ST. PAUL — The coronavirus pandemic and the stay-at-home order that followed led to a mass cancellation of driving tests in Minnesota that lawmakers worry could overwhelm an already bogged down state Department of Vehicle Services.
Approximately 19,000 Class D driver's license road tests were cancelled when DVS office locations closed under the stay-at-home order, according to department estimates. Roughly 13,500 of them have already been rescheduled, threatening to make an already busy time for the DVS that much busier.
Based on the number of road tests administered last summer, as well as road test pass rates, the DVS estimates that it will conduct nearly 81,500 between now and November. Meanwhile, exam stations remain shuttered statewide due to coronavirus concerns.
Members of the Minnesota House Transportation Finance and Policy committee said Thursday, June 18, that their constituents have resorted to taking their road tests in neighboring localities as a result, and in some instances drove for hours to do so.
DVS officials acknowledged Thursday that the strain on their department has amounted to headaches for consumers, but stood firm in the belief that their plan for the months ahead is sound. That plan calls for extended testing hours at select DVS office locations, which are already in effect, and expanded online test scheduling services.
But the DVS is currently offering road tests at only 14 of its 93 exam stations in Minnesota. Department officials say, however, that by staffing those locations with more workers than usual, they can complete 33% more tests even though other test centers are closed.
"We are currently producing and able to do more tests with less staff because of the consolidation," DVS director Emma Corrie said Thursday.
Even if the department can shepherd more license seekers through its system with fewer locations, it may not make for the most pleasant experience for consumers. Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said that by having to go one town over to take a license test, an individual unknowingly infected with COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, could spread the disease.
On the other hand, he or she could become infected at a testing center as well.
"It seems to me we’re adding to that risk, plus inconveniencing these folks a great deal," he said.
In response to health concerns, Corrie said front desks at DVS offices have already been fitted with clear plastic barriers that separate workers from customers. Road test proctors, meanwhile, are taking additional steps to sanitize their equipment and test vehicles.
It's not a perfect system, she said, but it is "the right model for right now." The department is still open to other suggestions, she added, and in the near future will work with Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to add incorporate driving instruction into its workforce training program.
Additional test locations could reopen later this summer though no official timeline has been announced.
Still, some officials Thursday could not help but wonder aloud whether there was more that could be done to aid license seekers given the household financial strain and other disruptions caused by the coronavirus.
"In the current situation, where people are balancing a lot of things because of the COVID situation, I just figure there has to be a way we can do better than that," said Rep. Sandra Masin, DFL-Eagan.