Driver training schools take over license testing

State shifts duties in effort to cut down lines

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 

Hey there, new driver: I hear you're wanting to hit the open road and wave around a piece of plastic that proves you're a licensed Washington driver and don't look good in florescent lighting. What if I told you that you could take your driver's test tomorrow — both the written and driving portions — without taking a number, waiting in line or sitting for hours next to a sniveling child?

No joke.

Clark County driver training schools that offer license testing

Battle Ground

Wake’s Driving School

105 W. Main St.

360-666-3025

Noon - 2 p.m. Monday - Thursday, noon - 2 p.m. Saturday. Scheduling, 1 - 5 p.m. Monday - Friday.

Camas

Big John’s Driving School of Camas

3519 S.E. Second Ave.

360-210-5323

Skills testing by appointment; knowledge test, noon-2:30 p.m., Mon.-Fri. or by appointment.

Confident Driving Instruction of Camas

2033 N.E. Ione St.

360-833-2200

Hours by appointment.

Vancouver

Big John’s Driving School of Vancouver

14020 N.E. Fourth Plain Road

360-882-3602

9 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

Confident Driving Instruction of Vancouver

10637 N.E. Coxley Drive

360-944-5940

Hours by appointment.

Driving 101

11701 N.E. 95th St.

360-892-6988

11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday- Friday.

The Washington State Department of Licensing recently expanded a new program that shifts the knowledge and skills tests for new license applicants to driver training schools. This program is the final phase of a bill intended to speed up wait times at the DOL. Drivers with special needs will still go to the DOL for their testing.

Last Saturday, if applicants went into one of the two Vancouver licensing offices to take the written test, they were turned away and given a list of area driving schools that offer testing. Several disgruntled applicants ended up at Big John's Driving School.

"The word wasn't really out there that this was happening," said Michelle Chetlain, office manager at Big John's.

The DOL is still finishing off existing appointments, with some scheduled well into January. While those applicants have to wait till then to get their license, there's no crowd at Big John's.

Unlike licensing offices, Big John's is open Monday and has just one drive scheduled for the afternoon. Hours vary among the area schools and are subject to change based on the volume of business.

In addition to the $35 license fee applicants pay to the DOL, driving schools set their own fees for each test. The drive test costs $35 at Big John's and the written is $25, for example. Previously, the license application fee included the fee for one knowledge test at DOL offices.

Applicants also have to pre-apply online or at the DOL to get a permit before they can take the permit test. The driving school submits the scores to the DOL, and new drivers have to get their picture taken and license printed at a licensing office.

Even though drivers have to make two trips, Ron Marshall, lead driving instructor at Big John's, said the new law should help diffuse the load of licensing applicants.

The new law comes with some added benefits. Before the actual test, drivers can go on a practice drive with one of the instructors at Big John's even if they aren't already a student there. Applicants can rent a training car to take the driving test.

Marshall is a little nervous, though. People he has never met or driven with will bring their own cars to test with, and he won't have that extra brake pedal on the passenger's side.

"That's going to be a change," he said.

Marshall can test his own students, which, he says, makes them feel more at ease when they go in for that final drive.

"A lot of students fail their drive test 'cause they're nervous," Marshall said.

He tries to make people comfortable because he knows how nerve-wracking the test can be. After all, he had to retake it to get his driving instructor certification.

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops;patty.hastings@columbian.com.