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

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

Compared to many states, Virginia makes it relatively easy to establish a driving school. You still need to complete forms, and meet requirements, but the state seems to be driving-school friendly.

Virginia driving schools may offer classroom instruction, behind-the-wheel training, or both. Some driving schools may also participate in the testing waiver program, in which the school itself manages the driving tests for the state.

How to open your driving school in Virginia

Driving School Licensing and Requirements

General requirements

To operate a driving school in Virginia, you will need to be licensed by the state. Licenses are valid for twelve months from date of issue. The Commonwealth spells out the process on the DMV website. Before you apply, you should review the legislation and regulations pertaining to Driver Training Schools.  Then contact the DMV at dmvclu@dmv.virginia.gov or (804) 367-7050 to get the name of your school approved.

Your application packet must include:

  • A completed application form, containing full information about your driving school, including all branches, owners, and partners.
  • A surety bond in the amount of $5,000, protecting students against default.
  • A copy of your contract which you use with students.
  • Your vehicle insurance certificate if you are offering behind-the-wheel instruction.
  • Proof of your local business licensee–if your locality does not require one, you’ll need a letter from them stating that.
  • A national criminal history record for all owners.

The DMV does not have specific personal requirements for owners of driving schools, other than being free of conviction from a list of specified felonies.

Insurance

Virginia does not require a specific level of coverage other than the minimum coverage of $25,000 for injury to one person, $50,000 for all injuries, and $20,000 property damage arising out of one accident, as well as uninsured motorist coverage.  Prudent business people will carry higher levels and/or an umbrella policy.

If you have employees, you must carry workers’ compensation insurance covering them–and you–in the event of injury while on the job.

Driving Instructor’s License

While no specific requirements are set for driving school owners, instructors must demonstrate qualification before they receive a license from Virginia. The process to apply is outlined by the state, and must be submitted online. Driving instructors must submit an application, and meet the following standards.

  • Be employed by a driving school
  • Have at least a high school diploma (or equivalent)
  • Have a valid license with at least 5 years’ driving experience and no more than 6 points on it.
  • Submit to a criminal background check.
  • Provide either a transcript from an accredited college/university showing completion of 6 semester hours in Driver’s Education–the specific course titles are “Introduction to Driver Education: Driver Task Analysis” and “Instructional Principles of Teaching Driver Education”, or a valid Virginia teaching license with a driver education endorsement

Location

You are generally free to establish your business anywhere you see fit–meeting the requirements outlined below. You can choose to have classroom space, or you may conduct classroom driver education at off-site locations, including local public or private schools. Your contract with the school should be included in your license application.

Your main or established place of business must be the licensed location of the school, and conform to all local business licensing and zoning requirements. You must be able to store the required records there, unless you have received permission to store records at another location. The office space must be devoted exclusively to the driving school.

You may use your residence if the use conforms with the Federal tax deduction requirements as well as the other rules outlined here.

You have to install a telephone listed in the schools name, and be open for at least eight hours per week during normal business hours. Your office may not share space with a school classroom. If you are leasing space, you must provide the DMV with a copy of the lease.

Your office and instruction hours must be posted conspicuously outside your office, as well as any other offices. In addition, you must post your license and the DMV-provided signs notifying students of the DMV’s toll-free hotline.

Your locations–office, classroom, and any other facilities, must be at least 1,500 fee from any property used by the DMV for driver license training. Your spaces must be approved before you begin operations.

Classroom

If you are providing classroom instruction, your classroom must

  • Provide at least 10 square feet per student.
  • Include seating and writing surfaces for all students.
  • Ensure that chalkboards/whiteboards and all visual aids can be seen from every seat.
  • Have appropriate reference books, curriculum guides, and textbooks for each student.
  • Include appropriate A/V equipment, including a screen.
  • Have restroom facilities available–clean, accessible, and in good working order.

Operations

You are subject to a few regulations on your conduct of business.  Most of them are fairly common-sense, like not being under the influence of alcohol while on the premises or in school vehicles.

You shouldn’t suggest that students are guaranteed to receive a driver’s license from your instruction, although you are allowed to mention the pass rate of your students. You can’t provide translation services for students taking the written test.

Records and Contracts

You will need to keep records of all students for at least three years after they finish their training with you. The DMV may inspect and make copies records at anytime. Records may be kept on paper or electronically, but must be available for inspection

The records you must maintain include

  • Student records
  • Business records
  • Local business licensing, zoning, building/fire/health code compliance, as well as records pertaining to the size and space requirements.

The specific information to be included in a student’s record is not specified by the Commonwealth. That said, your student record should include at least the following:

  • Name, address, and contact information
  • The student’s driving permit/license number
  • The dates and times of instruction
  • Your copy of the permit and provisional license
  • The contract number
  • Progress reports
  • The fees paid.
  • The results of any testing you administer to the student.

Your student contracts must contain certain information, and be in a standard form approved by the department. The contracts must define the goals of your instruction, not include any indication that places financial responsibility for accidents to school-owned vehicles during instruction on the student or parents, contain page numbers, and include the DMV toll-free number at the bottom of the contract. It must contain the following:

  • The minimum number of classroom periods and behind-the-wheel sessions required for students under 18.
  • The contract price per period, lesson, or package, and the terms of payment.
  • The additional charge, if any, for using a school vehicle for the road test.
  • An indication that driving school is not required for students 18 and older who’ve possessed a learner’s permit for at least 60 days.
  • A statement indicating that instruction does not guarantee passage of the driver’s license exam.
  • The student’s name, address, and telephone number.
  • Your policy for making up missed instruction.
  • Your refund policy if you are unable to perform your side of the contract.
  • A place for parents to sign giving permission for one-on-one driver training as well as observation.
  • The required DMV statement.

If you are in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudon, and Prince William Counties, or in the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park, you must include a signature line for parents of students under 18 to sign, indicating their awareness of required parent attendance at an additional 90-minute session as part of the classroom component.

The Driving School Curriculum in Virginia

Virginia mandates the specific topics covered by the curriculum for every driving school, both for the in-class as well as the behind-the-wheel portions of driver’s education.  You are, of course, free to add information.

Your classroom course must last for at least 36 hours, and the behind-the-wheel course must last for 7 hours. In addition, 7 hours of observation time is required. During the normal school year, no more than 2 of classroom time and 2 hours of behind-the-wheel/observation time is permitted per day. The latter still applies during the summer, but you may offer more classroom time per day during the summer.

Virginia expects the classroom portion of the course will cover the following topics; you will have to provide an outline of your curriculum as part of your application.

  • Knowledge of the Virginia motor vehicle and traffic laws as well as organ donation
  • Driving in Low, Moderate, and Complex Risk Environments
  • Personal factors, including drugs and alcohol
  • Adverse conditions, including weather issues
  • Making informed choices

Your behind-the-wheel course must ensure that each student can demonstrate ability in the following skills:

  • Stopping, starting, and shifting
  • Turning, lane changing, and lane positioning
  • Signaling and merging
  • Backing, parallel parking, and steering

In Virginia, new drivers have to complete 45 hours of supervised driving in addition to time driving as part of driver’s education. 15 of those hours need to be completed after sunset. Supervised driving requires a licensed driver to be in the front seat next to the driver.

Commercial Driver’s License Instruction

Providing instruction for students pursuing a CDL in Virginia generally follow those for the regular driver’s license.

The classroom component of the curriculum must last at least 40 hours, and the in-vehicle component must last for 80 hours. No more than 10 hours of instruction may be provided in one day.

CDL programs should organize their curriculum around the Virginia CDL manual, as well as the Virginia supplement.

Starting a Small Business in Virginia

Your driving school is not just subject to the requirements for driver’s education in Virginia. 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 Virginia, 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.

Virginia provides a brief guide to a variety of decisions you will have to make up front.

Business name

Before you get going, you’ll want to check to see if the business name you want is in fact available in Virginia. You can search the Virginia database, as well as visit the office of the County Clerk. Some Clerk-based information is available online.

Once you know your business name is available, you can reserve it online with the Secretary of State–if you’re forming a corporation or LLC.

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 Virginia, the big step you have to take is to register your business name with the Clerk of each county in which you have a place of business.

Corporations and LLCs

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 Virginia–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.

You may be able to set your driving school up as an LLC in Virginia. 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.

Both Corporations and LLCs file with the Secretary of State. In addition to name reservation, you’ll need to submit the following.

  • Corporations submit Articles of Incorporation
  • LLCs submit Articles of Organization

Now What Do I Do?

Once you’ve complied with all the legal requirements to be both a driving school and a small business in Virginia, 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

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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