what that milestone looked like.

Some future drivers had to wait a few months because the license offices shut down. Others, like Amanda Root’s son Tim, did driver’s ed through virtual schooling.

Quincy Senior High School made it easy for Tim to get the documents needed to get behind the wheel, Root said. And as nerve-wracking as it is to be in the car with a new driver, Root found it to be a nice distraction.

“It’s actually quite welcoming to get out of the house even if just for a drive to nowhere, around the parking lot, on a very slow street,” she said.

Rachael Barnes, who lives in Maplewood, had the opposite experience. While the pandemic left her with more time to teach her son Eliot to drive, the motivation to practice disappeared.

“There just wasn’t anywhere to go,” she said. “And so I would have to plan a route and say OK, I want him to get some practice with Manchester Road today, or Lindbergh today, or some place where we could get up to fourth gear.”

Unlike some states, Missouri and Illinois did not waive the road test requirement for obtaining a driver’s license. By the time Eliot got his license in early September, Barnes said, things were running smoothly. But for others, like Joan Reding and her daughter Lauren DeMeyer, of O’Fallon, Missouri, there were hiccups along the way.

Lauren turned 16 in July. By then, state offices had reopened, but there was a backlog from earlier closures.

“The first time we went to the testing location, I took a half-day,” Reding said. “We drove up there, we got there about 1:30 p.m., and there were tons of people, the parking lot was full, there were people waiting outside. Someone sitting in their car said, ‘we’ve been here since 10 (a.m.).’ The testing location closed at 4. So we just left.”

Lauren’s college-age sister Anna DeMeyer took her for the road test the second time. It was a long wait, and capacity restrictions meant Anna had to stay outside while Lauren used the car for the driving test.

“And then [Lauren] failed the test,” Reding said. “Her sister had said, ‘if she doesn’t pass the test, I’m never speaking to her again!’”

The sisters went back early in the morning a few days later, and Lauren passed the test on the third try.

“It was funny more than anything,” Reding said.

Missouri’s license offices are open but must comply with local capacity and masking guidelines. Driver services facilities in Illinois will be closed until Jan. 5, although some remain open for new drivers to get their licenses. They include offices in Quincy and Mascoutah.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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