CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Closed course road tests are still occurring at the R.I. Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) more than two years after they began as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Department of Revenue spokesperson Paul Grimaldi said staffing challenges are preventing the DMV from moving back to open road driving tests or some sort of hybrid option. There are currently only nine examiners, with two openings.

John Leeds, a driving instructor for nearly 30 years, said ideally, the DMV would explore moving to a hybrid option.

In 2020, he replicated the closed course built at the DMV at Newport County Driving School in an effort to better prepare his driving students for the road test. He said comparing the two tests is like “comparing apples and oranges.”

“When you’re out on the road, you’re actually dealing with live traffic, so you’ve got to be able to maneuver the car,” he said.

Leeds refers to the closed course at the DMV as “the COVID course,” adding safety is his main concern about the course remaining this way.

Newly released estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed traffic fatalities reached a 16-year high in 2021. The NHTSA noted the projection is the largest annual percentage increase in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s history.

“That should send alarm bells to everybody that’s in the business. Your insurance is going to go up because of it,” Leeds said.

Grimaldi said of the 18,246 closed course tests conducted at the DMV in 2021, almost 84% of drivers passed. Comparatively, Grimaldi told 12 News about 80% of drivers passed in 2019, when open road tests were administered.

This week, Greg Oliveira’s kids also passed their driver’s tests, but he told 12 News he’s still skeptical of how much the current DMV road test prepares new drivers.

“I think that they should have a little bit more hands-on with what’s going on in the real world, out on the real road, than just in the parking lot,” Oliveira said.

Grimaldi is urging individuals looking to book a road test to do so as soon as they obtain their permit to avoid waiting more than necessary for the road test. Tests are being booked for mid-January as of this week, according to Grimaldi.

“It’s not uncommon for test availability to be two to three months out, however not usually to the extent it is now,” he added.

Permit holders under 18 have to hold the permit at least six months before taking the test, while permit holders over 18 need to hold the permit for at least 30 days, according to the DMV.

Though there can be a months long wait, additional openings can become available if there are cancellations. Drivers who need to cancel are encouraged to do so as soon as possible online, or by contacting the Road Test Office at (401) 462-5750.

Grimaldi said canceled appointment times are reposted to the DMV reservation system and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“We suggest people re-visit the DMV website periodically to see whether an earlier, or more-convenient, test time is available,” he added.

The Road Test Office maintains a standby list for customers in need of an earlier appointment.

Grimaldi notes customers who put their names on the standby list keep their existing appointment, but DMV staff will call them if a test time opens up sooner than their scheduled appointment.

“These calls can come on short notice — one or two days prior to the appointment times,” Grimaldi said. “Customers will need flexible schedules to take advantage of the standby service.”

The closed course road tests are now only being done in the parking lot of the Cranston office located at 600 New London Avenue.

Tests were proctored at the Providence branch on Melrose Street, but the location closed after 20 inches of rain flooded out the space on Labor Day, resulting in electrical damage and destroyed files.

Grimaldi said the DMV plans to keep the course in Cranston, though it may be some time for the Providence location to be in full use, “if ever.”

“Prior to the flood, the DMV had already been exploring moving the Providence office to another, more convenient, location,” Grimaldi added.