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Learning to Drive Through Distance Learning?

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August 2, 2020

By Kira Ratan–

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in a press release on Wednesday that DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) licensed driving schools can now conduct Pre-Licensing Courses through distance learning. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, driving schools across the state had previously been unable to offer Pre-Licensing—also known as the five-hour course–to students.

Now, with social distancing guidelines already in place, pre-licensing courses have been approved to conduct learning online, via Zoom, Skype, WebEx, and Go To Meeting. To view additional guidelines, click here.

“The pre-licensing course is critical for New Yorkers to learn how to drive safely,” Governor Cuomo said, “And allowing driving schools to teach this course remotely will allow courses to resume without risking the health and safety of those participating.”

Many high schoolers had to wait months after their birthdays to take the written test for a learner’s permit, and longer yet for driving courses to open. Now, even with pre-licensing courses available, many students and their families are asking themselves whether online learning will be enough and if in-person driving lessons are too big of a risk.

Annie Fabian is a rising junior at The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry. She turned 16 in mid-April, at the height of the pandemic in New York, and didn’t get her learner’s permit until late July. Now, she’s scrambling to find pre-licensing courses near her that will offer close to the same experience as pre-pandemic driver’s ed.

“It’s really frustrating to have had to wait so long to get my permit, and now I have to wait even longer to take driver’s ed,” she complained. “I have an immunocompromised family member, so I have to be very cautious of my exposure. I really don’t feel like in person drivers ed would be the safest option, but I don’t think online is feasible either; so much of getting good at driving is being comfortable behind the wheel.”

Before the pandemic, schools often offered pre-licensing courses as an after-school program. However, with school re-entry plans still up in the air in many districts, students must find independent driving schools that are offering distance learning.

Lucia Balestrieri, a rising junior at Sleepy Hollow High School, booked her permit test at the DMV months in advance, just so she could get an appointment close to her 16th birthday, which is in September. Balestrieri’s parents are worried about the risks of any in-person instruction at all. “[They] wonder if the practical driving instruction is worth it, especially with so many people in the same car,” she says. Despite her parents’ concerns, Balestrieri is committed to meeting all of the requirements needed to take her road test when the time comes.

“I don’t think [online learning] will make too much of a difference when it comes to learning the basics, but missing out on personal instruction in the actual car would be a loss.”

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