How Teens Are Surviving the DMV During Times of COVID-19

If you visit an Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles during times of COVID, you must wait in socially distanced lines, wear masks, and use hand sanitizer. Photo Credit: Finn Hanrahan

Stella Garrido-Spencer had been looking forward to getting her driver’s license. She had all of her driving hours, and was excited to pass her test and receive her license, as well as her newfound freedom. 

Her test was scheduled for mid-September. As the date approached, the forest fires in Oregon surged, creating air quality unfit for outdoor activities. She was notified her test was rescheduled. But not a month or even two months later. It was moved to February, a good four months later than her original appointment. 

Her story is one example of how COVID-19 has changed expectations of teenage life. Teens have struggled with the DMV website, unsure of how to schedule appointments. Some have grown impatient with the long wait times (permit test-takers should expect to wait longer to take their tests due to COVID) and ended up driving miles to other offices to take the test. Others waited patiently for their test date and when they failed the test, learned that the next times for retakes were months away. 

Even before COVID-19, the DMV had always been notoriously slow at processing requests and scheduling appointments. People would wait hours to take their tests or to receive help from the attendants. This usually wasn’t the fault of the DMV directly, just a result of high demand for their services. Demand for DMV services is still high, but now, appointments are required to visit an office. Although some things like renewing vehicle registration can now be done online, permit and license tests must be done in person. 

While the DMV has drastically changed due to measures put in place to keep customers and employees safe, it is still very possible to acquire a permit or license if you wish to do so. The process is fairly easy, just don’t expect it to be quick. 

First things first, you’ll need to fill out a form with your contact info through the website. You will then receive a call a few days later, where a person from the office will assist you in scheduling your actual appointment. Next up, you wait! Most teens seeking out permit tests have reported waiting 2-4 months from the day they schedule their appointment to the day of their test. 

So you’ve waited for your call back, and you’ve waited for your actual test date. But the waiting isn’t quite over, at least not yet. Once you arrive at the office, you will have to wait for an open teller, which can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2.5 hours. All that waiting will pay off when you pass the test and receive what you’ve been looking forward to all these months. 

Unless you fail the test, of course. Prior to taking your test, you should review the Driver’s Manual and study, that you pass your test on the first try and avoid having to schedule a retake, as COVID-19 has made the wait for retakes long. 

Although these countless horror stories of failed tests and long waiting times may make the idea of getting your permit or license a bit less exciting, there are ways to ensure that you have a positive experience and get what you need. 

Lauren Mulligan from the Oregon DMV has some advice for teens who wish to get a permit or license during times of COVID: “The most important things that teens can do is think ahead and be prepared. You should plan to make the appointment to get a permit or driver license well ahead of when you want to actually come in. Appointments are booked quickly, so if a particular date is important to you like your birthday, plan ahead and start looking for appointments about 8 weeks ahead.” 

She also reminds teens to double check and make sure they have everything they need to qualify for their test. She mentions again that planning ahead is extremely important. “Some documents you’ll need, like a birth certificate if you choose to bring that, can take additional time to arrive if you need to order an official certificate from your county.”

Although it’s easy to get frustrated with the long wait times, try to be empathetic and compassionate in correspondence with DMV employees. And hopefully, if you prepare well enough, you’ll walk out the doors with a shiny new privilege and a skip in your step. After all, you survived the Oregon DMV during a global pandemic! 

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