COVID era program for new Wisconsin drivers coming to an end

Published: Oct. 4, 2023 at 9:27 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - A COVID era program that was meant to relieve a backlog of Wisconsin drivers getting their license is coming to an end after more than 3 years.

Wisconsin teens will have to schedule a mandated road test starting January 1st, 2024 after officials with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation announced on Wednesday the waiver program will end.

“No one anticipated this happening. We all knew the road test waiver could go away at any point, but we had no idea when and we didn’t get any kind of a heads up,” said Ryan Hammett. He owns a driver’s school named Accountable Driver Education in Eau Claire.

While taken by surprise, Hammett said the change is a welcomed one.

“Most students were great, you know, the vast majority of students. But every now and then we would get students who we thought maybe weren’t quite ready for the road test or weren’t ready to be driving. And ultimately, driving schools had no power,” said Hammett.

According to data from WisDOT, approximately 144,082 road test waivers have been authorized by parents/legal guardians since the program started on May 11th, 2020. However, applicants who are not at least 16-years-old and have had their learner’s permit for at least 6 months by December 31st will have to schedule a road test in order to get their license.

DMV customers could see a rise in people at centers in 2024.

WisDOT officials also said data on post-licensure citations and crashes for teens 16-years-old and 17-years-old showed no negative impact on highway safety between those who used a waiver or not.

“You know, it’s going to help every student take it seriously and know that they are going to have to take the road test. It’ll help further incentivize them to be working on their driving skills,” said Hammett. “The road test doesn’t mean you’re a great driver just because you pass the road test. But overall, it’ll be a good thing.”

In the meantime, Hammett said he and his team of instructors are ready to help out teens scrambling to get the waiver.

“Those students are definitely going to be reaching out, if they want to apply for the waiver, to try to finish their lessons,” said Hammett.

Another pilot program that started at the same time allows for online driver license renewal. WisDOT officials said an end date for that program is not established at this time.

They also said data from the road test waiver program is shared with the state legislature. It is up to lawmakers to make changes to Wisconsin statutes to make that program permanent.