When it came time for his driver's test, 16-year-old Joseph Owens employed a very popular strategy among area teenagers: He traveled outside the Augusta area to take it.
His plan worked out perfectly. The Westside High School student got his license on the first try in Statesboro and avoided waiting a month or more for an appointment in Columbia or Richmond counties.
For the next batch of 16-year-olds, a more convenient solution to the long lines will be available before Joseph's license arrives in the mail.
A new pilot program with the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicle and Safety allows students in 11 driver education schools across the state to dodge the agency and take the road test at their driver's school.
If the six-month trial proves effective, DMVS spokeswoman Susan Sports said, all qualified driver schools in Georgia will be allowed to test students, a move that would dramatically change how teenage drivers get their licenses in Georgia.
"It's an option that the Legislature asked that we try," Ms. Sports said. "It seemed like a good thing to team up with driver's training schools."
The local school selected for the pilot program is Brock's Driver Education School on Belair Road.
Owners Don and Marion Brock said that after the students in the September driver's education class finish their six hours of behind-the-wheel training - and assuming they have had their learner's permits for a year and a day, as required by law - they will be eligible to be tested at Brock's.
For a lucky few, this could be as early as next week.
Mr. Brock, one of the two instructors trained to administer the road tests, said he has gotten many positive responses about the pilot project and expects many teens will take advantage of the new option.
For parents, having their child tested at a local driver school is much more convenient than traveling to another county, and for teens, there's a comfort factor, he said.
"A lot of them know how to drive, but they get so nervous on test day when they have to get in the car with the examiner," Mr. Brock said of his young students. "(With this), they're with an instructor they're familiar with, and they're also familiar with the car because they've driven it for six hours."
Another advantage is the greater knowledge the instructor has about the students' abilities before the test.
He said the teenagers still must perform well during the road test, but it will aid the instructor to know ahead of time what they are capable of behind the wheel.
The drawback is that going through Brock's is pricier. The cost of the school's certificate program is $305, and during the trial period there will be an added fee to take the road test. During the trial period, an examiner from the DMVS also will accompany the school's instructors and independently score the students on all road tests to ensure fairness.
But both the fee and the examiner's presence could change if the project is expanded.
Joseph said he would have taken his road test at Brock's if the timing had worked out, But Greenbrier High School student Kyle Soloff said the program might not work for him when he turns 16 in February.
"I might go to the DMVS still to be able to use my own car," he said.
For new drivers younger than 18, Brock's Driver Education School offers a certificate program that includes:
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