Trying to get a license is ‘driving’ students crazy

Five+Star+Store+front+in+Westfield

Photo Kavya Panjwani

Five Star Store front in Westfield

One of the most exciting times of a teenager’s life is when they get their driver’s license. However, COVID-19 related employment shortages at the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC), along with a new law that went into effect on May 1, allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for a standard driver’s license, has led to a lack of appointments at the MVC.

According to NJ Spotlight News, New Jersey issued roughly 100,000 new permits in the three months after the law changed, a jump of more than 65 percent from the same period in previous years.

A lot goes into a teenager getting their driver’s license. The process is not only strenuous, but can be expensive. First, the teenager needs to receive their student learner’s permit, which is done by passing the written exam and completing at least six hours of driving with an instructor. Then, to receive a license as soon as possible, they wait six months until they are 17-years-old to take the road test at the MVC.

To complete all of this, most students utilize driving schools, which are commercial businesses authorized by the MVC’s Bureau of Driver Training Programs to provide driving instruction for students. Some of the well-known driving schools used by WHS students locally are Easy Method Auto Driving Training and Five Star Driving School.

Although many students voluntarily use these driving schools because of their quality services, it truly is the only option they have. The Driver’s Education course given at WHS “helps students to take and pass the written exam, but is not the focus of the course; it is a bonus,” said WHS Physical Education Teacher Ashley Nitto. She went on to say that “all 16-year-olds are required to take the six hours ‘behind the wheel’ with a commercial driving school. This means that no matter when you take Driver’s Ed [at WHS], if you are 16 and want a driving permit, you must pay money and use a driving school.”

After I passed my road test I had to wait two hours just to get a ticket in line in the freezing cold. Then I came back two hours later and had to wait outside again for another three hours to get my license. It was extremely frustrating.”

— WHS senior James Haley

However, paying for these driving schools can be a financial burden for some. Ralph Moskal, the owner of Five Star Driving School with locations in Westfield and Summit, stated that their basic package costs $455. He explained that with the basic package, families get “six hours of driving, the written test if [the student] hasn’t taken it yet, the purchased permit, the eye test, decals and a complimentary consultation with the parents.”

Unfortunately, some families cannot afford this service, which puts their children at a disadvantage. Luckily, Moskal stated that his school provides financial assistance to those families. When it comes to financial aid, Moskal said, “It depends on the services that they are requesting, but usually we consider everybody as an independent case.”

Even after a student gets their learner’s permit and eventually passes the road test, the process has become even more exhausting due to COVID-19 issues and the new laws that went into effect in May. “After I passed my road test I had to wait two hours just to get a ticket in line in the freezing cold. Then I came back two hours later and had to wait outside again for another three hours to get my license. It was extremely frustrating,” said WHS senior James Haley.

Like Haley, WHS senior Remy Waldman shared a similar experience. “After I passed my road test, the Rahway [MVC] was closed so we drove to Edison to see if I could get my license there. We waited in line for hours, but around the time we were supposed to go, they started closing because their hours were shorter due to COVID. So we checked the MVC in Eatontown but they, too, were closed. We decided we would try one last [MVC] and go up to Randolph. I was finally able to get my license at the fourth MVC we went to in one day.”

While many students had to wait in lines, other students could not get their license until months after their 17th birthday because they just couldn’t get an appointment. For WHS senior Ella O’Brien, not being able to get her license on her birthday took away the significance of the day. “I have always associated my 17th birthday with getting my license, so when I got it a month after my birthday, it was frustrating because my birthday did not feel as special. The day I got my license felt like my real birthday.”

Getting a driver’s license is special for teenagers, but according to many, the past year and a half has added an extra challenge to the already long and expensive process.