Wisconsin DOT to allow teens to skip behind-the-wheel drivers test to address COVID-19 backlog

MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Department of Transportation says it will be rolling out two pilot programs to deal with backlogs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The DMV has built up a backlog of 80,000 licenses that need to be renewed and 10,000 teenagers who are waiting to their their in-person road test to receive their drivers licenses.

Starting Monday, May 11th, the DMV will allow people to renew their licenses online. Also starting Monday, teenagers who have completed their training requirements and have the permission of a parent can skip the behind-the-wheel road test and get their license.

“We know this is a rite of passage, but because of the training requirements that are in place for drivers under the age of 18, nearly 98% of these drivers pass the road test on the first or second try. This tells us the training is effective and they are prepared to drive safely,” said DMV administrator Kristina Boardman.

In order to be eligible for parents or guardians to waive the road test, teens still have to have had their Learners Permit with no violations for at least six months, have completed driver education classes, completed behind-the-wheel training with a licensed instructor and have completed at least 30 hours of driving with their parent or sponsor.

The decision to waive the road test doesn’t sit well with many community members, including James Kapinus, the owner of Mad Area Driving School.

“You’re going to be putting some drivers out on the road that probably shouldn’t be out there,” Kapinus said.

Kapinus said about 10% of the students he trains behind the wheel are not ready for their final driving test after the six required lessons.

“Teens are the highest risk on the road,” he said. “Insurance is going to go up. The biggest part is I would feel bad if I see one of my students that you try to do the best for and they end up getting into an accident because they weren’t able to get that extra practice. There’s a reason they fail the road test. Because their skills aren’t quite there.”

“I want to point out that the graduated driver license that went into effect in Wisconsin in the year 2000, crash rates for teens have gone down 60% since that point. So that has been wildly successful,” Boardman said.

DOT officials say they will still offer limited in-person road tests for parents who want their teens to take the test, but don’t want to wait. As a precaution, DMV officials will be wearing personal protective equipment and bring their own seat cover for those in-person drivers tests.

Boardman added that these new rules only pertain to those who are under 18 years old and the rules are a choice, not a standard. Anyone over 18 years old still needs to take a road test.

“So, they should go online beginning this Friday,” Boardman said. “We will have many appointment slots open and we will are going to start administering those tests at the end of May once the safer at home order ends.”

In order to be eligible to renew a license online, drivers have to be age 64 or younger, have no new medical restrictions, and have no negative change in their vision since their last license renewal.

Those who want a REAL ID when they renew their license will still have to visit a DMV Customer Service Center.