Starting Monday, new teen drivers in Wisconsin can request a waiver that would allow them to get a probationary driver’s license without having to pass that nerve-wracking road test.

The Badger State is launching the pilot in response to COVID-19-related shutdowns of government services that forced examination stations to close, leaving thousands of 16- and 17-year-olds without a way to take their behind-the-wheel tests.

Road testing won’t resume in Wisconsin until May 26 or when the state’s stay-home order is finally lifted, so to head off a traffic jam, the state is awarding licenses to teens who complete classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction, plus 30 hours of supervised driving. Teens must also have a parent or guardian “accept responsibility and vouch for the safe driving abilities of the new student,” according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Georgia made a similar move last month, and Nevada is considering it. Some Drive readers wonder if Minnesota will follow.

Nothing is imminent because waiving the road test requirement for teen drivers in Minnesota requires legislative approval, said Megan Leonard, public information officer for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

This year’s legislative session is set to adjourn May 18, and “we are not incorporating new controversial things that have not been heard,” said Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, chair of the Transportation Finance and Policy Division.

Driving is a rite of passage, and Hornstein said he sympathizes with teens who will have to wait until Minnesota’s road tests resume to get their license. But road tests are a key measurement to assess driver readiness, he said.

“Once they earn it, they have it,” Hornstein said. “There are many people who complete the road preparation and curriculum and fail the test. We know the disproportionate rate at which teens are involved in crashes. We want to make sure roads and teens are safe.”

That’s not to say that rules in Minnesota won’t change. There are some discussions happening at the Capitol.

“When a neighboring state changes policy, we should take a look at it,” Hornstein said.

46th Street safety upgrades

Drivers, bicyclists, scooter users and pedestrians can expect to encounter lane and sidewalk closures along 46th Street in south Minneapolis starting this week.

This summer, Hennepin County, in concert with the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota Department of Transportation and Metro Transit, will make pedestrian safety upgrades at 21 intersections between Garfield and 18th avenues. They include ramps and sidewalks that comply with Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines, durable crosswalk markings, and Accessible Pedestrian Signals and countdown timers at some signalized intersections.

The project will be divided into eight stages, with each stage taking about two weeks to complete. Work will start on the north side of 46th Street at 16th, 15th, 14th, 13th, Columbus and Oakland avenues. Then work will shift to the south side of 46th at the same locations. The final stage will be between Pillsbury and Blaisdell avenues.

During construction, the county will maintain one driving lane in each direction but may temporarily require bicyclists and motorists to share a lane. Parking will be restricted in work zones.

 

Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet@stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.