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Drivers seeking a state license can now take their written and road tests with a certified private instructor and avoid a trip to a S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles office.
The department said in a statement Tuesday that individuals, high schools and driver training schools can be certified to administer the tests if they take a three-day training program and map out a testing route approved by the department. The training program is separate from the certification needed to teach drivers education, according to department spokeswoman Beth Parks.
The department and area private driving instructors say the program has two obvious benefits:
If students pass, they then take their certification to a DMV office where they are photographed and issued a license. The new program stipulates a student could be randomly selected to re-take the test with a DMV agent to check on the quality of private instruction, according to the department website. If an instructor is found to be sub-par, certifications for both driver and instructor could be suspended. The private testing program already existed for commercial drivers and motorcycle licenses, according to the news release.
Tommy Collins of First Step Driver Training in Beaufort said he is "really excited" about the program and plans to get the new certification.
Driving schools, Collins said, could provide more flexibility than DMV office hours, making it more convenient for drivers.
"[Teenagers] will be able to take a driving test during non-work hours," he said. "Parents don't have to take a day off to take their kid for the test."
Doreen Haughton-James, a driving instructor at 123 Drive! Driving Academy on Hilton Head Island, said drivers will likely be more comfortable taking the test with a familiar person.
"It's intimidating for some students to take the test with a stranger in the car," she said. "It's less stressful to test with us, their teachers."
But she also had some reservations about the effect the program might have on the quality of the tests.
"I kind of liked having an unbiased third party doing it," she said of the DMV.
The decision to implement the program was made after the department saw success from a 12-county pilot program that ran from June 19 through September. The pilot involved 35 driving schools and tested more than 1,700 students, according to the release.
Drivers can still be tested at a DMV office. Customers walk-in for tests in the morning -- and face a potentially long wait -- or make an appointment between 2 and 4:30 p.m. weekdays.
The afternoon appointment-only policy is the result of another three-month-long summer pilot tested in Beaufort and 11 other offices. The program reduced waiting times not only for drivers taking a written and road test, but prevented bottlenecks for customers waiting to complete smaller tasks.