CINCINNATI — First-time drivers are always eager to get behind the wheel, but Bick’s Driving School owner Tina Paff has never seen demand for classes like this. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a two-month shutdown of businesses like hers in early summer — and created a corresponding backlog of students hoping to earn their licenses before fall.
“Students can’t get their driving done quick enough,” she said Monday. She’s considering hiring more instructors to help her out.
However, the continuing pandemic means she and other driving instructors have to proceed with caution. There’s no room for social distancing between a student driver and the person in the passenger seat.
“We only have one driver in the car with the instructor at all times,” Paff said of her own school’s new safety measures. “When that student is finished with their lesson, the car is getting sanitized before the next student comes in. In every car, we have a bottle of hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial wipes, an extra mask.”
At Bob Shropshire & Sons, instructor Christopher Shropshire said students are screened before they arrive in person.
“We always call and do a pre-health check and make sure that the student is free of any COVID or COVID-like symptoms before we even pick them up,” he said. “Upon arriving we ask them to make sure that they wear a mask, we do a temperature check, we disinfect the vehicles before and after.”
All of that is for driving lessons that put an instructor and a student in the same vehicle. For the the portions that take place beforehand — learning traffic laws and driving basics in a classroom — Paff has reduced her class sizes to accommodate social distancing. Everyone who attends is required to wear a mask.
When students take their driving tests through the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, they won’t be in the car with the person administering their exam. They’ll drive around a controlled course while the examiner judges them from outside.
Paff said she’s leery of that part — “It’s a lot different than a skills test on the road” — but knows it’s one of many changes needed to keep the wheels turning.
“It’s a no-win situation right now,” she said.