The COVID-19 pandemic has had a noticeable impact on our daily lives in ways both large and small. Its effect has been especially strong on a specific subset of North Carolina residents: People looking to obtain or renew their driver’s license.
Before the pandemic, state law required drivers who wanted to obtain a license to take a road test with an employee of the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV). As part of this test, the DMV employee would be in the car with the driver as the driver navigated through traffic and demonstrated certain driving skills.
An in-person road test became impractical during the pandemic due to the safety concerns about having people in such proximity for an extended period. Recognizing this issue, North Carolina has adopted a new solution to help drivers obtain their licenses: a no-contact road test.
What Is a ‘No-Contact’ Driving Test?
Since it’s not safe to have a driver and a DMV employee in a car together for a prolonged time, North Carolina has had to find another way to have drivers demonstrate the necessary skills to obtain a license. The no-contact driving test is a way to test drivers’ skills in a safe, controlled environment.
The no-contact driving test works similarly to how some drivers learn to handle a vehicle on an obstacle course safely. The test takes place in a closed parking lot where DMV staffers have set up various obstacles and road signs the driver must navigate.
A story from Raleigh TV news station WRAL in February includes an anecdote from a young driver who said the no-contact test had a three-point turn maneuver and backing up in a straight line.
“I was a lot more nervous about this one because I didn’t know what it would be like. It was definitely different than what I expected it to be,” Matthew Stutts told WRAL. “They had me do a three-point turn. Then, they had me back up in a straight line and then do a safety stop.”
A DMV spokesman said the no-contact test was functionally the same as the tests drivers used to take before the pandemic.
“The only difference is it’s a much shorter test than what a road test would be, and they’re not out in regular traffic,” DMV spokesman Steve Abbott said.
What Kinds of Licenses Can Be Obtained with a No-Contact Test?
According to North Carolina law, there are three levels of permits and licenses available for people under 18 who are learning to drive. They are:
- Level 1, Limited learner’s permit – This permit is available to drivers who are between 15 and 18 years old after they pass a written test from the DMV, take a driver education course that’s been approved by the state, and obtain a driving eligibility certificate or high school diploma (or its equivalent). The driver must have their permit in their possession when driving, and there must be a supervising driver in the vehicle’s front passenger seat. For the first six months of holding the permit, the driver can only drive between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. Everyone in the vehicle must have a seatbelt or child safety seat, and the driver is not allowed to use a phone while driving.
- Level 2, Limited provisional license – This license is available to drivers between 16 and 18 years old who have the requirements for a learner’s permit and a few other qualifications. The driver must have held their learner’s permit for at least a year and not have been convicted of a traffic violation for the past six months. Additionally, the driver must complete a log showing that they’ve completed at least 60 hours of driving with a supervising driver present, and 10 of those required hours must have taken place at night. Drivers with a Level 2 license can drive without supervision between the hours of 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. or when going directly to or from work. As with Level 1 permits, drivers with Level 2 licenses cannot use the phone while driving.
- Level 3, Full provisional license – These licenses are available for drivers between 16 and 18 who have held their Level 2 license for at least six months. As long as they have not had a traffic violation in the past six months and have a driving log showing they’ve driven 12 hours with their provisional license (including six hours of nighttime driving), drivers with Level 2 licenses can apply for a full provisional license. Drivers with full provisional licenses have no restrictions on their driving privileges other than the prohibition on using a cellphone while driving.
The no-contact driving test is primarily for drivers aiming to progress from a Level 2 limited provisional license to a Level 3 full provisional license. A bill signed last June waived the driving test requirement to get a Level 2 license, but drivers still need to take a driving test for a Level 3 license.
Who Qualifies for a No-Contact Driving Test?
New drivers who have a Level 2 limited provisional license can take a no-contact driving test to progress to a Level 3 full provisional license. Also, the DMV has listed three other reasons why a driver could qualify for a contactless road test:
- Having previously failed a road test and not having another test conducted before the suspension of standard driving tests in March 2020
- Having your driver’s license suspended because a previous credential expired and not being able to take a test because of the pandemic
- Being an out-of-state driver who was unable to take the North Carolina road test to obtain a North Carolina driver’s license
Where Can I Take My Driving Test?
The DMV has had trouble finding large enough parking lots to conduct no-contact driving tests, so very few offices across the state were offering them until relatively recently. Beginning in February, though, the state doubled the number of offices offering the test. There are now 28 DMV offices where you can take a no-contact driving test.
Demand is high for these tests, so you’ll need to register in advance. You can set up an appointment by calling the DMV customer service line at (919) 715-7000. You can also apply for an appointment by sending an email to DMVDS@ncdot.gov. If you apply by email, make sure to include the following information:
- The date you applied for a test
- Your name
- Your county of residence
- Your driver’s license or permit number
- Your telephone number
- The reason why you qualify for a test
Contact a Car Accident Lawyer in NC Today
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