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Driving test waiver for 16 and 17-year-olds may become permanent if passed into law

Updated: Jun. 11, 2021 at 6:49 PM CDT
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(WSAW) - Over the past year parents in Wisconsin have had the option to waive their 16- and 17-year-old student driver’s need to take the final driving test through the Department of Motor Vehicles as the state looked to reduce the number of people going into the DMV during the pandemic. As COVID-19 guidelines change and the state works to pass the next biennial budget, that waiver may remain after the pandemic subsides.

Gov. Tony Evers put the driving skills test waiver into his budget proposal in February and the legislative joint finance committee approved the budget item this week. The waiver would cost recipients $15 and it would reduce the Department of Transportations segregated budget by $210,600 in 2021- 22 and $421,300 in 2022-23. It would also eliminate 6.2 full-time positions.

The waiver is only available to 16- and 17-year-old drivers because they have more restrictions and requirements to drive than people who look to get a license when they are 18 and older. The requirements for a teenage driver to get a waiver are:

• Have held an instruction permit (also known as a learner’s permit or “temps”) for a minimum of six months with no violations

• Have completed an approved Driver Training Education Course

• Have completed behind-the-wheel training with a licensed instructor

• Have completed 30 hours of supervised driving with their parent/sponsor

• Have a parent or guardian’s permission to receive the road test waiver

They will then receive a graduated driver’s license and the restrictions and probationary status on that license are in effect for nine months for all drivers under 18.

“What we were seeing is people that (sic) are waiving the road test, their crash rate and their conviction rate is actually 0.5% lower than those 16- and 17-year-olds that (sic) choose to take the road test,” Kristina Boardman - Division of Motor Vehicles’ administrator said.

She explained they looked at other states that have had these waivers in place for decades like Iowa and Nebraska. Wisconsin had 52,000 parents sign the waivers during the pilot period since May, 2020. The bill to make the waiver permanent has bipartisan support, however, “we have heard some concerns from the driving training schools.”

Currently, there is no way for driver’s education schools, like CW Driving School in Schofield, to flag students in an automated system if they have concerns about their driving test being waived. Neal Gavinski, CW Driving School’s owner, and operator said he has conversations with parents if he has concerns.

“If a student is not picking up a certain skill, I’ll call a parent and have a conversation with them and say work on these things whether it’s traffic check where they’re stopping, making sure that they’re looking in reverse the entire time the car is going in reverse,” he said.

He encourages students to take the driving test through the DMV and gives students an incentive; if they get a perfect score of zero, he will give them a $25 gift card for gas. However, he gives interested parents confidence if he feels the students have their skills down.

If parents still are unsure, Boardman said the waiver is just an option, not a requirement.

“If you want someone else to make that decision, we’re happy to do that,” she said.

Boardman stated they will continue to have staff available to do driving tests and while they will be losing six positions, they are planning to move those six people into other open positions within the DMV and do not plan to lay anyone off.

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