25 Investigates: Driver’s license test appointments ‘unavailable’

RMV claims no backlog

BOSTON — Studying and practicing for a license is stressful enough for aspiring drivers. But scheduling that road test they’ve spent months preparing for is adding more stress. Appointments for road tests, which are administered by the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV), are hard to find and many would-be drivers are having to wait months to get one.

The RMV is currently offering road tests at the service center locations in Braintree, Brockton, Greenfield, Haverhill, Leominster, Lowell, Milford, Pittsfield, Plymouth, Springfield, Taunton, Watertown, Wilmington and Worcester.

Road test locations in Chicopee, Easthampton, Fall River, Lawrence, Lynn, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, New Bedford, North Adams, Southbridge, South Yarmouth, Sturbridge and Westfield closed during the pandemic and have yet to reopen.

Eighteen-year-old Lily Engquist has been eagerly awaiting to get her license and get behind the wheel. She considers driving to be a necessity.

“I have a part-time job where I work as the activities coordinator in an assisted living facility in Worcester,” Lily told investigative reporter Ted Daniel. “Also, I’m going to go to college. I’m going to commute there.”

Her mom is just as eager to see Lily get her license. Lily is a twin, and her sister attends a different college and also has a part-time job.

“I just don’t know, logistically, how I can be in three different places at the same time. I have a full-time job and only one of us can drive,” said Elizabeth Bidinger, Lily’s Mom

Bidinger said she began looking for a road test appointment back in June when Lily became eligible to take it. She said she used the RMV’s portal to search branches all over the state.

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“I would have driven her anywhere. I mean, seriously, I saw the same thing [everywhere], no appointment available,” the frustrated mom added.

25 Investigates found similar results during a search done on our behalf in mid-August. There were zero road test appointments available at a number of major RMV branches including Watertown, Worcester, Braintree, Taunton and Lynn. The RMV in Leominster did have one opening, but it’s in October.

“A person who is ready and needs their license has to wait up to two-to-three months to get an appointment for a 10-minute test,” said Jake Cooney of CMSC Driving School in West Boylston.

He acknowledges that COVID is a factor in the backlog. After all, when COVID surged across Massachusetts last year, road tests were canceled for three months and those had to be rescheduled. But Cooney said the problem predates the pandemic. He believes the problem is that “there are not enough road test examiners available.”

“We estimate it would take an extra 75,000 road tests today to avoid backlogs. In order to do that they’d have to double the amount of examiners they have out there. So, the government is just not suited to respond to this essential need,” Cooney said.

25 Investigates asked the RMV how many road test examiners it has on staff and performing tests. We were told there are a total of 51 examiners and 41 are currently doing road tests in the entire state. Cooney has been pushing the RMV to allow driving schools like his to have certified instructors administer road tests. He said 16 other states allow it.

“Other states are allowing driving schools to do road testing as a safety valve, not replacing examiners. “No examiners have lost their jobs, they still have all the tests they can handle,” he said.

We asked the RMV what’s being done to clear the backlog. A spokesperson told 25 Investigates the following:

“The RMV does not currently have a backlog for road test appointments. It continues to see a robust demand for learner’s permits and road tests at this time.”

“If the RMV in the future saw a need for additional road test personnel and wanted to engage driving schools for the responsibility, the RMV would be required to negotiate with the union as contractual agreements with the union prohibit MassDOT and the RMV from contracting out bargaining unit work, in the absence of an agreement with the union” the spokesperson added.

Right now, Lily is scheduled to take her road test on October 2, unless something opens up sooner.

“The state needs to understand this is about families needing their 18, 19-year-olds who have been waiting a long time already to get a license to be able to drive and work to save and contribute to college and their expenses,” said her mom.