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Mississippi nixes road test for new driver’s licenses

Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 9:44 AM EDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT/Gray News) - While young drivers in Mississippi haven’t had to worry about one of the most nerve-wracking parts of getting a driver’s license — the road test — for more than a year now, the omission concerns more experienced motorists.

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell said he understands those concerns, even though part of the reasoning behind scrapping the road test came from social distancing and coronavirus concerns, WLBT reported.

He also said the road test had been reduced significantly in recent years.

“The road test at the time basically consisted of driving around the parking lot and parking the vehicle. And so the reality is, it wasn’t as extensive a road test as it once was,” Tindell said. “Maybe a more effective way in determining whether or not somebody is a good driver is getting information from the people that are actually driving with them.”

He said the state requires a learner’s permit for a full year and an affidavit from a parent or guardian saying they’ve ridden with the young person for 50 hours before you can obtain a new license.

Those changes, which the Mississippi Legislature approved during the extended 2020 regular session, encourage parents to be more engaged in their child’s driving instruction and habits.

Some drivers are concerned about the change.

“It’s hard for that child to go out there and learn experience and really try and learn what he needs to do in a situation when he cannot get out of it,” said truck driver Donald Hartwell. “It’s easy to get in a situation; it’s easier for a child to get killed.”

Hartwell knows all too well the mistakes drivers make right in front of him.

He said last year, some teenagers didn’t notice a one-way sign while driving, found themselves in the middle of a busy highway and stopped, unsure of what to do.

“[That’s] all because your mind is not ready to think, and you got to think fast because your life depends on it,” Hartwell said.

Jackson resident Ariana Thompson said she doesn’t think removing the road test from license requirements was a good idea.

“I had to take the [road] test in order to get my license. Just because you know how to read and write through a test doesn’t mean you know how to drive,” Thompson said. “People on the road, they have to drive for other people. You have to think about yourself and other people, too.”

While Tindell said the road test won’t be coming back, he believes it would be more appropriate to mandate driver education classes in schools once again.

According to Mississippi Department of Education spokesperson Jean Cook, driver’s education has been an elective in Mississippi schools since 1962.

“Legislation would be needed to mandate and fully fund a statewide driver education program,” Cook said.

In the meantime, Hartwell said he believes the responsibility to ensure safe drivers begins at home.

“We can’t depend on the government, nobody doing our job. Mom [and] Dad, it’s your job to make sure your child is out here doing what they’re supposed to do. If you’re not doing your part, how is anybody else gonna do it?” Hartwell said.

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