How to Start a Driving School in 14 Steps (In-Depth Guide)

Updated: March 22, 2024 is reader-supported. When you buy through links on my site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

The need for professional drivers isn’t going away anytime soon. The US trucking industry reached a whopping $1.3 billion evaluation in 2023. That spells a major opportunity for those who want to start a truck driving school or a general driving school.


Launching a driving school takes more than just hanging a shingle and putting a car logo on your door. Building a successful driving school means understanding your target market, choosing the right location, developing a customized curriculum, hiring qualified instructors, and implementing a smart marketing strategy.

In this article, we’ll break down how to start a driving school. You’ll learn how to structure your financing, obtain licenses and permits, check out competitors, and much more. Here’s everything to know about opening your own driving school.

1. Conduct Driving School Market Research

Market research is essential for starting your driving school. It offers insight into what makes a great lesson plan, top student driver car models, trends in services, and more. As a business owner, market research helps you create a thorough business plan.


Some details you’ll learn through market research on your new driving school include:

  • While the US birth rate has declined recently, immigration and population growth in warmer states create demand for driving schools.
  • The target demographic is largely Gen Z teens and young adults aged 15-24.
  • More adults over 25 are also seeking additional certification for CDL licenses or defensive driving skills.
  • Key factors driving growth include strict graduated licensing programs, rising disposable income, and growing rideshare and delivery driver jobs requiring specialized training.
  • Rising gas prices impacting profit margins; competition from private instructors advertising on social platforms; and potential disruption from future growth in self-driving vehicles.
  • The path to success lies in differentiation. Savvy entrepreneurs should offer specialized programs, leverage technology, and provide superior customer service to stand out.
  • Partnerships with local governments, schools, and employers also provide a steady stream of customers.

By catering to motivated students and busy parents, driving schools can shift gears into profit overdrive. It’s an open road for those eager to put their business prowess to the test.

2. Analyze the Competition

Sizing up the competition is a key step when launching any small business. For aspiring driving school owners, this means assessing both local brick-and-mortar rivals as well as evaluating your online presence.

Start by using Google Maps to identify other driver’s ed schools in your geographic area. Search within a 20-mile radius to map out the competitive landscape. Note the reviews, ratings, and any services that set a school apart. Visit their website and social channels to gauge their digital footprint too.

Drive by each location to evaluate the facility, fleet size, signage, parking, and visibility. Sit in the parking lot at peak times to count student traffic. Talk to parents in the area to gauge brand perception and see if any schools come highly recommended.

Search online review sites like Yelp and BBB to find common themes in customer feedback. This reveals pain points to avoid and areas where competitors fall short.

Google yourself and track mentions of your fledgling business across review platforms, social media, and industry sites. Set up Google Alerts to monitor mentions of your brand.

Ongoing market research, both online and off, ensures you keep a pulse on the competitive landscape. It also helps uncover potential partnerships or acquisition targets should you seek to expand.

3. Costs to Start a Driving School Business

Starting a driving school requires a significant upfront investment to cover licensing fees, vehicles, personnel, insurance, and getting a proper facility setup.

Startup Costs

Before even buying one car, you can expect to spend around $5,000 upfront on all the administrative red tape:

  • General business licensing fees of $150
  • Driving school permits from your state’s DMV department – $2,500
  • Lawyer fees for contracts, agreements, waivers – $1,000
  • Accountant fees to set up accounting and tax prep – $1,000

Once the paperwork is handled, the big startup costs hit:

  • Expect to spend $30,000 to $40,000 per vehicle for a small fleet of late-model sedans equipped with dual brake pedals for easy instruction.
  • Most schools start with around 3 to 5 vehicles for a roughly $100,000 – $200,000 investment.
  • You may also need a wheelchair-accessible van to comply with ADA requirements depending on your state. These run $70,000.
  • Expect to pay between $3 – $5 per sq ft in monthly rent for a minimum of 2,500 – 5,000 square feet of building space to accommodate vehicles and staff. That’s roughly $7,500 – $25,000 per month.
  • Expect to pay between $20,000 – $50,000 per year for a robust insurance policy that covers bodily injury, collision, uninsured drivers, and more.
  • Also budget for general liability insurance coverage of at least $2 million to protect your assets.
  • You’ll need driving instructors, office administrators, and potentially a salesperson. Depending on wages in your region, plan for around $80,000 – $150,000 or more annually.
  • Don’t forget payroll taxes and workers comp insurance for employees as well. That’s an extra 15%+ cost per person.

Ongoing Costs

Once up and running, driving schools also contend with key monthly overhead costs:

  • Loan payments on vehicles and equipment
  • Gas for cars is at an average of $4 gallons per gallon right now. You can also save some money by frequenting gas stations that offer loyalty bonuses and discounts.
  • Vehicle repairs and maintenance
  • Office supplies and educational materials like instruction sheets and driver handbooks
  • Continuing education for staff to maintain certifications
  • Marketing such as web hosting fees, ads, SEO services, branded merchandise
  • Accounting fees
  • 24/7 roadside assistance for instructors/students at around $150 per vehicle

The expenses add up quickly. But solid demand for both recreational and vocational lessons makes a driving school a recession-resistant niche. By focusing first on covering fixed costs with a predictable volume of students, an efficiently run school can accelerate toward profitability.

4. Form a Legal Business Entity

When starting a driving school, one of the first legal steps is selecting your business structure. This decision impacts everything from your liability to filing requirements and tax treatment. We’ll analyze the pros and cons of each common entity type specifically for operating a driver education company:

Sole Proprietorship

The easiest and most common option is registering your driving school as a sole proprietorship. This adds no state formalities beyond basic business licensing. It offers no liability protection – you are personally responsible for any debts, lawsuits, or claims. For a business with significant risk like driver training, exposing personal assets is extremely dangerous.


Registering as a general or limited partnership lets you share ownership with a business partner, such as a lead instructor or investor. You divide managerial duties, liability, debts, and share profits via your ownership percentage. Similar to a sole proprietorship, you still retain unlimited personal liability for the actions of employees or students.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

For the mix of flexibility, liability protection, and tax advantages, an LLC emerges as the best structure for driving schools. Registering as an LLC shields your assets from any debts, lawsuits, or claims tied to the business. It limits legal liability and better protects your home, bank accounts, cars, and investments.


You can also form a driving school as a standard C-corp or an S-corp. Both limit financial liability by separating your finances from the business. C-corps levy double taxation on company profits and shareholder dividends. An S-corp avoids this by passing income directly to shareholders like an LLC.

5. Register Your Business For Taxes

Before accepting payment from students or hiring employees, driving schools must obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. An EIN serves as a social security number for your business for tax and identification purposes.

Registering for your EIN is free and easy to do online. Simply:

  1. Go to EIN Assistant
  2. Answer a few short questions about your driving school LLC to establish it as the applicant.
  3. Provide your personal identifying information for verification.
  4. Get your EIN issued immediately.

Print and save the EIN confirmation letter in your records. This unique 9-digit number now identifies your business for federal tax purposes.

You’ll need to provide your EIN anytime you open a bank account, hire staff, apply for licenses, or file taxes for your driving school. It allows you to easily separate your personal and business finances.

The EIN also connects you to State Department of Revenue agencies to obtain state tax IDs for handling sales tax collection, reporting, and remittance. This ensures you comply with laws in your state and locale on taxing goods and services.

While the EIN application itself has no fees, registering to collect, report, and pay state sales tax does come with obligations. You must:

  • Carefully calculate taxes on driving lessons
  • File regular sales tax returns
  • Remit due taxes to avoid penalties

So consult an accountant to ensure full compliance. Investing a little upfront in solid financial practices prevents issues down the road as your customer base and tax exposure grow.

6. Setup Your Accounting

With students paying for lessons in cash, checks, or cards, managing finances emerges as a top priority when launching a driving school. Without diligent record-keeping and segregating business and personal transactions, you risk facing IRS penalties, drained cash flow, or denied loans when trying to expand.

Accounting Software

Start by implementing small business accounting software like QuickBooks. The basic QuickBooks package runs around $25/month. Connecting it to your business bank and credit card accounts allows daily automated import of all income and expenses.

Hire an Accountant

While handy, accounting software has limits in strict IRS compliance. This makes enlisting an accountant indispensable when starting. A qualified accountant provides essential tax prep, filings, deductions guidance, and defense in case of audit. Expect to invest $1,000 to $3,000 annually for an accountant.

Apply for a Business Bank Account

A dedicated business bank account is also a must for any cash flow entering or exiting the company. Keep this completely separate from any personal bank accounts. Deposit all lesson checks into the business account. Use it to pay for all company expenses like payroll and insurance.

Apply for a Business Credit Card

Apply for a small business credit card in your LLC’s name as well. Issuers determine limits based on time in business and expected annual revenue. Use this card exclusively for driving school expenditures going forward. This again eases category-based expense reporting. Just save all receipts for taxes.

7. Obtain Licenses and Permits

Before signing up your first student, a driving school must secure all required federal, state, and local licenses to legally and safely conduct business. Find federal license information through the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBA also offers a local search tool for state and city requirements.

On the national level, driving schools must register under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) guidelines. You must first pass a background check and enroll in the FMCSA Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse. Expect to pay $25-$150 per test out of pocket depending on your state.

Visit the FMCSA website to find the appropriate contact for handling your application. Pay the filing fees and submit all business ownership, insurance, vehicle, and driver information. If approved, FMCSA issues a unique USDOT number and MC certificate number.

On the state level, contact your regional Department of Motor Vehicles to apply for official driving school licensing. For example, the Texas DMV requires a $1000 surety bond, garage keepers liability insurance, and ADA-approved vehicles.

Schools must submit their curriculum, certificate of incorporation, ownership details, vehicle makes/models, and insurance policies for review. If approved, the state issues driving school license plates along with certificates to install in each training vehicle. State licensing runs $300-$1000 initially with annual renewal fees.

Many counties and cities also require local business licenses. These verify your zoning district allows for driver education and that schools carry adequate general liability coverage. Visit your town or city’s website to find the permitting contact. Local business licenses range from $25 to $100 annually.

8. Get Business Insurance

Insuring your fledgling driving school protects against massive financial peril that could otherwise tank your company. Without adequate coverage, a major accident, lawsuit, or unforeseen crisis could spell financial ruin.

Consider these risk scenarios:

  • A student crashes into a luxury car during a lesson, causing $200,000 in vehicle damage and medical bills for injured passengers. Without ample commercial auto insurance including bodily injury liability, you pay all these damages out of pocket.
  • An underage beginner driver gets into a fatal accident with a pedestrian. The victim’s family names your school in a wrongful death lawsuit seeking $500,000 or more in damages. Paying six-figure settlements drains cash reserves very quickly.
  • A flash flood damages your entire vehicle fleet, rendering them unusable for months. Business interruption insurance provides cash flow to pay ongoing rent, payroll, and loan payments while you regain operations.

The right business insurance policies greatly limit such exposure so your assets stay protected. Common coverages driving schools require include:

  • Commercial Auto Liability – Covers vehicle damage and bodily injury caused by your students externally. Limits of $500,000-$1M help manage risk.
  • General Liability – This applies to non-auto accidents on your property that cause injury. It also covers advertising injury, personal injury, cyber security breaches, or damage to rented event spaces used for lessons. $2M minimum limits advised.
  • Commercial Property – Insures your facility, vehicles, and equipment against damage/theft.
  • Business Interruption – Provides cash flow when a disaster halts operations temporarily.
  • Umbrella Liability – Additional liability limits protecting assets if lawsuits exceed primary policy limits.
  • Worker’s Compensation – Legally required medical/lost wage coverage for employees injured on the job.
  • Professional Liability – Protects against claims tied to poor curriculum or instruction. Useful when expanding franchises.

To secure coverage, use an insurance broker who specializes in driving schools and vocational training operations. Provide your business plan, projected enrollment, fleet details, and proof of entity formation. They solicit quotes for tailored coverage at the best rates.

9. Create an Office Space

While driving lessons happen on the road, securing office space proves vital for conducting the classroom and written exam portions required for certification. An office also provides an address for your business entity registration, a place to meet with parents and students, and storage for files and training materials.

Home Office

If just starting, many entrepreneurs run their school administration from a spare bedroom or basement to minimize overhead. Use it for legal business addresses, meetings, and storing records. Home offices lack the professional appearance many parents want from driver educators. Expect costs of a few hundred dollars for a basic desk and supplies.

Coworking Office

For professional credibility without the cost of commercial leasing, coworking spaces like WeWork provide flexible office rentals. Their open layouts promote networking with other entrepreneurs. Expect to pay $300-$500 monthly for an office with seating for small meetings. Coworking spaces also provide reception staff to handle guest check-ins.

Retail Office

Some specialty driving schools operate out of rented retail bays similar to a State DMV office. This provides classroom space and also a welcoming area for parents and students to sign paperwork, ask questions, or await lessons. Long-term leases and renovations for ADA compliance make storefronts one of the most expensive options.

Commercial Office

For larger fleets with 10+ vehicles, investing in dedicated classroom and office space inside warehouse buildings or older school properties proves advantageous long term. Expect approximately $8 to $15 per square foot monthly. While requiring major upfront build-outs, owning your facility provides full control and customization.

10. Source Your Equipment

A driving school lives and dies by its fleet. Let’s explore options for acquiring those all-important instructional vehicles.

Buy New

Ordering shiny new cars from dealerships creates instant curb appeal and projects professionalism for students and parents. Shop subcompact and midsize sedan models that maximize fuel efficiency during lessons. Expect to pay $20,000 to $30,000 per vehicle to accommodate dual brake pedals and signage.

Buy Used

Significant cost savings await those scouring used lots and auctions for 1-3-year-old fleet vehicles. Search wholesale sites like Manheim Auctions along with Hertz, Enterprise, and other rental company sales. Their regular maintenance records provide peace of mind. Choosing higher mileage, refurbished models cut the average cost to $5,000 to $15,000 per car.


New schools can also pilot their concept without huge vehicle investments. Car rental businesses offer specialty rates for business customers needing small fleets month-to-month. Just ensure any signage adheres safely and leaves no residue on return. Rental fees typically run $300 to $500 monthly per vehicle.


Custom fleet leasing through dealers and specialty lenders allows driving schools to operate newer cars without huge down payments or loans. Typically running 36 months, leases average $150 to $300 monthly depending on vehicle class. Just beware of high early termination fees if enrollment drops.

11. Establish Your Brand Assets

Crafting a polished brand identity cements your driving school as a premier local provider before ever teaching a single student. Professional logos, websites, and marketing materials project credibility with parents while helping them stand out from lackluster competitors.


Get a Business Phone Line

Ditch the cell phone and invest in a dedicated business phone line. Services like RingCentral provide toll-free numbers with custom greetings for under $30 monthly. Call routing to staff cell phones and virtual receptionists improves parent outreach. Having proper business line listings also boosts SEO.

Create Logos and Brand Assets

A logo serves as the face of your brand and the basis for all marketing materials. While complex branding projects run into the thousands, DIY sites like Looka make professional logo creation affordable at $20-$60.

Design Business Cards and Signage

Well-designed Vistaprint business cards lend credibility during client meetings, networking events, and teacher conferences. Cards serve as handy references for referrals or following up on inquiries. Investing in indoor window lettering and eye-catching exterior signage also helps parents instantly identify your facility for lessons.

Buy Your Domain

Purchase a domain bearing your driving school’s name or keywords like DrivingSchoolSpringfield. Keep names short and easy to remember. Use hyphens for phrases. Namecheap domains start around $9 annually.

Build Your Website

While parents still call for inquiries, over 80% check school websites before booking lessons. Using DIY site builders like Wix, you can publish professional-grade pages for $100s less than hiring web developers. Or tap Fiverr freelancers provide custom coding and SEO optimization starting at $50 per page.

12. Join Associations and Groups

Getting involved with industry associations, local networking events, and online communities offers invaluable wisdom when embarking on your driving school endeavor. Tap into these resources for insider tips on thriving in this niche.

Local Associations

Joining driving instructor groups like the American Driver & Traffic Safety Education Association connects you to hundreds of operators. Attend annual conferences and meetings to exchange insights on the licensing process, DMV relationships, insurance, competitive trends, and more. Pay annual dues access member directories and discounts.

Local Meetups

Beyond associations, keep tabs on wider industry events happening in your state using sites like Meetup. National driving conferences and events offer continuing education and certification courses to stay sharp as an instructor. These provide open time to mingle with other school owners and discuss issues like scaling franchise locations.

Facebook Groups

For on-demand advice from hundreds of other instructors and administrators nationwide, participate in Facebook communities like Driving School and Driving Instructor Information Exchange. Read updates for trends in defensive driving techniques, post questions, and make friends.

13. How to Market a Driving School Business

Implementing an ongoing marketing strategy is non-negotiable for student driver instructors looking to shift into profit overdrive. While word-of-mouth referrals from delighted parents and teens you serve form your best promotional channel, several tactics can help fill new student pipelines.

Referral Marketing

Start by incentivizing rave reviews. Offer $20 future lesson credits for any parent that tags your Facebook page or leaves a 5-star Google review describing their child’s positive experience. Satisfied customers provide authentic social proof to attract more local families.

Digital Marketing

Leverage platforms parents already use to raise awareness of your programs:

  • Run Google/Facebook ads targeted locally by high school names and cities with the most young drivers
  • Start a YouTube channel sharing safe driving tips
  • Blog about overcoming driving exam nerves and road technique
  • Advertise on community event calendars and local publications
  • Send email drip campaigns to past and prospective students
  • Partner with driver’s ed access/discount platforms like driver-ed

Traditional Marketing

While digital efforts deliver the best ROI, old-school channels still hold relevance:

  • Print flyers to display on realtor, school, and library community boards
  • Take out ads in neighborhood newspapers and Pennysavers
  • Sponsor a highway billboard near schools during peak enrollment seasons
  • Run 30-second radio ads on pop music stations
  • Mail custom brochures to households with teenagers
  • Rent booths at school orientations and county fairs to engage parents directly

Casting your net across both online and offline avenues ensures maximum visibility. Then focus marketing dollars on initiatives delivering the most lesson sign-ups. Maintaining an omnipresent local presence sets you up for referrals and retention long term in this niche.

14. Focus on the Customer

While your curriculum guides students to become safe, skilled drivers, customer service cements your school’s reputation for parents. Treating clients with patience and understanding throughout the learning process earns loyalty and referrals.


Consider parents who are already anxious about seeing their teenagers behind the wheel for the first time. Warmly educate them on what to expect during lessons and exams. Make yourself available to answer all questions by phone, email, or in person.

If a student fails a driving test, empathize with their disappointment. Explain what you’ll work on for next time and reassure both parent and teen that mastery takes time. Position your school as a supportive partner for the long haul.

If anyone expresses displeasure about an instructor’s teaching approach not clicking with a student’s learning style, address their concerns calmly. Switch to a different teacher or offer makeup lessons at no charge.

Delivering exceptional service transforms one-off customers into vocal brand advocates. A parent pleased by your handling of challenges will enthusiastically refer other neighborhood families to your school. Online reviews sing your praises.

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