Faced with criticism for allowing teenagers to obtain driver’s licenses without taking a road test, Gov. Brian Kemp issued a new order Tuesday requiring the tests.

Georgia teens must pass driving test after all

Faced with criticism for allowing teenagers to obtain driver’s licenses without taking a road test, Gov. Brian Kemp issued a new order Tuesday requiring the tests.

Some 20,000 teenagers had already taken advantage of a testing waiver the governor issued last month. Under the new order, those teens must take the test by Sept. 30.

Tuesday’s order also authorizes the state Department of Driver Services to administer the test while riding with the applicant “or by remote means.” And it orders the department to “correct public guidance documents” to clarify that “testing was only temporarily suspended” by the April 23 order.

On Tuesday the governor said he signed the new order to make clear that students who received their licenses without tests must now pass one to keep their privileges.

“That was always the case, we just wanted to clarify that,” he said. “Anybody who has gotten the driver’s license but hasn’t taken the test — even if they’ve met the criteria of so many hours on the road and went to driver’s school — they’re still going to have to come back and take the driver’s test.”

That’s not the message the state was sending after the April 23 order, which stated the driving test requirement “is hereby suspended and applicants for a driver’s license shall not be required to complete a comprehensive on-the-road driving test,” provided they met all other requirements. There was no reference to taking the test later.

The April order followed the state’s decision to shut down road tests amid concerns for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. But the Department of Driver Services has said pleas from parents led Kemp to waive the road test.

State statistics suggest that thousands of the new teen drivers might have failed the test if they had taken it. About 20% of those who take the test fail on their first try.

Allyne Patterson’s 17-year-old son is one of those who obtained a license without taking the driving test.

The Marietta man said his son took a driver’s education class that included time on the road. He’s been driving with a learner’s permit for a year and a half. He was scheduled to take the driving test recently, but it was canceled three times because of the pandemic.

“He’s had a lot of experience behind the wheel, for an extended period of time,” Patterson said. “I think he would have done just fine on the road test, given the experience he’s had thus far. Had he not (had that experience), there’s no way I would have considered this.”

Georgia wasn’t the only state waiving driving tests amid the pandemic. Beginning Monday, teens in Wisconsin can request a waiver that would allow them to receive a probationary license without a road test. Nevada is considering a similar move.

Such waivers drew criticism from traffic safety advocates. Studies show teens are more prone to crashes than more experienced drivers. And traffic crashes are the No. 1 cause of deaths for teenagers.

“My gut reaction when I see that places are allowing teens to forgo the driving test is, `Oh my God, why?’ ” said Rebecca Weast, a research scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “It’s just such a standard part of becoming a driver that removing it seems kind of odd.”

Alex Epstein, the transportation safety director at the National Safety Council, said allowing parents to decide whether their children are ready for a license is a mistake.

“Parents are not trained inspectors. They’re parents,” Epstein said. “Some are better than others. Some are more involved than others. Some take the responsibility of driving more seriously than others.”

Some Georgia residents also objected.

“I wrote the governor, my House and Senate reps today stating that it is not a good idea to issue driver’s licenses to anyone without a test who would normally be required to take a test,” said Tim Martin of Donalsonville. “They can wait to get their license when testing can resume.”

Tuesday’s new executive order may abate such concerns.

Asked why he issued new guidelines, Kemp said he “wanted to make sure it was clear because we had a lot of questions about it.”

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