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Online option for 5-hour course gets green light

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week that New York State Department of Motor Vehicles pre-licensing courses may now be offered online, aiding a large pool of prospective drivers who have been unable to attend classes during COVID-19.

New York’s “five-hour course” is a prerequisite for drivers who want to schedule a road test, and has been unavailable during months of the pandemic shutdown.

Last week’s order has given local driving instructors the green light to shift their courses online to services such as Zoom or Skype.

“I just got my notice. … I’ve been waiting for that,” said Bob Triscari, owner of Aadvance Driver Training in Jamestown. “They don’t want me to do any more seminars in my office, nobody is allowed to do them. So we are doing them via Zoom or Skype. Right now this is all new to me, I’ve got a (information technology) guy I’m going to be working with.”

Over the past several months, young drivers across the state have waited for news of when pre-licensing courses would resume, although road tests have still been available under certain conditions.

“This is going to be giving a lot of relief to our teens who have been waiting,” said Sam M. Qadri, owner of 4-Point Driving School in Busti. “I’m communicating with some of my roster students who have been waiting for it. I have close to 85 students on my roster waiting for this news. I’m just excited about it.”

Qadri has offered pre-licensing classes in Jamestown, Dunkirk and Little Valley while Triscari primarily serves only Jamestown.

Both instructors have taken steps to transition their in-person seminars online. Classes will still be limited to 36 participants.

“I’ve been busy prepping for the online presentation,” said Qadri, who will be using Zoom. “I have prepped my website, just now finished the final touches on a very simple, convenient, easy way for our students to try and login. The student’s can actually log in through their gmail account, sign up online for their class, and then be able to pay also online. There is absolutely no touching of any type, so that actually takes care of all of the health and safety issues that the state is concerned with.”

As with any new rollout of digital technology, a learning curve is expected. In preparing for his online courses, Triscari has come across new questions about using a large amount of internet bandwidth for a large videoconference, and also proctorship challenges.

During a normal classroom setting, it is easy to notice when one person of 30 leaves the room, or is not paying attention. Keeping tabs on students is different when an instructor is looking at a screen with 30 small faces.

“That is going to happen, I know it is going to happen, and I’m sure the DMV wants me to make sure that these people are being held accountable,” Triscari said.

Five-hour classes were originally suspended in the middle of March, although in-person driving lessons have still been allowed.

There had been some speculation that courses would resume with social distancing and reduced attendance mandates before last week’s order to shift online.

“When the pandemic happened I kept preparing for a reopening of 50% capacity,” Qadri said. “I took out half of the seats, spread them out 5 or 6 feet apart and I began preparing in a way expecting the in-class participation at 50%. I did not expect an online platform, and I am much happier with an online platform. I don’t have to worry about anything directly with the students.”

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