RALEIGH N.C. (WNCN) – For many teens looking to get their license, the backlog of behind-the-wheel training has delayed instruction for months.
Elvis Mateo-Flores, 15, attends Cary High School and said he’s excited to learn how to drive.
“I’d like to drive,” Mateo-Flores said. “I’d like to have my license and get around places.”
In order to get a license, students must pass a written test, then drive at least six hours with an approved instructor.
Mateo-Flores said he passed the written portion last fall.
“Right now, I’m just waiting to take the actual physical class,” Mateo-Flores said. “I haven’t gotten an email back on that.”
Brian Pittman, director for high school programs with Wake County Public Schools, said the backlog is currently around a four- to six-month wait, down from upwards of eight months last year.
“We’re making progress, but it bothers us and frustrates us that we’re not able to get people in, in the timely manner that we typically do,” Pittman said. “It really is about, we want students to be able to access the opportunities that exist on the other side of getting their license.”
Pittman said the pandemic forced a pause on behind-the-wheel driving, as well as instructor training in 2020. He also said drivers are in shorter supply than pre-pandemic.
Now, the Wake County Public School System is trying to cut down on the backlog by expanding its partnership with the Jordan Driving School and hopefully getting hundreds more students through the program by the end of September.
“We’re going to continue to work through the additional opportunities for students to have the behind-the-wheel training throughout the summer and into September and see where that puts us,” Pittman said.
The contract between WCPSS and the Jordan Driving School currently serves an average of 455 students a month. The district agreed this week to pay an additional $400 for every extra student above that average who joins the driving program over the next few months.
The district’s goal wait time is around six to eight weeks between the written exam and in-person drivers education.
But the problem isn’t just in public schools, Kate Owenby’s 15-year-old son also had the same problem at a Wake County private school.
She said they waited eight months, then finally ended up going to an independent driving course for a faster process.
“Once he, my second son, after he completed the class in July, we waited and waited and waited and so by January 2022, I gave up,” Owenby said. “The kids are excited to be able to have this right of passage to get their license by the time they’re 16 and I hope that they can get more drivers.”