Prospective Minnesota drivers can skip a trip to a Department of Vehicle Services (DVS) exam station and take their road knowledge tests online at home.
Starting Thursday, aspiring drivers can register at drive.mn.gov to take the Class D knowledge test online, provided they have a parent, guardian or adult over 21 with a valid driver's license to proctor the test. Third-party administrators such as driving schools, school districts and deputy registrar offices approved by DVS will also be able to offer the tests.
"We are doing everything possible to expand services that put the customer first," said DVS spokeswoman Megan Leonard.
The road test, however, must still be taken in person before a driver is issued a license.
The online knowledge tests come after DVS reduced the number of in-person testing locations across the state as a result of COVID-19 and was overwhelmed with test takers who sometimes waited in lines for hours without any assurance of getting in. In May, DVS revised protocols by requiring test takers to make an appointment.
But with demand soaring, and with the prospect of long lines in Minnesota's winter cold, Gov. Tim Walz this summer signed a bill allowing DVS to use existing funds to develop and implement the online testing system.
When it goes live, the online system will expand the number of tests DVS can administer and reduce appointment wait times for those who want to take the test at an exam station, Emma Corrie, DVS services director.
"This is awesome," said Deborah Maertens, who along with her husband, Daniel, recently moved from North Dakota to Dalton, Minn., and have to take a written test to get a Minnesota driver's license. The nearest exam station is over an hour away and she wasn't able to get an appointment for few weeks out.
"I will definitely do that," Deb Maertens, 61, said after learning about the online option. "Now I won't have to take time off work. I can do it in the evening."
The pandemic has prompted states to think about how they offer services to residents, including those seeking driver's licenses, Leonard said.
Some states, including Wisconsin and Georgia, waived the road test for some drivers to fight the spread of COVID-19. Many have instituted online renewal processes for drivers with existing licenses, and in preparing to launch the online knowledge test, Leonard said Minnesota found examples of that approach in Arizona and Iowa.
In Minnesota, DVS exam stations were closed from late March to May 19 due to COVID-19. From reopening through Sept. 30, DVS has given 79,469 written exams, Leonard said.
In all of 2019, DVS gave more than 282,300 written tests.
The online exam is the same 40-question test given in-person at exam stations, and the same rules apply. Test takers will have 30 minutes to complete the exam without using outside resources or study material. Allowing test takers 30 minutes, as other states that offer at-home online tests do, guards against cheating, Leonard said.
A test will automatically be terminated and result in failure if the test taker opens a new internet browser while taking the test. Proctors must also check a box before the test launches saying they won't allow the use of cameras, cellphones or other study materials while proctoring the exam. DVS piloted the online test with about 120 people during September and reported no problems, Leonard said.
"It is on the honor system," Leonard said.
Online tests will be available in English and Spanish from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Candidates who register and receive a link from DVS with testing instructions will have 48 hours to take the exam.
Only one online test per day per person is allowed, and each person gets only two attempts to obtain a passing score. After that, a prospective driver must schedule an appointment for an in-person exam and pay a $10 fee. (There is no charge for the first two attempts both online and at exam stations.)
Would-be drivers must pass the written test before they can legally begin practice driving, a requirement before they can schedule a road test.
DVS is working with driver education schools, deputy registrars and other businesses that offer driver's licenses services to administer tests in their offices. Those third-party administrators can charge up to $10 to give the exams. For instance, Quick Serve License Center in South St. Paul is working with DVS to offer tests, as is the Anoka-Hennepin School District.
Pete Hosmer, who runs A+ Driving School in White Bear Lake, is still deciding whether to offer in-person knowledge tests. With DVS offering online testing, "there may not be a market for it," he said.
The online exam is for Class D licenses only. Drivers seeking commercial or motorcycle endorsements must still take a test in-person. Those are offered at 14 exam stations on a walk-in basis.