The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) on Tuesday announced two pilot programs that will safely address a backlog of demand for Wisconsin driver’s license renewals and probationary driver’s licenses for individuals under 18 years old. The delays were created by the COVID-19 pandemic that has prevented residents from visiting the local Division of Motor Vehicle (DMV) Customer Service Centers.

Both pilot programs start next Monday (May 11) and are expected to continue through the 2020 calendar year.

Online driver’s license renewal

This pilot program allows many customers who have delayed visiting a DMV center to renew their driver’s license quickly and easily online at wisconsindmv.gov/renewDL.

To be eligible for this program, drivers must meet all the following:

  • Must be a U.S. citizen with a regular (Class D) driver’s license (Commercial driver’s licenses do not qualify).
  • Must be 64 years of age or under.
  • No new medical restrictions.
  • Has not had a negative change to their vision since the last renewal.

Customers who renew online will receive a confirmation email they can print and use until their new card arrives by mail within ten days. The $34 renewal fee remains the same. After the next normal renewal cycle of eight years, customers will need to visit a DMV for a new photo to complete the renewal.

WisDOT stated in a news release that renewing online may not be an option for everyone.

While the deadline for a REAL ID has been extended one year to October 1, 2021, customers wanting a driver’s license that is REAL ID-compliant will need to visit a DMV Customer Service Center. Without a REAL ID designation on a driver’s license or ID, travelers will need another form of identification, like a passport, for domestic air travel.

Due to COVID-19, approximately 80,000 people whose driver’s license expired have received an extension to renew, WisDOT reported. Those extensions, with late fees waived, are set to expire on July 25.

Wisdot road tests waived for 16- and 17-year-olds

In the other pilot program, road tests may be waived for 16- and 17-year-olds who complete the required training and have their parent or guardian sign the road test waiver. The criteria these drivers must meet to be granted a probationary driver’s license in Wisconsin include:

  • They must hold an Instruction Permit (also known as a Learners Permit) violation-free for at least six months before testing
  • They must have completed driver education classes
  • They have completed behind-the-wheel training with a licensed instructor
  • They have completed at least 30 hours of driving with their parent/sponsor and their sponsor signs the road test waiver

The restrictions of a probationary graduated driver’s license still apply for at least nine months.

Parents or guardians are vital to ensuring novice drivers are equipped to drive safely. The waiver is not mandatory. Parents who opt to have their young driver take a road test at a DMV may schedule that appointment online beginning this Friday (May 8).

Testing, by appointment only, begins Tuesday, May 26. DMV stopped doing road tests in mid-March due to COVID-19. When road tests resume, examiners will apply a seat cover when entering the driver’s vehicle and wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including a face shield, to protect the driver and themselves. After the exam, novice drivers will order their licenses online from home, and the card will be sent within ten business days.

DMV estimates a backlog of 16,000 road test requests; 10,000 of those will be eligible for the road test waiver. The DMV typically conducts approximately 2,100 road tests per week. Nearly 65 percent of these tests are for people under the age of 18, with 98 percent passing their road test on their first or second attempt. Wisconsin also has a Graduated driver’s license (GDL) law that places strict expectations on drivers under 18. The GDL requirements have improved safety and will remain in place. 

DMV customer service centers will have expanded hours (7 a.m. to 5 p.m.) from Monday, May 11 through Friday, May 22. The goal is to serve as many customers as possible who require an in-person visit while maintaining safe social distances in lobbies. Appointments are recommended. The Racine area’s DMV Customer Service Center is at 9531 Rayne Road, Sturtevant. Telephone: (608) 264-7447.

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.