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How to Start a Driving School in New York: A Step-by-Step Guide

Here you’ll learn everything you need to start your Driving School in New York

As it does for many other businesses, New York has fairly detailed and strict rules for Driving Schools in the state. These regulations are not difficult to comply with, however, and should be easy to live with once you begin the process of establishing your school.

The regulations are balanced by a variety of resources New York also provides. These resources will help you make sure that you are in compliance with the rules and regulations.

Here’s a quick summary of the key things you’ll learn

Driving School Information in Detail

Before you open your doors, you need to make sure that you are in compliance with your state’s requirements.

Here’s an outline of New York’s regulations for starting and running a driving school. If you want the full set of regulations, the New York Division of Driver Program Regulation publishes a copy of the complete Commissioner’s Regulations. Needless to say, you should be familiar with the regulations, and follow them to the letter.

The First Steps

  • Even before you apply to start the school, you must first receive approval for the business name. The form for business name approval is available on the state site, and may be submitted by mail, fax, or email (if you have Adobe Acrobat).
  • Obtain your premises. You will not be able to complete the application for a Driving School License which requires, among other items, a copy of the lease.
  • Complete all the other required items which have to be included in your application–these are outlined later.

Premises

  • Your premises must be at least 50 square feet for an office-only driving school.
  • If you are providing the Pre-License Classroom training, the classroom space must be at at least 150 square feet on top of the office space; this space allows for 10 students maximum–each additional student requires 15 more square feet, to a maximum of 36 students.
  • If you are setting up your New York Driving School in a city of more than 250,000 people, your premises must be in a store, portion of a building, or a completely non-residential use.
  • The premises may not be within 1,500 feet of a New York State DMV office which issues motor vehicle registrations or licenses.
  • Your school may not be within 1,500 feet of an official New York State road test site.
  • You must post certain signage:  “Applicant must be given a receipt for all payments”, as well as your hours of operation and schedule of fees.

Premises Check

If you will be offering the 5-hour Pre-Licensing Course in your classroom, you will need to request a classroom premises check by submitting form MV-279. The form outlines expectations for the classroom, including heating, lighting, ventilation, as well as chalkboards and audio-video equipment.

Only high schools and colleges may provide the full 48-hour Driver and Traffic Safety Education Course.  Many of them will include the Pre-Licensing course as part of their curriculum. You should explore what the schools and colleges in your area provide before you commit to a classroom space.

People, Vehicles, and Office

Your driving school must have at least one experienced driving instructor, holding a valid instructor’s license. That instructor must have at least 1,000 hours experience as a behind-the-wheel instructor.

If you have employees, you must have full Worker’s Compensation Insurance for them. The certificate of insurance must be included in the application for a driving school license.

Your vehicles must have seat belts for instructor and student(s)–some may be observing–as well as dual controls on the foot brakes. Signage on the vehicles must include “STUDENT DRIVER”, and they may contain advertising.

Application

Once you have your approval of your Driving School name, you can file your application for a driving school license. The application package must include.

  • A completed application, Form MV 521, along with a non-refundable $50 application fee.
  • the Personal History form (MV-521.1) for each owner, partner, corporate officer, manager, agent, employee (other than instructors), and major stockholder (20% or more).
  • Proof of Worker’s Compensation insurance for your employees; if you do not have any employees, you must submit a completed Workers’ Compensation exemption form (CE-200) with the application.
  • Your business certificate.
  • a copy of the lease and Certificate of Occupancy for your premises.
  • a copy of the receipt form you will use; the receipt requirements are very nitpicky, including a requirement to have them numbered sequentially AND preprinted. New York does provide a form of receipt you can complete and print, but you will have to have a sequence of receipts printed to fulfil this requirement–no receipt numbers may ever be repeated.
  • the Student Record Card you will use, making sure the record is consistent with the information required by Section 76.8 of the Commissioner’s regulations–name, address, telephone number, contract number, description of services provided (including date and time), and receipt numbers; records must be kept alphabetically by student name, but you may have separate active and inactive files.
  • your schedule of fees for all services you provide.
  • listing of all vehicles you will be using for training and testing purposes Form MV-527).
  • An application for a Driving Instructor Certificate (Form MV-523) for each instructor.

This application packet must be submitted by mail to the Bureau of Driver Training Programs at

New York State Department of Motor Vehicles
Bureau of Driver Training Programs
6 Empire State Plaza, Room 221
Albany, NY 12228

Site Visit and Classroom Inspection

After your application is reviewed in Albany, the Bureau sends it to the local DMV office. That office will contact you to set up a time for an inspection of your premises–and the classroom if you are going to offer Pre-Licensing course. You may send the Request for Premises check (Form MV-279) in with your application.

After inspection and approval, you’ll pay the driving school license fee of $50; when you receive your Driving School License and Instructor Certificate, post them all in plain view at your premises, and you may open for business–as far as the State is concerned.

What exactly do you want to achieve through content marketing? Do you want to increase traffic to your blog, get people to follow you on Facebook and Twitter, or send people form your blog to your contact page? All of these?

The performance of your content marketing efforts can and should be measured. Tools such as Google Analytics or the insights built into WordPress and social media websites help you check visits, time spent on site, shares, comments, bounce rate and more at a glance.

Refund Policy

New York is very specific on refund policies for Driving Schools. New York requires refunds when prepayment has been made if the student provides at least 24 hours notice before withdrawing from a course of instruction. The School may subtract the enrollment fee, if one was charged, as well as the per-lesson cost of lessons actually completed before withdrawal–determined by dividing the total fee for lessons paid by the number of lessons in the package.

The refund requirements suggest that you should have a clear enrollment fee as well as a set price for a series of lessons–you need to know what you will have to refund if a student drops out of your program.

Driver Education in New York

New York permits two driver’s education curricula.  Driving schools (as well as public and private high schools, colleges, and BOCES) may offer the Pre-licensing Course. Only schools or colleges may offer the full Driver and Traffic Safety Education course, but private driving schools may be contracted to provide the behind the wheel portion.

Pre-Licensing Course

The Pre-licensing Course consists of six units which will take from 4-5 hours to complete. Each course in New York must adhere to the structure and topics outlined in the Pre-licensing Course Instructor’s Manual, although each teacher may approach topics as they see fit. The course uses the following sequence:

  • Unit 1–Course Introduction
  • Unit 2–Driving in the Highway Transportation System
  • Unit 3–Driver Habits and Skills
  • Unit 4–Feelings, Attitudes, and Taking Risks
  • Unit 5–Alcohol, Other Drugs, and Driving
  • Unit 6–Course Recap

Total video time should not exceed 1 hour during the 5 hour course, and instructors should constantly be asking questions of the students.

To teach the Pre-licensing course, you must be a licensed Driving Instructor, and complete a 30-hour Teaching Techniques and Methodology course and have at least one year experience as a behind-the-wheel instructor. The course is offered by many colleges throughout the state..

Classrooms must be able to hold between 10 and 36 students, and be adequately lit and heated. State inspection is required as outlined previously.

When you advertise your Pre-licensing Course, which some call the “5-Hour Course”, you may not indicate that it has a class time of less than 5 hours. State law requires that at least 2 hours be spent on Alcohol and Drug education.

Students must have their learner permit prior to starting a Pre-Licensing class. The state recommends that students have some driving experience before taking the Pre-licensing Course.

Driving schools must order completion certificates (Form MV-278) in booklets of 50; the ordering process is detailed and spelled out in the state’s FAQ sheet on MV-278. Items worth noting include:

  • You’ll be allowed to order no more than a two-months’ supply at one time.
  • The booklets are $50 each.
  • You must submit all rosters to your local DMV Testing and Investigation unit at the same time you send the order form (Form 278.8 CDS) and fee to the Utica office, as noted on the order form; find the Testing and Investigation unit by contacting the main local DMV office.
  • Do NOT pre-sign the certificates.

You will need to maintain the following records for your Pre-licensing courses:

  • Completed certificates for the previous 12 months.
  • Securely stored certificate booklets–not presigned.
  • Current rosters for all students.
  • Your license to operate a driving school.

Please make sure you read and follow all of the instructions on all the forms from the NY DMV.

New York Driver and Traffic Safety Education

Commercial driving schools may not offer the NY DTSE program, although they may be contracted to provide the behind-the-wheel portion. We’re including some information here so you know what these course provide.

New York DTSE courses require the following:

  • 24 hours of in-class instruction, covering the key information for the driving test, including Chapters 4 – 11 of the NY Driver’s Manual.
  • 24 hours of laboratory instruction, including 6 hours behind-the-wheel and 6 hours of observation. The remaining 12 hours may be either behind-the-wheel or observation.

A commercial driving school may be contracted by a school district to provide some or all of the laboratory components of the DTSE. In that capacity, you will need to comply with Section XII of the NY Department of Education’s requirements for DTSE.  Key things to be aware of are in the following list, but please make sure you read all the requirements.

  • You will not be providing administrative duties for the program.
  • You must be fully-licensed.
  • You may not provide any of the lecture services for the classroom portion of the course.
  • You may not advertise on school grounds or during instruction.
  • Any instructors providing laboratory instruction must comply with the State fingerprinting requirements for working with schools.
  • You will need to register all instructors with the school’s LENS account (License Event Notification Service).
  • You will have to cover all costs for use of your School’s vehicle(s) while providing the laboratory instruction.

Behind-the-Wheel Requirements for New Drivers under 18

Drivers under 18 years old may not take their road test until they have driven for at least 50 hours with a supervising driver. The supervising driver must be at least 21 years old and licensed to drive the type of vehicle the license sought is for. Hours must also comply with any regional restrictions, and at least 15 must be completed after Sunset.

Parents/guardians must complete the Certification form (MV-262). Certified driving instructors may provide the supervised driving, and will have to complete the appropriate part of that form to certify the completion of those hours. Make sure your records thoroughly reflect these hours, as the state may inspect them.

Requirements to be a Driving Instructor in New York

Driving school owners in New York must also be certified driving instructors. To become a certified driving instructor, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be employed by a NY DMV licensed driving school.
  • Be at least 21 years old.
  • Possess a driver’s license valid for at least 2 years, and it has not been suspended or revoked in the last 2 years.
  • Have an acceptable driving record
  • Have at least a high school education.
  • Pass the required vision, road sign, written, and driving instructor driving tests

You must complete a course called Methods and Content Course for In-Car Instruction, offered by many community colleges and driving schools. This 30-hour course may be completed before your first certificate expires. This course is separate from the course required to teach the Pre-driving course.

In addition, you must never have been convicted of a felony, or of any crime involving violence, dishonesty, deceit, indecency, degeneracy, or moral turpitude.

Needless to say, any other driving instructors you hire must have the same license to provide driving instruction in New York.

No one can get a driving instructor certificate until they have been hired by a driving school. Once you are hired, file an Application for Driving School Instructor certificate (Form MV-523), and submit the required fee, a photograph, and a copy of your high school diploma.

Commercial Driver’s License Instruction

Providing instruction for students pursuing a CDL in New York generally follow those for the regular driver’s license. Instructors must have a licence of the type they provide lessons for. Thus, to provide instructions for people seeking a CDL, you need to have one also.

To obtain a CDL in New York, the driver must

  • Be at least 21 years old if seeking a Class A CDL–tractor trailers, as well as other commercial vehicles.
  • Be at least 18 years old for a Class B or C license–smaller trucks or passenger vehicles, but you won’t be able to drive out-of-state, transport hazardous materials, or drive a school bus.
  • Live in New York and be legally present in the United States.
  • speak and read English well enough to engage in conversation, read the signs, complete the paperwork, and take the tests to get the CDL.
  • able to present a successful US Department of Transportation medical examination.

There are numerous details to these rules, and the New York CDL manual spells them out. New York does not require a minimum number of hours of practice driving, but does recommend getting as many as possible.

New York Driving Schools can provide classroom instruction and supervised driving for people seeking their CDLs.  There’s no mandatory curriculum, but the manual should be the guide for what a driving school offers CDL candidates.

Passing the written test is required to obtain the Commercial Learner’s permit. No candidate can schedule a road test for less than 14 days after the issuance of the learner’s permit. Scheduling the road test must be completed online.

Starting a Small Business in New York

Your driving school is not just subject to the requirements for driver’s education in New York. You also need to establish your Driving School as a small business, and have to consider a number of factors. The form of business you take up, as well as the procedures, are appropriate topics of conversation with your lawyer and accountant. The considerations we offer here are not legal advice, but should provide you with things to think about as you set up your business.

Business Registration

All businesses need to register in New York, especially the business name—the “doing business as” certificate. Banks may not be willing to set up your account until you have that DBA form. We’ll include where to register in the business structures below.

You will also need to obtain a Federal Employer Identification Number. Banks may need it for your business accounts, and you may be wanting to employ people. To obtain an EIN, go to the IRS website and complete the application form you find linked there.

Sole Proprietorship

Owning your own business is the easiest one to set up, but also may open you to liability concerns. As a sole proprietor, your business is simply part of your life. You keep a separate set of books, and complete a Schedule C for your 1040 form every April.

Sole proprietorships can expose the proprietor for full liability, even with insurance. That may mean that if you are sued, you may lose your home and property, as well as your personal bank accounts and other assets.  This risk may not be worth the ease and independence.

In New York, sole proprietorships are subject to the following requirements:

  • Register your DBA with the county clerk.
  • Make sure you know how to handle New York tax matters; driving school services are not subject to sales tax, but if you sell any physical product–such as t-shirts–you will need to collect sales tax.
  • Comply with all zoning requirements where your premises will be.

Corporations

You may set up a full corporation (“Inc.”) as your business structure. Corporations limit your liability for loss to your investment in it, as a general rule (although banks may require you to be obligated personally if you take out a loan to get your business going). This form of business keeps your personal assets safe.

As an owner of a corporation, you’ll have to set up your driving school consistently with the rules for corporations in New York–those rules can be found at <this state run website>. You’ll also have to decide whether to be an S Corporation or a C Corporation. Generally, the S Corporation form is set up for small businesses. It allows income and taxes to pass through to the owners. You will want to discuss these forms with your attorney and accountant.

Corporations in New York are required to register as noted below, as well as submit other forms as noted.

  • You should search to make sure the name you want to use is available. The NY Department of State’s online search page will help, or you can submit the search requests by mail. The Department recommends including the search page results with your application–so print it or save it as a pdf.
  • File the certificate of incorporation with the New York Department of State. This filing may be completed online.
  • If you are going to conduct business under a name other than your corporate name, you will need to file a Certificate of Assumed Name with the New York Department of State, also. It may not be submitted online.
  • When you submit the Certificate of Assumed Name, the fee you pay will include $25 for each county you do business in–except for the five counties in New York City; for those five, the fee is $100 each.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

You may be able to set your driving school up as an LLC in New York. The LLC form provides the same limited liability as a Corporation, but do not have to comply with the corporate formalities most states require, including items like bylaws, required stockholder meetings, and minutes (although minutes of meetings are probably a good idea).

You’ll have to discuss the advantages and disadvantages for the LLC with your attorney and accountant.

LLCs must register and follow other requirements of New York’s laws:

  • You should search to make sure the name you want to use is available. The NY Department of State’s online search page will help, or you can submit the search requests by mail. The Department recommends including the search page results with your application–so print it or save it as a pdf.Registration
  • File the certificate of incorporation with the New York Department of State. This filing may be completed online.
  • You must publish the formation of your LLC in two newspapers, once per week for six consecutive weeks. One paper must be printed daily, the other printed weekly.  The County Clerk designates the news papers.
  • File both the Affidavits of Publication and Certificate of Publication with the Department of State; you will receive the Affidavit from the newspapers.

Now What Do I Now?

Once you’ve complied with all the legal requirements to be both a driving school and a small business in New York, you need to get students.

Getting students requires marketing—largely on the internet. You will need the following systems set up to obtain students:

  • A website—focused on the types of students you want to attract, and aimed at your locality.
  • The website should also include a blog, which allows you write about a variety topics and engage in Search Engine Optimization—which will drive traffic to your site.
  • A Facebook page, linked to your website, to become noticed and drive traffic.
  • Getting testimonials from successful students.

Marketing is something you will have to devote time to. DrivingSchool.Marketing can help you get the best bang for your marketing buck.

Conclusion

At first glance, the process for starting a driving school in New York is complicated. Most of the complication comes from completing multiple forms, however, and those forms are largely fill-in pdfs.  Because you can fill them in and print them, you should be able to navigate the process smoothly.

Your role in helping new drivers become safe drivers in all parts of New York, from Long Island to Buffalo, Plattsburgh to Jamestown, is crucial. You will be ensuring that they develop good, safe habits which will serve them well.

Disclaimer: This page is part of DrivingSchool.Marketing’s series of state and provincial pages designed to help entrepreneurs like you start driving schools. States change their regulations, or the web pages they host their forms. While we believe these rules are accurate as of the date of publication, we cannot guarantee full accuracy. Please let us know if you spot any problems.

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Josh Meah

Josh Meah

Josh is the CEO of DrivingSchool.Marketing. His goal is to be the marketing and business development partner of driving schools around the world, helping them become thriving businesses while also expanding general awareness for the importance of traffic safety standards and education.

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