Connecting state and local government leaders
Prospective drivers in Minnesota can now take their learner's permit knowledge test online, one of several state initiatives deployed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Prospective drivers in Minnesota can go online at home to take their knowledge tests for a learner's permit under a new Department of Vehicle Services program that launched this week.
The off-site testing program is available only to drivers taking the class D knowledge test (the standard and most common type of license) who have a parent, guardian or other adult over the age 21 with a valid driver’s license to proctor the exam. Certified third-party entities, including driving schools, deputy registrar offices and high school driver’s ed programs, will also be permitted to administer the test on-site.
The program greatly expands Minnesotans’ options for the test, which was previously available only in person at regional exam stations. All of them were closed for eight weeks at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, after which the state reopened just 16, creating a massive backlog of canceled tests. State officials later required test takers to make an appointment, but lines and long wait times persisted, prompting lawmakers to pass legislation allowing the Department of Vehicle Services to use existing funding to develop and launch an online system.
New drivers need to pass the written exam before they can begin practicing. The road test—the final hurdle to obtaining a driver's license—must still be taken in person.
The initiative should make it more convenient for Minnesotans to take the test while avoiding the health risks associated with visiting a government office during an ongoing pandemic and the onset of flu season, officials said.
“Minnesotans, especially those living outside the Twin Cities, have been taking time out of their busy schedules to travel to regional exam stations for testing,” Emma Corrie, director of the state Department of Public Safety Driver and Vehicle Services, said in a statement. “As we consider the colder weather months and continuing Covid concerns, an online knowledge test will allow Minnesotans to take the test at a convenient time in the comfort of their own home. This system will also expand the number of tests (we) can administer and reduce appointment wait times for those who want to take the test at an open exam station.”
Other states have implemented similar measures to allow drivers to stay on the road during the pandemic. Some, like Wisconsin and North Carolina, allowed certain teenage drivers to apply for a waiver for the road test. (Georgia implemented a similar policy in April, but amended it a month later to require a modified road test instead.) Others, including California and Massachusetts, extended the expiration dates for learner's permits, allowing teens to continue practicing their driving until road tests resumed.
In Minnesota, prospective drivers must submit a request to take the test online using their name, date of birth and social security number. The test, available in English and Spanish from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday, is identical to the one taken in person: 40 questions that must be completed within a half hour.
Test takers can’t consult manuals or online resources, and the test will close and record an automatic failure if another browser window is opened during the 30-minute window. Proctors are required to check a box before the test launches pledging that they won’t allow the use of other study materials, though that will be entirely on the honor system.
Each prospective driver can take the test twice for free; if they fail a third time, subsequent tests must be taken in person after paying a $10 fee.
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.