Maryland’s abbreviated road tests keep drivers on closed course

Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration has resumed road tests for new drivers, only they don’t have to leave the parking lot.

In mid-March, Maryland, like Virginia, suspended the administration of road tests out of concern that having a testing agent in the car with a new driver could spread the new coronavirus.

MVA Administrator Chrissy Nizer said Maryland looked at what other jurisdictions were doing and came up with the abbreviated test.

“We still follow all the safety requirements, so they will be required to do three different maneuvers, as well as to do a safety inspection before they take the test,” Nizer said.

The change is temporary, but will allow Maryland to offer the road test to new drivers.

As part of the amended testing that started Monday, new drivers taking the Maryland skills test have to pull into a parking space with cones on both sides, back into the same space, and then perform a three-point turn. They’ll never leave the closed course or MVA parking lot.

Ryan Ellis, director of operations for Greg’s Driving School, which has more than 20 locations in Maryland, said that’s actually enough.

“You can’t fake having the 60 hours of practice that the MVA requires,” Ellis said.

He added that testing agents can quickly assess a driver’s skills even before leaving the parking lot.

“You can tell within the first turn or the first stop at the stop sign — both of which happen in the parking lot portion. They’ll know right away,” whether a new driver will be road-ready, Ellis said.

In order to get a driver’s license in Maryland, six hours of instruction is required followed by 60 hours of practice on the road.

Ellis said it’s not uncommon for drivers to try to pass the skills test with 20 hours or fewer under their belts. And, he said, it’s obvious.

Those drivers who have practiced and put in time on the road will have smooth turns and braking. Those who didn’t get experience on the road will perform jack-rabbit starts and sudden braking.

“Those are immediate dead-giveaways of people that try to sneak through. Very few of them actually make it,” he added.

Ellis said there’s a lot of pent-up demand for driving lessons, and he expects the same is true for the skills tests at the MVA.

Getting experience on the road — at least the 60-hour minimum — is critical, Ellis said. Often, he said, new drivers or their parents are eager to skip ahead and get that license.

Ellis said he tells parents: “It’s like taking guitar lessons from Carlos Santana,” referring to the renowned musician. “If you have six hours of guitar lessons from Carlos Santana, are you going to be an excellent guitar player? No. You’ve got to get a lesson, then you’ve got to go home and practice.”

It’s a temporary change to the test, Nizer said; when the state determines that testing agents can once again be in the car with prospective drivers to take the skills test, that will include a segment on public roadways.

Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles has not yet resumed road tests for drivers other than commercial operators.

Jessica Cowardin, public relations and media liaison with the Virginia DMV, wrote in a statement, “Virginia DMV is planning to resume road testing as soon as we are safely able to do so.”

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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