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

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

Compared to many states, Wisconsin 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.

Wisconsin driver training schools may offer classroom instruction, behind-the-wheel training, or both. You may run your school out of your residence–although classroom instruction will need to be elsewhere.

This guide will walk you through the process.

How to open your driving school in Wisconsin

Driving School Licensing and Requirements

General requirements

To operate a driving school in Wisconsin, you will need to be licensed by the state. Licenses are valid for one year. . The forms are available online. Applications should be submitted online.

In addition to a completed application form, you should be prepared to include the following with your application:

  • Your approved school name–contact the Department of Transportation in advance.
  • A surety bond in the amount set by the Department–in your first year it looks like it might be $5,000, but contact the Department to make sure.
  • Your certificates of business and vehicle insurance
  • Your classroom and office self-certification forms, as explained by the Department.
  • A summary of your course, both for classroom and behind-the-wheel (BTW) instruction
  • Your form of contract/agreement with your students, as well as the form for the student records you must keep
  • Your instructional vehicle record.
  • A copy of your fee schedule.

The current regulations for Driver Training Schools as well as the guidelines are straightforward and clear. Driving school instructors and owners should know and comply with them.

Wisconsin requires the following minimum liability insurance coverage:

  • $500,000 bodily injury to one person
  • $500,000 bodily injury to more than one person
  • $8,000 personal injury protection–medical expenses, primarily
  • $500,000 business standard liability

If you have employees, you must carry workers’ compensation insurance covering them–and potentially you–in the event of injury while on the job. You should, of course, consider higher coverages and/or an umbrella policy to cover your operations.

Driving School Owner’s License

Wisconsin places few personal requirements on owners of driving schools. The main bar would be conviction for a number of crimes involving fraudulent behavior or moral turpitude. The regulations list the crimes beginning at page 2.

The license lasts for 24 months, and the application fee is $190.

Driving Instructor’s License

While no specific requirements are set for driving school owners, instructors must demonstrate qualification before they receive a license from Wisconsin. Submit the application form and $25 fee. Instructors must meet the following qualifications.

  • Be at least 19 years old
  • Hold a valid driver license and two years’ driving experience
  • An acceptable medical statement from within the previous 24 months.
  • You have not received more than 6 points in one year on your license, if the most recent points are less than one year old.
  • You have not received any suspensions/revocations in the past 4 years.

In addition, Wisconsin driving instructors must pass a road test which requires them to demonstrate both driving skills and instructional techniques.

Instructor licenses must be renewed every 24 months.

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 or other location should be included in your license application.

You may self-certify your classroom location on the self-certification form. If your classroom is in a public or private school, you must include a letter from the school administration. Your classroom must meet the following requirements:

  • It’s in a commercial zone or has a zoning waiver
  • Your classroom must be at least 1,500 feet from any DMV customer service center or road test site, unless your town has a population of under 10,000.
  • You provide 20 square feet per occupant, with the largest class size permitting being 35.
  • It is clean and free of distractions; you have appropriate AV equipment and adequate lighting, temperature control, and ventilation; you have access to restroom facilities.

Your office space must meet local and state building requirements, and it must be accessible to the public during your regular business hours. It must be accessible to persons with disabilities..

Your office must meet the following requirements:

  • It has adequate lighting, temperature control, and ventilation.
  • It is in a business zone.
  • It’s at least 1,500 feet from any DMV road test site.
  • It has access to restroom facilities, and has space for all the equipment and records required.

A home office must be approved through a site-visit from the department. It must be a separate room with direct exterior access. It must be approved under your local zoning code, and students under 18 are not allowed in the office without a parent being present.

Your office must have its listed telephone number.

Records must be maintained at your main business office.

You are required to check with the department on all routes it uses in your area for road tests. You may not instruct on them..

Your school name cannot be substantially similar to that of another driving school, and you may not use the words “State”, “Government”, “Municipal”, “City”, or “County” in the school name, and you must use your school’s name only in advertising and publicity.

Don’t ever give a student or parent the impression that your instruction guarantees receiving a driver’s license–you may mention your pass rate.

Vehicles

Your vehicles need to have dual controls for the brakes. They must have passed the most recent Wisconsin safety and emissions inspection.

If your vehicles are less than 3 years old or have less than 100,000 miles, a department examiner may inspect it. Otherwise, a mechanic must complete the inspections.

Your vehicles must carry signs indicating it is for driving instruction–the signs must be visible from the rear.

Records and Contracts

You will need to keep records of all students and instruction for at least four years after they finish their training with you. You will need to develop either a paper or computer (or both) form for record keeping, and submit it to the department.

The records you need to keep are:

  • Date, type and duration of all lessons or other instructional activities.
  • The students participating in each activity
  • The instructor leading and the vehicle used for each activity.
  • A copy of each agreement for instruction between you and a student.

You must provide a written contract/agreement for each student. The contracts must

  • Be numbered consecutively
  • Include the date and school name
  • Describe the types of instruction to be given
  • State the fees for all instruction
  • Indicate that “This constitutes the entire agreement between the school and the customer or student, and no verbal statement or promises will be recognized.”
  • Includes the name and address of the student and the signatures of the student–and parent/guardian if the student is over 18.

The Driving School Curriculum in Wisconsin

Driving schools in Wisconsin must offer all three components of the mandated Driver Education program:  classroom, on-road, and parental instruction.

Your classroom course consists at least 30 clock hours, and the behind-the-wheel course must last for 12 clock hours–6 BTW and 6 observing. You must plan around the following time constraints:

  • Classroom courses must extend for at least 3 weeks.
  • No more than 2 clock hours of classroom instruction may be taken by a student per day
  • BTW instruction must also last for at least 3 weeks. A student may receive no more than 1 clock hour of BTW driving instruction and 2 hours of observation per day.
  • You may replace 2 hours of observation with 1 hour of driving; thus you may offer a 9 hour BTW only course, or a 8/2, or 7/4 BTW/observation course.
  • 4 hours of simulator time may replace 1 hour of BTW time, and up to 3 hours of BTW may be replaced with simulator time.
  • BTW and observation time may be concurrent with classroom time.

Topics which must be covered during your course of instruction include

  • Farm machinery and animals on the highways
  • 30 minutes on organ donation
  • 30 minutes on motorcycle awareness
  • Passing stopped emergency vehicles, tow trucks, and highway machinery
  • 30 minutes on railroad crossings
  • The dangers of texting and driving
  • 30 minutes on the hazards motor vehicles are to vulnerable highway drivers.

You may create your own curriculum, but it must conform to the requirements of guidebook.

In addition to the topics listed above, you must also address the following in your classroom course:

  • Responsibilities of driving and vehicle ownership
  • Vehicle mechanical and control issues
  • Environmental dynamics
  • Pre-driving skills and maneuvers
  • City, Freeway and Rural Driving
  • Traffic citizenship
  • Influence of psychophysical items (drugs, alcohol, mood, health)

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

  • Left and right turns; backing; Y-turns
  • Parking
  • City, Rural, Freeway driving
  • Hazards of farm animals and machinery
  • Railroad crossings

Commercial Driver’s License Instruction

You will be applying for approval through the Wisconsin Educational Approval Program for your CDL School license. The Guide for EAP oversight should be printed and followed.

The forms you need are available on the EAP website.

Starting a Small Business in Wisconsin

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

You should also register with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

Business name

Before you get going, you’ll want to check to see if the business name you want is in fact available in Wisconsin. You can search the Wisconsin database, as well as visit the office of the county recorder.

Once you know your business name is available, you can reserve it with the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office.

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 Wisconsin, the big step you have to take is to register your Assumed Business Name with the county or town clerk 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 Wisconsin. 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 Wisconsin. 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 register and submit forms as guided by the state’s one-stop website.

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 Wisconsin, 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

Wisconsin boasts that it’s open for business, and the process of starting and running a driving school seems straightforward and easy.

Draw up your business plan, set up your business, get licensed by the state–and you’re to training the next generation of Wisconsin drivers.

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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