Regina – Getting one’s driver’s licence at the age of 16 has long been a rite of passage for Saskatchewan’s youth, especially since much of the province is so reliant on having your own vehicle due to limited public transportation.
But the COVID-19 crisis pumped the brakes on road tests, as the idea of having a driver examiner in the same vehicle as the one taking the test was considered too risky. However, as Saskatchewan re-opened its economy in phases, SGI adjusted its road tests. What was once a quick ride around town now involves the use of a dash cam monitoring both the driver and the road. The examiner follows behind in another vehicle, giving instructions via cellphone on speakerphone. Another person must be in the car with the student driver being tested.
Road tests were first opened up to Class 1 and Class 3 on April 20. On June 25, examinations were opened up on a first come, first served basis to the general public seeking a Class 5, Class 2 or Class 4 licence, as week as motorcycle, school bus and heavy trailer endorsements.
SGI Minister Joe Hargrave said on June 29 did not know how many people applied on that first day. Five 16 year-olds in the Estevan area said as of June 30, they had not heard back yet from SGI as to when their drivers test would be scheduled.
Hargrave said, “There was 5,000 examinations delayed because of COVID. Now we're back at that.”
He noted people with an agriculture and business need were targeted first.
“We contacted of the 5,000 people that were delayed. I think there was only about 1,000 that said they were ready to take the test and the other 4,000 didn't respond or said, ‘We'll just wait for a while.’ So we're catching up on those numbers.
Hargrave said 300 examinations are being done each week now.
“They're trying to do more. We're trying to increase that number every week to get that up there. But there's more because of the sanitation, because of all the equipment that we have to do in the cars. If there is more work to it than what it used to be and it used to be the two of you would hop in the car and go over driving. Now we'll use cameras. Now we have to sanitize each of them. So each exam takes considerably longer.”
What used to be a 20-minute process now takes two hours, according to Hargrave.
Will SGI be bringing on more driver examiners?
Hargrave responded, “We've been looking at that as well. I think we already have, I believe, we've gone to some of the driver training schools and we're utilizing some of those people to help, because we're so far behind. And otherwise, we'll just continue to get further behind. So we have to catch up on the backlog.
“There was a lot of people apply on the first day that it was available. And so but we want to get through them as quickly as possible because not everybody passes on the first try, either. So if they fail, they have to go to the back of the line.”