Preparing your teens to drive and take the test
Prep yourself before you prepare your teens to drive, especially if you’re the one who will supervise them. The person who oversees their driving should be calm under pressure, clear with directions and instructions, and aware of their surroundings. To help concepts stick better, ask your teens questions instead of giving warnings (“What’s the speed limit around here?” vs. “You’re going to get a speeding ticket!”).4
Demonstrate good driving habits when you drive, whether you supervise your teen or not. Avoid using your phone while driving, buckle up, and stay focused. Children learn from their parents’ behavior.
Tips for driving practice
- Start in nice weather with good visibility.
- Focus on stopping/braking and turning in empty parking lots. Once your teen has a good grasp of these skills, move on to low-traffic residential neighborhoods. Work your way up to higher-stress conditions such as interstates and night driving.
- Practice essential skills such as parking, using turn signals, reversing, communicating with other drivers, changing lanes, and navigating intersections.
- Find out which skills will be part of the drivers’ licensing test in your state and be sure to practice them regularly.
Parent-teen driving agreements
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends parent-teen driving agreements to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding expectations and consequences.5 It’s good to update the agreement as teens gain experience on the road.
The agreements touch on areas such as buckling up, staying within the speed limit, avoiding distracted driving, and other rules of the road. In the CDC example, teens promise not to text, use their cellphones, or eat while driving, among other things.
You could agree that your teen only uses the car when they have permission and when they’re performing adequately in school. You could also include penalties for violating the agreement, such as revoking driving privileges for a number of months.
Importantly, when parents sign the agreement, they attest that they will serve as good driving role models.
Graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws
Each state has GDL laws with three stages: learner’s permit, intermediate/provisional license, and unrestricted license. Keep the requirements in mind when filling in parent-teen driving agreements, deciding to lift restrictions, and giving teens more freedom. For example, a California teen in the unrestricted stage has more legal flexibility with passengers than in the intermediate stage.
GDL laws and parents gradually giving teens more driving privileges keep everyone safe. It’s riskier for teens to have everything open to them at all at once. The CDC notes that for 16-year-olds, GDL laws are linked to a 21 percent reduction in fatal crashes.6
Parent-teen driving agreements cover issues such as how much money the teen contributes toward insurance, gas, maintenance, and other car-related costs. Going beyond that, though, what about the vehicle the teen drives? Are you providing it or buying it, or is the teen responsible for doing so?
No matter what, it’s essential to find a car that is both safe and affordable. Look for vehicles made in 2014 or more recently that feature teen-driver technology such as seat belt reminders, speed alerts, volume limits, in-vehicle report cards, and other safety features.
Other features like lane departure prevention, front crash prevention, and blind spot monitoring can be very helpful. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that technology can prevent 78 percent of teen driver fatalities, 47 percent of teen driver injuries, and 41 percent of teen-driver crashes.7
Drivers’ test prep
To get a license, many states require new drivers to take formal classes of some kind and pass a driver’s test with separate road and knowledge components. A typical driver’s education class is good preparation for testing and covers traffic laws, distracted driving, and how to operate a vehicle. Consider enrolling your teen in a course even if your state does not require it. As the license test approaches, try these tips:
- Ask your teen’s instructor for feedback on areas of strength and improvement for your child’s driving skills.
- Research what your state’s tests cover. For instance, the Washington driving test assesses drivers’ abilities to change vehicle speed to match traffic conditions, use turn signals, follow vehicles at a safe distance, and stop smoothly, among many other skills. Your state’s driving test website may offer videos, and drivers should study state driving laws in order to pass the knowledge test.
- Encourage your teen to take a few practice tests online to identify any weak areas. Be sure to review those in particular as the test approaches.
- Ensure your teen gets lots of driving practice with a responsible supervising driver. Drive in different weather conditions and environments like school zones, single-lane and multi-lane roads, and roadways with school buses, pedestrians, and bicyclists.
Knowing when your teen is ready for a license
If your teens can react quickly to various hazards, they may be ready to take licensing tests. Other signs of readiness include:
- Always wearing a seatbelt and ensuring passengers do, too
- Avoiding distractions such as texting and listening to loud music
- Scanning for hazards and potential issues
- Dealing with frustration and anger responsibly (e.g. pulling over instead of speeding or driving aggressively)
- Practicing regularly in various weather conditions
If you suspect your teen is not quite ready for a license, gently share your concerns. See what your teen has to say and come up with solutions together. Maybe more time or practice is all that’s needed. Or, you can agree that your teen gets a license but you get to impose certain conditions such as no nighttime driving until their skills improve.8