Proposal to make driver test for teens permanently waived receives mixed reaction

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 10:12 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Teen drivers in Wisconsin may no longer have to take the behind-the-wheel test before getting their driver’s license. The proposal, now signed-off by the state’s budget-writing committee, would make a pandemic-era waiver permanent if approved by the state legislature.

The move stems from a Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation pilot project enacted in May of 2020. It allows eligible 16 and 17-year-olds to skip the final test. However, it has received mix reaction from driving instructors.

Stacy Brzezinski, a parent in Sun Prairie, helped her son get his license online in April after he completed all his required driver’s education.

“My oldest just got his license, which is scary for any parent. But then, even a little bit scarier with the choice of having him take the drivers test or not,” she said.

Their family chose to waive the final behind-the-wheel test. According to representatives with the Wisconsin DMV, more than 52,000 families from May of 2020 to June of 2021 made the same decision.

“I feel confident with his instructors and what he was doing. Again, my husband and I both drove with him as much as we possibly could,” Brzezinski said.

Wisconsin DMV center
Wisconsin DMV center(WEAU)

Wisconsin DMV Administrator Kristina Boardman said the goal of the pilot program was to reduce the number of people stepping into their offices amid the pandemic.

“We felt very comfortable with this pilot because of all of the driver training requirements, the restricted license that is going right after it and knowing that parent is spending quite a bit of time in the car with them,” Boardman said.

Boardman said teens still have to complete all required driver’s education requirements, including 30 hours of a practice with a parent and time with an instructor.

“We are looking at crashes and convictions, and we are not seeing a negative impact of waiving the road test,” Boardman said.

However, the owner of Mad-Area Driving School, Jim Kapinus, said once schools like his submit proof of course completion to the DMV, it is up to the parents to make the call if their child is ready.

“It would save the DMV a lot of manpower, but there needs to be something in place to take care of the students that are not ready,” Kapinus said.

He said he feels there needs to be a system in place, where driving schools can signal to the DMV when a student may need further instruction and practice before obtaining a license.

“There’s some students, that are going to fall through the cracks of not being a skillful driver and be a problem on the road,” Kapinus said.

Boardman said roughly 85 percent of teens pass the driving test the first time.

“Between the parents, us and driver training schools, we all should be communicating, and we are all focused on safety and wanting to make sure that when you hand those keys over to drive independently, they are ready to do so,” Boardman said.

Boardman said the state legislature has to pass the budget once its finalized. If the driving test waiver proposal is approved, it could permanently go into effect as soon as July 1.

Drivers 18 and older will still need to take a road test to get their licenses. The DOT said that is because these drivers do not have the same extra requirements as younger drivers.

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