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driving concerns

I turned 17 in April and was really excited to get my driver’s licence. I can’t get it now because the testing centres are closed. Do you know when they’ll reopen? Is there a way for me to get a licence without the test? – Josh, Pickering, Ont.

Unless you live in Saskatchewan, you can’t get a road test in Canada right now. Without a road test, you can’t get your first driver’s licence.

Like most other provinces, Ontario stopped offering road tests in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it doesn’t know when they’ll resume.

“There is currently no set date for service resumption,” said Lee Alderson, a senior-issues adviser with Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation (MTO), in an e-mail. “It is anticipated that there will be a greater demand for road tests once services resume.”

Thousands of people have been unable to take tests. In April and May in Ontario last year, aspiring drivers took more than 143,000 road tests.

Last week, Saskatchewan started offering a small number of tests for people who work in health care and agriculture – but the driving examiners aren’t in the same car as the person taking the test.

“We’ve modified road tests so that examiners don’t share a vehicle with applicants, using dash cams and instructions over handsfree cellphones, given by an examiner in a trail vehicle,” said Tyler McMurchy, spokesman for Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI), in an e-mail.

McMurchy says the next priority will be delivering tests to the 4,500 people who had have had their road tests cancelled in the province because of COVID-19.

While no provinces other than Saskatchewan are offering road tests for general driver’s licences right now, Manitoba will resume road tests this week for drivers seeking semi-trailer licences.

For now, those tests are only offered at one centre in Winnipeg. Everyone taking the tests will have to bring their own masks.

Poetic licence

Every province offers learner’s permits, which let you drive if a licensed driver over the age of 18 is in the car with you. You can get those with just a written test.

But the only way to get a driver’s licence, which allows you to drive unsupervised, is to take a road test.

To avoid a backlog of road tests during the pandemic, the state of Georgia had a controversial solution.

It let drivers get their licences without taking a road test at all. On April 23, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp issued an executive order saying new drivers could just apply online for a licence.

Since then, nearly 20,000 Georgia teens got licences without ever having to prove that they could turn left at an intersection or parallel park.

Last week, Kemp issued another executive order stating that those licences will be invalid if new drivers don’t complete a road test by September 30.

Although no Canadian provinces are copying Georgia’s move, one Toronto-area driving instructor thinks it’s already too easy to get a driver’s licence here.

“The road test should definitely be harder,” Ian Law, president and chief instructor of ILR Car Control School, said in an e-mail. “If I had my way, driver education would be in the school system with dedicated driving instructors – and it would be a four-year course for Grades 9 to 12.”

Law, who teaches advanced driving skills to adults, says too many drivers on the road now lack the skills and knowledge to stay safe.

“Right now, the only thing that will kill more people than COVID-19 is traffic crashes,” Law says. “And 98 per cent of crashes are caused by driver error.”

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