- Everything You Need to Know to Help Your Teen Learn to Drive
- Part 1: Teen Driver Crashes in Raw Numbers
- Part 2: Why Teen Get into Accidents
- Part 3: Licensing Requirements for Teens
- Part 4: Different Methods You Can Use to Teach Teens How to Drive
- Part 5: What to Teach Your Teen to Help Them Become a Good Driver: The Specifics
- Part 6: What Parents Need to “Teach Themselves” to Effectively Instruct Their Teens
- Part 7: Why the Right Car Matters So Much
Everything You Need to Know to Help Your Teen Learn to Drive
For teens, driving represents freedom, control, and status. Finally, you don’t have to rely on mom and dad – or your friends – to get from place to place. Finally, you can be the one picking other people up. Finally, you’re in charge of all that speed. All that power. All that… possibility.
For parents, it’s a time of abject terror. You’re putting your kid – your baby – in charge of a couple thousand pounds of metal, plastic, glass, and rubber that can go incredibly fast and has hundreds of individual mechanical parts, all of which could malfunction at a moment’s notice.
Teaching them how to drive effectively isn’t just about passing some test. This isn’t one of those situations where they can ask, “But when will I ever use this in the real world?” (Answer: Every. Single. Day.)
So, you have to think of driving as a life skill – like social skills, budgeting, or time management, but with consequences that can be far more immediate and dramatic.
This resource page is designed to provide parents (and teens) with everything they need to know about this exciting, scary rite of passage – covering teen accident statistics, crash causes, licensing requirements, ways to learn to drive, what specifically teenagers should learn, and even how parents can get through the process without having an aneurysm.
We’ll start with why it’s so important to ensure your teen learns safe driving techniques right from the get-go: accidents.
Part 1: Teen Driver Crashes in Raw Numbers
Handing the car key over to your teenage daughter or son is one the scariest things that you have to do as a parent. It’s neither a cliché nor a mere stereotype to say that teenagers, in general, are dangerous drivers. It’s fact.
Because of this, it is important to understand what the world of teen driving looks like before giving a green light for your teen to hit the open road.
The statistics outlined here are not meant to scare you, but rather to underscore the importance of training your teenager on safe driving practices.
Motor vehicle crashes are the single most notorious killer of Americans between 13 and 19 years of age.
Moreover, teenage deaths make up the largest percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths in the US. In 2016, 8% of all crash deaths were teenage deaths.
The CDC reports (via IIHS) that compared to drivers over 20 years of age, teen drivers between 16 and 19 years old are three times more likely to get into a fatal accident for every mile travelled.
In fact, the AAA Foundation for Traffic safety reported that between Memorial Day 2016 and Labor Day the same year, over 1,050 US citizens died in motor vehicle crashes that were attributed to teenage drivers.
How does gender play into this?
In 2016, an astounding 2,820 drivers aged between 13-19 years were killed in motor vehicle crashes. About two thirds of those killed were male drivers.
Is it only people in cars who are dying?
Most of the teen crash deaths that occur involve people who are in passenger vehicles. In 2016, 76% of all teen crash deaths were occupants of passenger vehicles. The others were motorcyclists (6%), pedestrians (11%), bicyclists (2%), riders of all-terrain vehicles (2%), and other vehicles (2%).
If a motor vehicle accident is caused by a teen driver, it has a very high fatality risk for the passenger on board. In 2016, 55% of the teenage passengers who died were in a vehicle that was driven by another teenager, and 13% of all passenger deaths that year occurred with a teen driver sitting behind the wheel.
What about those who don’t die?
For every teen who dies in a vehicle crash, about a 100 more people get hurt, and, on average, 65% of all new drivers wreck their car within the first six months.
What kinds of injuries occur?
Obviously, it varies quite a bit depending on the nature of the accident, but it is quite common for those involved to experience:
Cuts and abrasions
Other extremity injuries
Soft tissue injuries
When Do Most Teenage Motor Vehicle Crashes Happen?
Data gathered by the IIHS in 2016 shows that most teenage motor vehicle crashes occur in June. However, May, July, August, October, and November were all nipping at June’s heels.
Additionally, most teen motor accidents occur during the weekend. In 2016, the vast majority of teenage MVCs happened on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that a high number of teenage motor vehicle accidents also happen at night. In 2016, 18% of accidents involving teenage drivers occurred between 9pm and midnight, 16% occurred between 6 and 9pm, and 15% were between 3 and 6pm.
But why are there so many? How do teens cause so many accidents behind the wheel?
Part 2: Why Teen Get into Accidents
Unfortunately, there’s not one simple answer. As with adults who cause accidents, there are many factors that go into even a single crash.
That being said, there are a number of common causes that have been identified by experts:
- Driver Inexperience
- Driver Distraction
- Driver Intoxication
- Reckless Driving
- Driving with Teenage Passengers
Let’s dive into each of these in a bit more detail.
The odds of crashing a vehicle for young, newly licensed drivers are quite a bit higher than their more experienced counterparts. This has often been noted as the number one cause of teen car accidents, and there’s a lot of evidence to back that up. Here’s a statistic that pretty much says it all, though: a teenager’s crash risk is usually highest within the first six months or during the initial 1,000 miles of independent driving.
In other words, teens are far more likely to crash when they’re just starting out on their own.
Five critical elements of driver inexperience contribute to the high risk of motor vehicle crashes for teen drivers:
- Undeveloped Driving Skills – Being new to driving, teens lack essential skills that help more experienced drivers operate motor vehicles properly, recognize driving hazards, and react appropriately when they come upon these hazards.
- Poor Driving Knowledge – New drivers often lack adequate knowledge of traffic rules, driving and operating procedures, and driving risks and the associated consequences.
- Little Familiarity of the Road – Teens have less familiarity with being on specific roads as drivers. Even if they have taken a path hundreds of times, it’s different when you’re behind the wheel than when you are a passenger.
- Immaturity – The brain of a teenager isn’t fully developed. (In fact, our brains aren’t “complete” until we’re in our mid-20s!) This means that they lack a fully developed capacity for reasoning and making sound decisions when driving. We’ll cover this more in-depth later in Part 2.
- Environment – Driving in an unknown area is a new experience, so is driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic, over poorly-maintained roads, at night, and in a thunderstorm. Teens have to experience these environmental factors before they can process how to handle them.
Some of the most common causes of crashes attributed to inexperienced drivers include traveling at an unsafe speed, making right-of-way errors, and making improper turns. Check out the table below a more complete list.
Underdeveloped Brain Functions
The brain receives, processes, and sends essential signals that guide a driver’s motor skills and behavior. Unfortunately, several studies have confirmed that the level of intellectual and emotional maturity amongst teens contributes significantly to dangerous driving habits. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, emotional immaturity is just as much to blame as inexperience for teen driving accidents.
Most of this is due to incomplete development within the frontal lobe. That is the part of the brain that not only influences a person’s motor skills and emotions, but also makes us more averse to taking risks.
In short, we give driver’s licenses to people who have both incomplete motor skills and are more likely to take risks. It’s not a good combination.
Here’s a chart that breaks down the role that various parts of a teen’s brain have in driving, as well as potential problems:
Want to hear a truly frightening statistic?
Six out of 10 teen crashes occur due to driver distraction. Not surprisingly, data shows that distracted driving is also one of the leading causes of rear-end collisions by teen drivers.
Distractions for a teenager will fall into one of these three categories:
- Manual Distractions – Something that causes you to take your hands off the steering wheel (e.g., texting, eating) or take your feet off the pedals.
- Cognitive Distractions – These take the driver’s mind off driving (e.g., talking on the phone – even with a hands-free device).
- Visual Distractions – These take the driver’s eyes off the road (e.g., looking at an Instagram feed, turning to talk to passengers).
Common causes of distracted driving among teenagers include:
- Talking on a phone
- Personal grooming (e.g., applying makeup or combing one’s hair)
- Using social media
- Taking photos and selfies (yes, while driving)
- Reading books, magazines, newspapers, maps, manuals, emails, and so on
- Partying, dancing, having rowdy passengers
- Driving under emotional duress
You likely know that driving is prohibited for any adult whose blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.8% or higher. Well, it’s illegal for anyone younger than 21 years to drive after drinking any amount of alcohol. This makes sense since teens aren’t legally allowed to drink at all until they turn 21.
Sadly, just as there are adults who violate drinking and driving laws, there are teens who do the same. Most of us understand that this is dangerous, but we might not completely understand the science behind why and what happens to our brains and bodies when we drink alcohol.
As a depressant, when alcohol enters the brain, it slows down our central nervous system. It also impairs judgement, cognition, and decision-making processes. Perception of visual stimuli and distance is reduced, so the driver isn’t able to see the road clearly. We don’t hear as well. Our capacity for risk assessment is impaired. And our reaction times and reflexes are slowed.
When all these factors come together, they put younger drivers at a very high risk of crashing their vehicle.
Here’s even worse news:
- 1 in every 10 high school teens in America drinks and drives.
- High school teens drink and drive up to 2.4 million times every month in the US.
- Binge drinking (drinking five or more alcoholic drinks in just a few hours) has been reported in 85% of all high school teens who drink and drive in the US.
- In 2016, 12% of teenage drivers injured in motor vehicle crashes had a BAC of 0.8% or more.
- Drivers aged between 16-20 years are 17 times more likely to perish in a car crash if they are driving with a BAC of 0.8% than if there were driving sober.
Don’t forget that these numbers only account for alcohol use in teens. The risk of causing an accident is increased even further if the driver is also under the influence of other drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, or meth.
More than half of all teenage drivers experience a car accident or near misses within the first six months after getting a driving license. Most of these accidents are due to reckless or careless driving.
A typical teenager will back out of the driveway without stopping at the sidewalk to look out for pedestrians or oncoming traffic. You might even catch a teen driver cruising the neighborhood at 50 mph instead of the standard 25 or 30. Teenagers will roll through stop signs as though they don’t even exist. They’ll take turns so fast that their vehicle will almost tip over.
Obviously, there are teens that do not engage in these behaviors, and there are adults that do. Still, on the whole, teen drivers are far more likely to drive recklessly.
Worse – they actually engage in more of these behaviors after a year or two behind the wheel due to overconfidence. This is because teenagers are adventurous. They’re curious. They’re impulsive and prone to indulging in risky behavior.
Sensation-seeking and aggressive driving is also common among teenage drivers. They want to go as fast as their wheels can take them.
Because they fail to realize how dangerous a motor vehicle can be, they often disregard driving rules. It’s not uncommon for teenagers to use ramps and other inclines to make their automobiles become airborne.
Reckless driving can cause death, disability, disfigurement, and damage to property. Many states punish reckless drivers with imprisonment, fines, and other types of legal actions.
Driving with Teenage Passengers
When teenagers ride together in a single vehicle, they can easily become a distraction to the driver. Data shows that teenagers between the ages of 16 and 17 tend to drive faster when with friends than when a parent is present. This is probably not surprising, but still worth noting.
More important to note: up to 15% of all vehicles crashes by teenage drivers happen when the driver is interacting with other teenagers in the car. The risk of crashing almost doubles when a teenage passenger is inside the vehicle, and it almost triples when there are two or more teenager passengers in the vehicle.
One study involving 198 teenage drivers found that “thrill seekers” were more likely to carry multiple teen passengers than other teen drivers. Many of these “thrill seekers” didn’t seem to perceive the inherent risks of driving.
Most of the teenagers carrying multiple teenage passengers claimed that their parents didn’t monitor the driving behavior.
Simply put, peer pressure from teenager passengers often leads to a crash. The bad influence from their peers may encourage an inexperienced teenage driver to race, use drugs, take alcohol, or perform dangerous maneuvers when driving.
This is in addition to taking the driver’s focus away from the road. Most of the accidents caused by distraction from teen passengers include rear-ending another vehicle, driving off the road, or crashing into other vehicles while turning.
Another study surveyed 677 teen drivers. Forty-seven percent of the female drivers and 71% of the male drivers in this study claimed that the passengers they carried distracted their driving.
Male drivers with teen passengers were six times more likely to perform illegal driving maneuvers than when they were driving alone. Male drivers were also about twice as likely to participate in aggressive driving when teenage passengers were in their car.
Interestingly, this study found that female teenagers rarely drove aggressively – even in the company of their peers.
Knowing all of this, it’s no big surprise that licensing requirements continue to become more and more strict across the country.
Part 3: Licensing Requirements for Teens
What will it take for your teen to get his or her driver’s license? That depends on where you live.
Many states have a well-established system that allows teenagers to develop their driving skills and experience gradually over a specified period in a low-risk environment. Typically, a teenager is expected to undergo three stages before getting their full driving license. This three-step process begins with the issuance of a learner’s permit, then a provisional or probationary license, and finally a full driver’s license.
This step-by-step process of acquiring a driving license is known as a graduated driver licensing (GDL) system. It was first developed in Victoria, Australia, around 1964. In America, GDL was first introduced in Maryland in 1978.
Essentially, GDL is a package of specific elements, regulations, and restrictions that teens must adhere to in order to get their full driver’s license. These driving restrictions are lifted one-by-one as the driver gains valuable driving experience.
By the 1990s, GDL was commonplace across the United States, and today GDL has been adopted by virtually every state. Additionally, beginning in 1996, all states agreed on a learner period of at least two months, minimum supervised driving practice hours, and restrictions related to nighttime driving and passengers.
Most state have strengthened these requirements and upgraded the expectations for teenage drivers, though there are places where GDL requirements have actually been weakened in recent years.
The main components of the system are:
- Extended Learning
- Early Intervention
- Night Restrictions
- Passenger Restrictions
Let’s take a deeper look at each component.
In most jurisdictions, the duration of the learner period is deliberately prolonged to extend driving practice for young drivers. During this period, teens must be supervised when driving and undergo intensive practice sessions.
The goal is to reduce the likelihood of teen drivers crashing their vehicle within the first 1,000 miles after full licensure.
Repeated traffic offenses during the learner phase will result in progressively severe repercussions for teenage drivers. Usually, the sanctions for such offenses begin with warnings, then progresses to suspension, and eventually revocation of their license.
Under the GDL protocol, the sanctions are very strict for novice learners. In some jurisdictions, a learner’s license will be revoked after just a single violation. Getting their official driver’s license is usually contingent on the teenager having a clean driving record.
Early interventions among drivers aged 16-19 years have been found to deter subsequent crashes and citations. The process also teaches young drivers the importance of respecting and obeying traffic rules.
Teenagers who go through GDL programs record fewer traffic violations within the 6-month period after getting their full driver’s license.
Nighttime Driving Restrictions
Late night driving can be very dangerous for inexperienced teenage drivers. You might remember that a high percentage of teen crashes happen at night.
There are a number of reasons for this, but two of the most important are:
- A significant number of drivers on the road at night may be compromised by fatigue, alcohol, or drugs. A teen driver may not yet recognize the danger that these drivers pose.
- The driver’s vision will be compromised by darkness.
Night restrictions are meant to protect teen drivers – and others who would otherwise share the road with them – from the possible risks of nighttime driving.
Most restrictions run from midnight to 5 am. However, some states have even earlier night restrictions – some that start as early as 9 pm.
Generally speaking, there are provisions in place that create exceptions to these restrictions. Check to see what the rules are in your area and what qualifies as an exception.
Another risk factor you might remember is that teenage passengers increase the risk that teen drivers will get into a crash. They not only distract the driver but may also influence him or her to engage in unsafe driving behavior. GDL therefore limits the number of passengers that can be carried by a teenage driver before they get a full driver’s license.
You should know that not all states impose passenger restrictions. Learn the laws in your area to learn whether your teen can carry passengers – and how many.
Regardless of whether you live in an area with a passenger limit, most of the time this is a restriction where enforcement is primarily left in the hands of parents and guardians.
All the above elements of GDL may be complemented by the following additional components:
Multistage Instruction – Instruction to the teenage driver usually involves training on basic vehicle control skills. Once these have been mastered, the teen is taught more complex traffic situations, such as risk assessment and strategies for crash avoidance.
Multistage Testing – Testing is performed to assess whether the teenager has met all the minimum competency level standards as defined by the state.
Visible Identifier – Most states require that visible external stickers and tags should be installed on vehicles that are being driven by learners or intermediate stage drivers.
Lower Speed Limits – Many states set lower speed limits for novice drivers. Make sure you know what the regulations are in your area.
Seat Belt Requirements – All drivers must have their seat belts on and should also tell their passengers to wear their seat belts.
Alcohol Restrictions – No teenage driver should drive after drinking any amount of alcohol.
Additional Restrictions – Amendments to GDL in most states now restrict the use of cellphones and other handheld devices by learners and intermediate drivers while they are driving.
Benefits of Licensing Requirements for Teenagers
The goal of Graduated Driver Licensing is to teach novice drivers safe driving habits, and there are many benefits in this regard – as well as others.
- By delaying licensure and lengthening the learner period, GDL gives teenagers more practice time behind the wheel. This makes them more experienced drivers when they finally get their full driver’s license. Drivers who have successfully completed the GDL program display better crash avoidance skills, as well as better and more responsible driving.
- GDL’s emphasis on the need for teens to have a clean driving record to attain their full driver’s license encourages them to be more cautious, follow traffic rules, and put safety first when driving.
- Nighttime restrictions reduce the risk associated with driving at these times. When GDL was first adopted, many states recorded a huge drop in the number of night crashes caused by teen drivers.
- Passenger restrictions have proven to be an effective means of reducing incidents of distracted driving amongst teen drivers. As a nice side benefit, these restrictions also limit the number of possible casualties when teen motor vehicle crashes do occur.
- GDL has a positive impact on your car insurance. Many insurance providers provide cheaper premiums to those who go through GDL programs.
The Process of Getting a Driver’s License
Generally speaking, this is a three-step process.
Step 1: The Supervised Learning Period
To get a learner’s permit, a teenager must meet all of the following conditions:
- Be the minimum required age. For most US states, it’s between 15 and 16 years-old.
- Have consent from your parent or adult guardian.
- Possess acceptable documents to prove one’s identity and address.
- Pass an established knowledge and vision test.
Additionally, some states require:
- Enrollment in a behind-the-wheel driver training program that’s recognized and approved by the state.
- Completion of a traffic law and substance abuse training course.
Once a learner’s permit has been issued, the teenager has an opportunity to practice safe driving under the following conditions:
- Driving must always be under the supervision of a licensed adult.
- When driving, all occupants of the vehicle must have their seat belt on.
- No alcohol use for any drivers under 21 years of age. (Some states instead have a minimum allowed blood alcohol concentration.)
- Parents and guardian should participate in the driving process. (Some states have provisions that stipulate the minimum number of acceptable supervised driving hours.)
- During this time, the novice driver will receive basic driving education.
- Speed limitations will be required by the novice driver as determined by state law.
- Nighttime driving is restricted per state law.
- Some states require that a visible tag or stickers (or GDL decals) be placed on vehicles driven by learners.
- Drivers in this stage must remain conviction-free and have no vehicle crashes for a specified duration to move on to the next stage.
Step 2: Intermediate Driver’s License
This usually is a probationary stage. Though the teenager doesn’t require supervision, they also don’t have full driving privileges. Several restrictions are usually imposed upon the driver per state law.
For someone to qualify for an intermediate driver’s license, he or she must:
- Be the age specified by state law.
- Have successfully completed the relevant basic driver education.
- Pass a road driving test.
- Pass a secondary-level knowledge test that includes safe driving practices.
Conditions for keeping an intermediate driver’s license and moving on to the next level:
- Mandatory driving restrictions must be upheld, including night and passenger restrictions.
- When the intermediate driver is driving, every occupant of the vehicle must wear a seat belt.
- No alcohol use for any drivers under 21 years of age. (Some states instead have a minimum allowed blood alcohol concentration.)
- Parent or guardian participation is encouraged. (Some states have a required minimum number of supervised hours during the period.)
- The novice driver must get advanced driving education during this stage.
- Speed limitations are imposed on the driver per state law.
- Some states require that a visible tag, stickers, or GDL decals be placed on vehicles driven by intermediate drivers.
- Drivers in this stage must remain conviction-free and have no vehicle crashes for a specified duration to move on to the next stage.
Step 3: Full Driver’s License
This is it. The final, complete and unrestricted driver’s license that gives your teenager unlimited driving privileges.
Eligibility for a full driver’s license is contingent on several factors, including:
- Successful completion of the intermediate driving stage.
- Being the age specified by state law.
- Successful completion of advanced driving education.
- Passing secondary-level knowledge tests.
- Passing a road driving exam.
You will need to make an appointment at your local licensing office, and both you and your teen will have to physically go there with all required items and documentation. The student must then take the relevant driving tests. If they pass, they’ll get their unrestricted driver’s license.
Sounds like a lot, huh? It is! Driving a motor vehicle is a lot of responsibility; it should require a lot to gain the privilege.
So, how can you help your teen learn everything needed and instill safe driving habits?
Part 4: Different Methods You Can Use to Teach Teens How to Drive
There are many methods parents may use to educate their child on safe driving practices, and each has its pros and cons. Which one is right for you and your teen will depend on a variety of factors, including what is required by your state.
Remember, the ultimate goal is always to effectively educate and train teen drivers, so they will be less likely to engage in dangerous driving behaviors or experience an accident.
Paid Driver Education
Paid driver education is really just a fancy way of referring to driving schools. For decades, countless people have gone to driving schools to learn how to drive. This type of teaching is particularly well-regarded because the schools and classes are run by professional driving instructors. They have been certified to teach other drivers and possess a wealth of driving knowledge and experience to pass on.
Moreover, most driving schools follow a well-established curriculum that is state-developed and regulated. This curriculum usually includes a specified number of both classroom instruction hours and on-road instruction hours.
Oversight of driving school programs varies from state to state. In some states, there are multiple forms of driver education programs, all of which are acceptable under the state law. These can include both commercial driver education programs as well as high school driver education programs that target teen drivers specifically.
Features of Driving School Education Programs
While the specific curriculum may vary from one driving school to the next, the primary points of education are relatively similar. Training typically includes:
- Classroom and on-road exercises with the student as both driver and passenger that focus on such issues as seat belt use and driver distraction.
- Simulator training that exposes the student to diverse driving scenarios.
- Classroom and on-road training on vehicle control and hazard identification.
- Classroom and on-road training on traffic laws.
- Testing on acquired knowledge, road skills, and other essential elements of safe driving.
- Education on the effects of reckless driving, alcohol, and drugs, as well as the benefits of driving safely.
Key skills taught to students in driving schools:
- Basic Vehicle Control
- Vehicle Positions
- Visual Search Habits
- Speed Adjustment
- Freeway Driving
- Night Driving
- Passing Maneuvers
- Off-Road Maneuvers
- Driving on Slippery and Rough Terrains
- Risk Assessment and Mitigation When Driving
Types of Driving Schools
Driving schools can be classified based on the driving lessons they provide. Typically, they fall into three categories:
- Standard Driving Schools
- Advanced Driving Schools
- Industrial Driving Schools.
Here’s a look at each:
Standard Driving Schools
These are probably the most well-known driving schools in the world. They offer standard driving lessons. Most of the people who go to standard driving schools are new drivers who are beginning their driving experience from scratch.
Standard driving lessons include classroom sessions as well as on-road training. These lessons are taught over several weeks and can be tailored to meet the needs of the client.
One could, for instance, decide to take intensive (fast-tracked) driving lessons that take a week or two, while someone else might decide to learn over a period of several months.
Advanced Driving Schools
These driving schools are built for people who already know how to drive. The program assumes that you already have general driving experience and knowledge, and they focus on teaching specialized driving knowledge that imparts complementary skills.
Some of the driving lessons offered by a typical advanced driving school include:
Defensive Driving – These lessons train the driver on advanced strategies to expertly avoid hazards on the road.
Protective Driving – These lessons are primarily directed towards security personnel, including law enforcement and body guards. The drivers are taught extreme ways of protecting passengers and escaping from would-be captors by using otherwise dangerous driving maneuvers.
Performance Driving – These lessons teach drivers how to control vehicles under extreme conditions or at very high-speeds. Drivers are also taught how to perform extremely complex driving maneuvers. Someone who wants to be a stunt driver might take a performance driving class.
Race Car Driving – The name probably gives it away. These lessons are for people who want to get a feel of driving on racing tracks. The lessons are quite diverse, ranging from off-road racing to drag-racing and everything else that’s related to vehicle racing.
Industrial Driving Schools
These are driving schools that offer driving lessons strictly for the workplace. Such lessons might include lessons on how to operate heavy goods vehicles, forklifts, excavators, and more. The lessons put a special focus on health and safety in the workplace.
For most teens, standard driving schools offer the education required. However, it is important to know about the other options available in case your child takes an interest in a career which may require additional driving education.
Benefits of Driving Schools
There are a number of benefits to going to a driving school.
- Learning in driving schools is spaced out over time. This gives students longer to develop their driving skills. Spaced learning also helps students retain the driving knowledge they acquire better and for longer.
- Driving schools interweave classroom education and practical on-road training. This exposes students to practical driving problems and their solutions.
- Driver training combines verbal descriptions with graphic and visual demonstration. This means it can benefit different kinds of learners.
- Learning is promoted through periodic quizzes and tests. This can make it less nerve-wracking when it is time to take the official exams.
How to Choose a Driving School for Your Teen
Of course, you don’t want just any driving school. You want the right one.
Do not compromise on the quality of your son or daughter’s driving school for any reason. Some places may try to lure you with lower prices or the promise of getting your teen their license quickly, but what is most important is to find a reputable driving school.
How can you tell if a school is reputable?
- Learn what the driving school requires of students.
- Review the structure of the driving lessons and see if it’s consistent with what feels right for your child.
- Find and investigate the quality of reviews (preferencing local reviews) about the school.
The best driving schools:
- Will be part of a national, state, or professional driver education and safety association. Two common associations that support modern and improved driver education in the US include: ADTSEA.org (American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association) and DSAA.org (The Driving School Association of the Americas).
- Are very professional. Their classroom should be orderly, training vehicles should be in perfect condition, and instructors should be qualified.
- Offer a minimum of 30 hours of classroom education.
- Offer at least 6 to 10 hours of behind-the-wheel training.
- Have an excellent reputation. Check online reviews. Head to BBB.org (Better Business Bureau). Your goal is to see whether there are any serious complaints about the driving school.
- Provide verifiable and credible references. Call the references and ask about their experience with the school.
- Are clear in their dealings and policies. Such as in matters of refunds, remedial training, and class make-up.
- Accommodate students with disabilities. This is particularly important if your child has special needs.
- Offer tools to parents and guardians to become effective driving coaches to their children. Such tools may include parent-oriented education sessions or parent-teen driving agreements.
If you so choose, you and your child may take an alternate route to driver education where you teach them how to drive instead of using a driving school.
This isn’t a new approach to teen driver education. Various states make provisions to allow parents, guardians, and other eligible instructors to train teenagers how to be safe and responsible drivers.
In addition to their personal driving experience, expertise, and knowledge, parents and guardians who choose this approach must follow a state-approved parent-taught driver education program. Parent-taught drivers must also follow an established driver licensing program that is similar to the GDL program we discussed earlier.
How Parent-Taught Driver Education Programs Work
Most state-approved parent-taught driver education programs recommend a two-step education process that includes a learner’s phase and an intermediate or probationary phase. The two phases are pretty much exactly as we described for the GDL system.
In the learner’s phase of the parent-taught driver education system, the student takes a written test. Upon passing this test, a learner’s license is issued.
The licensed learner must then spend a specified number of months or hours driving under the supervision of their parent or guardian. If they complete this phase successfully and without any incident, they graduate to the intermediate driver phase.
In this phase, the student driver may drive without supervision, but there are several restrictions to their driving. Once this phase is complete, the student can apply for their full-privilege driver’s license per state law.
Which Teens Qualify for a Parent-Taught Driver Education Program
Young people who have attained the minimum age required by law (between 14 and 18 years old depending on the state) may begin participating in a parent-taught program provided they meet the following criteria:
- Have a high school diploma or an equivalent accreditation, or
- Are enrolled as a student in
- public school,
- private school,
- charter school,
- home school, or
- a program that preparers students to get their GED.
Who Can Teach in a Parent-Taught Driver Education Program
Most states only allow people who have the following relationships with their students to become instructors in a parent-taught program:
- Legal guardians appointed by a court of law
Those who wish to be parent-taught instructors must also meet the following criteria:
- Be of a certain minimum age (usually 21 years).
- Be in possession of a valid driver’s license that hasn’t been revoked, suspended, or forfeited for a specified duration (usually the last three or so years).
- Holders of out-of-state driver’s licenses may be required to provide a driving record document of their recent driving history.
- The instructor should not have been convicted for criminal negligent homicide or driving while intoxicated.
- The instructor should be of sound mind and not disabled by mental illness.
- The instructor must teach under a specific number of students at any one given time (the number of students may differ by state).
Note that your driving record will be reviewed at the time that your student applies for a learner’s permit as well as their intermediate driver’s license.
In the event that your driving record disqualifies you as an eligible instructor, permit/license issuance to your student will be denied. All the instruction you have provided will be nullified, and that will be that.
In other words, you must practice the same safe driving techniques you teach your teen.
Responsibilities of a Parent-Taught Instructor
The instructor is responsible for:
- Ensuring that the student masters all the essential points in the program..
- Certifying the prerequisite training hours for the classroom as well as behind the wheel.
- Maintaining logs and worksheets throughout the training period and up until the time when a full driver’s license is issued. (These records may be needed for review before the license is issued.)
What Must be Taught
Parent-taught driver education programs include classroom learning as well as behind-the-wheel training.
- Involves a set number of teaching hours (usually more than 30 hours).
- Should be completed over a specific period of time (usually not less than two weeks).
- Cannot exceed the state-mandated number of classroom teaching hours per day (usually no more than two hours).
- Consists of a specified number of hours of behind-the-wheel instruction (usually more than 40 hours).
- Must be completed over a specified duration (usually not less than 40 days).
- Should include a number of hours where the student is a passenger who sits and observes as instructed by you.
- Includes a minimum amount of night driving.
Student progress for every practice session must be logged. Check with your state to see if they provide specific forms for this.
Parent-Taught Driver Education Methods
There are three training methods available for parent-taught driver education. You can choose any of these methods based on the preference of you and your student: block education method, partnering with a licensed driver education school, concurrent training method.
Block Education Method
In this method, the student first completes the classroom portion of his or her training. They then apply for a learner’s license. After the license has been issued, you can then move on to the behind-the-wheel portion of the training.
Partnering with a Licensed Driving School
Parents using the block method may partner with a driving school. In this arrangement, the parent can choose to teach either the classroom portion or the behind-the-wheel training while the driving school takes care of the other portion.
For example, a student will complete the classroom training in the driving school, then comes to the parent for behind-the-wheel instruction – or vice versa.
The Concurrent Training Method
With this training method, the classroom education and behind-the-wheel training are taught simultaneously.
How this works is that the student first completes a portion of the classroom education and applies for a learner’s license. After the learner’s license has been issued, the student works on the remaining classroom sessions while getting behind-the-wheel training.
Now that you understand the different teaching programs and methods, it’s time to talk specific skills and information that your teen needs.
Part 5: What to Teach Your Teen to Help Them Become a Good Driver: The Specifics
The lessons your son or daughter needs to learn can be broken up into two categories: “book” learning and hands-on experience.
This is essentially the “classroom” portion of the teaching, though obviously it doesn’t need to involve an actual classroom – nor does it necessarily require a book.
This includes teaching:
- General driving etiquette
- Driving rules, regulations, and laws specific to your state and area
- How various “states of mind” impact driving ability
- being under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- being tired
- getting distracted
- How speed and reckless driving impact the possibility and severity of accidents
- Most common accidents and how to avoid them
- How to recover when skidding or sliding
- Turn “into” a rear or all-wheel skid
- Straighten the wheel for a front-wheel skid
- To pump or not to pump to keep brakes from “locking up”
- ABS brakes have been standard in every car sold in the US since 2000; they do not lock up and should never be pumped
- In cars with non-ABS braking systems, you should pump if you start to skid when braking
Bonus Learning: Auto Maintenance and Repair
Technically you don’t need to know this to drive a vehicle safely and conscientiously, but it’s useful to teach teens nonetheless.
- When various maintenance procedures should be done. How often to get an oil change, tire rotation, and alignment. Though most vehicles follow fairly standard timelines, you can show your teen where to find specific information for your make and model in the owner’s manual.
- Basic DIY maintenance and repair. How to change a tire. How to check tire pressure. How to replace wiper blades. How to jump a car. How to add wiper fluid or coolant.
Also known as what to teach teens during behind-the-wheel training.
Before you begin, ask yourself a question: do you feel confident that they are knowledgeable and comfortable enough about driving concepts, rules, and regulations? If not, do not let them get behind the wheel.
Such knowledge comes from having completed the necessary classroom education first, so it is possible that they need to spend more time there.
However, you should also try to take a step back and look at the situation as objectively as possible. Is it that your teen doesn’t know enough to start driving… or that you are simply too nervous?
If you’re at all worried about your judgment, it may be wise to ask an impartial third party whether they believe your teen is ready, and you might want to reconsider teaching your child on your own.
Let’s assume both you and your teen feel ready. How do you start?
Introduce Your Teen to The Vehicle
Show your son or daughter all the essential vehicle controls and demonstrate some of the vital driving requirements. Some of the elements that you need to introduce them to during initial lessons include:
- The steering wheel
- Dashboard controls
- Window controls
- Audio system controls (while not necessary for driving, showing them how to operate the audio system can prevent dangers that might arise if they struggle with it on the road)
- Mirror adjustments
- Seat adjustments
- Turn signals
- Emergency lights
- Safety features (e.g., seatbelts, airbags)
- Gas pedal
- Brake pedal
- Clutch (if there is one)
- Gear stick
- Parking brake and release
- Fuel door release
- Indicator lights on the dashboard
- Car registration, insurance card, and car manual location
- Turning the engine on and off
Practicing Basic Driving Skills
Take your teen to a safe place, such as an empty parking lot during the day when the weather is good.
Once there, teach them basic skills, such as applying gas, braking, driving straight, backing up, and turning. Build on these skills gradually by taking your teen on outings to different locations that progressively expose them to more complex driving scenarios.
Teach your teen how to pay attention to their surroundings when driving. Show them how to:
- Check the mirrors
- Look ahead
- Look to the sides
- Watch out for potential hazards
- Maintain a safe amount of space between their vehicle and other vehicles
- Handle hazardous driving situations.
The above skills should be nurtured patiently until the student is comfortable with driving in different levels of traffic, during different times of the day, under different weather conditions, and on different types of roads.
Cruising the Highway
Allowing your teenager to drive on the highway for the first time can be a scary experience for both of you, but it doesn’t have to be. The tips below are designed to ease everyone’s nerves and take away the stress of the situation as much as possible:
- Get onto the highway during the quieter times of the day when traffic is light
- Choose a highway entrance where merging is typically fairly easy
- Choose an area where the exits are relatively close together, so you are not stuck for long periods on the highway
- Avoid areas with construction or complicated lane changes
As the student gains more confidence, you can gradually move on to busier highways.
Important teaching points on the highway include:
- Merging into traffic
- Accelerating to the right speed
- Staying in your lane
- Checking for blind spots when changing lanes
- Stay in the flow of traffic from a safe distance
- Dangers associated with driving close to large vehicles and trucks
- Reading signs and anticipating changes
- Looking out for when traffic is stopped or is slowing ahead
- Recognizing that higher driving speeds require a longer stopping distance (the distance between vehicles on the highway needs to be greater)
- Slowing down for traffic or exits
Introducing Advanced Driving Challenges
As your teen becomes a more competent driver, you can gradually introduce more difficult conditions, such as driving at night; in the rain, snow, and fog; and in heavier traffic.
When you introduce these conditions, make sure to also teach them how to use fog lights, headlights, and defrosters.
Before you teach anything, it’s important to make sure that you are prepared. What does that mean?
Part 6: What Parents Need to “Teach Themselves” to Effectively Instruct Their Teens
The process of teaching your teenager to drive should be a time of bonding and growth for both of you – not something you control with an iron grip down to the tiniest detail or an experience that leaves you white-knuckled and clutching your armrest while you scream continuously at them.
While a certain amount of trepidation is natural, and you absolutely need to be the one guiding the lessons, the following tips can ensure your training sessions are beneficial to your teen and don’t damage the mental health of either of you.
Allow your teen to take the initiative.
This is probably the most important factor that ensures a successful driver training experience.
Some parents push their teens into driving. If your child isn’t ready or simply doesn’t want to learn how to drive, it’s not wise to force the issue.
Doing this may cause resentment and anxiety, which impedes learning. Putting an emotional teenager behind the wheel is putting a dangerous driver behind the wheel.
Remember that planning is key.
Always have clear objectives for each of your sessions. Let your teen know exactly what area of driving you will be covering and what skills you hope to teach them.
Don’t be an emotional coach.
You are there to take your child through the basics of driving. Some of what you teach might seem simple or obvious to you, but you have to remember that this is the first time your teen is learning many of them.
Be patient. Be kind. Try not to get upset with, scold, or talk down to them. Be specific when you give instruction and explain concepts that your teen doesn’t understand.
Start slow, progress slowly, and don’t forget to revisit past lessons.
Introduce the simplest, most basic driving techniques first. Then gradually move on to more complicated lessons.
Even as you do, though, make sure that you revisit previous lessons until those techniques become second nature.
Always ask questions.
One of the best ways to reinforce what you teach is by making sure to ask questions like “What should you do if this happens?”
Never let your guard down.
While you have to give autonomy and control to help them learn, make sure that you are always paying attention both to what they are doing and your surroundings.
As students, they haven’t yet mastered the art of 360O-awareness when driving. Let them drive but keep your guard up at all times.
Keep your lessons short.
You do not want to bombard your teen with knowledge. Chances are that the more knowledge you attempt to impart in one sitting, the less they’ll actually retain.
Aim to teach one or two concepts at a time, and allow enough practice time for the teen to internalize those concepts.
Watch how you give instructions.
Your instructions should never be abrupt unless it’s absolutely necessary. Always try to give prior notice when you want the student to do something.
For example, instead of saying, “Turn here now,” inform your teen ahead of time that a turn is coming up, “We’ll be turning right at the next light.”
Be a model driver to the student.
When you practice safe driving, you inspire safe driving practices in your student. The reverse is true if you are not a conscientious driver..
Is My Teen Ready to Drive Alone?
There is no easy way to answer this question.
Remember that even if they have passed the right tests, received the right licenses, and may now legally drive alone, you’re still the parent. You don’t have to allow it right away.
As their parent, you are responsible for them. Trust your instincts to tell you when your student is ready to drive without supervision.
That being said, you should also feel free to ask an impartial third party if you’re worried that you’re being overprotective.
Here are some questions to help assess the readiness of your teen in becoming an independent driver:
- Have they received adequate driving practice that covers all necessary driving conditions?
- Are they competent enough to drive in all the conditions they have been exposed to?
- Has your teen demonstrated the ability to scan for and detect hazards?
- Is your teen able to react appropriately and quickly to driving hazards?
- Does your teen use seat belts?
- Does your teen remind others to use seat belts?
- Does your teen use a cellphone or other hand-held device when driving?
- Does your teen pull over to handle driving distractions?
- Does your teen speed or drive emotionally or aggressively?
- Does your teen demonstrate a sense of responsibility for his or her life, the vehicle, and passengers?
- Does your teen respect other road users, including other vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians?
- Does your teen follow traffic rules?
Part 7: Why the Right Car Matters So Much
Congratulations! Both you and your teen have done it. After months of training, your teenager now holds a full driver’s license.
What’s next? Coming up with a plan that actually lets them drive.
For some parents, this may mean sharing your current vehicle because you either can’t afford to or do not believe that they are ready for their own car. Others “gift” their old car to their kid and get themselves an “upgrade.” A few even purchase their teen’s dream car as a way of recognizing the milestone and their achievement in getting their license.
None of these, in and of themselves, are particularly good ways to choose a first vehicle for your teen. Because what you should think about first and foremost is safety and reliability.
Remember, teens are more likely to make bad decisions and get into accidents in those initial years as they get used to being on the road. You want them – and everybody else – to be protected.
In Part 7, we’ll look at various vehicles: why certain kinds are bad, why other kinds are good, and the top vehicles currently recommended for new drivers.
Vehicles That Are Not Good First Cars for Teenagers
Some of the cars that teenagers love and pressure their parent to buy are more like coffins on wheels. However, sometimes even when the teen has little say in the matter, their parents can end up saddling them with a lemon.
Here are some of the worst first cars that you can let a teen drive.
You’ve already learned that one bad driving behavior that teens often engage in is speeding. So why in the world would you provide them with a vehicle that is practically begging them to push the pedal to the floor?
Cars that have V8 engines, incredible horsepower, and torque fall into this category.
Roadsters and Convertibles
Three words describe this category of vehicles: “invitation to disaster.”
In addition to lacking protection in case of accidental rollovers, these cars simply offer too many unnecessary distractions to young drivers.
The clunker your neighbor is selling cheap. A “great deal” at a used car lot. Possibly even your current car that you’re looking to hand down.
Why not offer these cars to your teen? Because they’re not safe.
At the very least, they won’t have the newest safety features found on new cars. These features could come in handy with a teen who is still learning how to navigate the road on their own. Moreover, older vehicles are far more likely to have problems and experience breakdowns than newer models.
We know that many people may not be able to afford the latest model with all the safety bells and whistles. However, if you plan to let your teen drive an older car, really do your due diligence and have everything tested thoroughly.
Vehicles with Too Many Accessories
Accessorized automobiles are like catnip for teens, especially those with tech-based accessories. These kinds of vehicles can help them stand out from their peers as an impressive status symbol, but they aren’t a good idea.
While their social life might be bolstered, many accessories can prove problematic by creating distractions and even compromising vehicle stability and safety. You can allow them to choose one or two within reason, but do not go overboard.
High-Profile, High-Performance Vehicles.
The bigger the automobile, the more complex and difficult it is to control and handle.
A newly-licensed teenager driver may not have the skills or experience to safely drive a full-size pickup, for example. Therefore, big vehicles aren’t ideal first cars for teens.
Extreme Off-Road Vehicles
The power provided by an extreme off-road SUV may be great for outdoorsy teens who like to take weekend trips, but they can also inspire risk-taking behavior that leads to dangerous driving.
Some vehicular modifications, such as lift kits, compromise the safety of an automobile. Research any modification before you give it your okay.
These can seem like a smart buy. After all, they’re less expensive and often get better gas mileage. But according to the IIHS, these are among the most fatal vehicles.
Luxury and Sports Cars
Here’s why you shouldn’t buy these vehicles for a teenager: they’ll burn a hole in your pocket. It will cost you an arm and a leg to insure them. Repairs and maintenance won’t come cheap either.
It’s not all about money, though. The power and speed that these vehicles offer may put your inexperienced teenager at risk because they are more than your child can handle.
The Kinds of Cars That You Should Buy for Your Teen
We’ll look at specific makes and models in a moment. But before we call those out directly, it’s important to talk about what you should look for in a vehicle for your teen.
Even if you decide not to go with one of the exact models covered below, following these guidelines will help ensure you choose a car that’s good for your teenager.
Cars Loaded with Safety Features
As mentioned above, safety should be a parent’s main concern when shopping for a vehicle for their teen. Do not shy away from buying vehicles that offer advanced safety features, such as automatic emergency braking systems, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, and lane departure warnings, as just a few examples.
Generally, bigger vehicles are safer than smaller vehicles in a crash. However, remember that if a vehicle is too big, it might be difficult for your inexperienced teen to handle. Very big vehicles also carry more passengers, which increases the risk of them being distracted while driving.
Cars with Excellent Crash Test Results
A Vehicle That They (Mostly) Agree On
Remember, this is a huge moment for your teen. While you shouldn’t let them completely pick whatever they want, you absolutely should involve them in the decision and give them as much autonomy as you can within reason.
For example, you can lay out a list of requirements (safety features, price, etc.), then let them research vehicles that fit your list and pick their favorite from them. Make sure you talk about issues like reliability in terms they can relate to – such as the fact that it will be easier and cheaper for them to clean, maintain, and repair.
Top Vehicles Currently Recommended for Teenagers
Handing keys over to your teen for the first time is scary… but so was leaving them for their first day of school. Or allowing them to walk to the bus stop alone for the first time. Or sleepover at a friend’s house. Or start dating (yikes!).
You get the point. Being a parent is a series of moments marked with equal parts terror and pride. This is just another one of them.
That doesn’t mean you should stand idly by and hope for the best though. Be active. Be involved. Driving is one of the most dangerous activities any of us do, let alone your teen. Help them start out on the right foot by ensuring they learn all the most important lessons and treat driving seriously – like the privilege that it is.
A teen who learns how to drive the right way is good for other drivers. They’re good for pedestrians and cyclists. They’re good for you (and your pocketbook). Really, they’re good for everyone.