It’s exhilarating and nerve-wracking when your teens get behind the wheel and get their driver’s licenses. All of the sudden, your children who were so recently in middle school are navigating 3,500-pound vehicles and sharing the responsibility of keeping everyone on the road safe.
This guide discusses how parents can assess their teens’ readiness to drive and help their kids with licensing tests. We also delve into car insurance for teens and tips for finding the best coverage for their needs.
Some teens are ready to get their drivers’ licenses the minute they are qualified. Generally, though, there’s no need to rush into the process. Waiting a few months or years can make a huge difference in a teen’s maturity. Consider logistics, emotional and mental maturity, and any medical issues when assessing a teen’s readiness to drive.
First up, take a look at the teen driver regulations in your state. They vary across the country. Some states require formal classes, while others do not. Similarly, the minimum ages for learners permits or full driving privileges differ by state. In Arizona, the minimum age for full privileges is 16 years, six months, while it’s 18 in Virginia.
Plus, all states have graduated driver licensing laws that increase road safety for everyone. Teens gradually gain driving experience and “unlock” more driving privileges over time. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety offers a comprehensive table breaking down the driving and age requirements for each state.
If your teen is old enough (or will soon be old enough) to get a permit, hare some questions to ask yourself to assess their readiness to drive:
Your teens could be ready to start driving if they show good judgment and maturity, are receptive to feedback and criticism, and are safety-oriented. Ask yourself and your children these questions as you prepare:
Anxiety, frequent fatigue, ADHD, vision issues, and other medical matters can affect teens’ readiness to drive. If your teen already has a diagnosis, talk with their doctor about suggestions or interventions for safe driving.
Keep these issues in mind as you assess your teen’s readiness to drive. For example, does your teen always buckle up as a passenger or do they need constant reminding? In a similar vein, can your teens restrict smartphone use if necessary or do they text even when it’s dangerous? Do they put their phones away or keep them within easy reach?
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.
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.
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
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:
If your teens can react quickly to various hazards, they may be ready to take licensing tests. Other signs of readiness include:
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
Typically, it’s cheaper to add teens to your insurance policy rather than setting them up with their own. Add teens as soon as they have their learner’s permit. Many insurers don’t charge for this, but do verify with your insurer ahead of time.
Teens do cost more to insure than the average driver. Luckily, families can save money by comparing quotes, searching for various discounts such as good student discounts, and using vehicles with safety features.
Teens create higher risk for insurance companies because they are inexperienced drivers and have more accidents than older drivers. Teenagers are especially susceptible to distracted driving, and it’s magnified when other teens are in the vehicle. It takes just a few seconds (or less!) of distraction for something bad to happen.
Boys will typically pay higher rates, although some states don’t allow gender as a factor. Statistics show that teen boys are more likely than teen girls to engage in speeding, drunk driving, not wearing seat belts, and other risky behaviors. Luckily, if your teen is a safe driver, insurance rates should drop significantly at age 19.
Driver age, gender, and address are factors that affect insurance rates.Other factors you have more control over include vehicle make and model, safety features, and the discounts your teen qualifies for. Here are a few tips to get the best rates:
Erie, Farmers, Mercury, Plymouth Rock (New Hampshire and New Jersey only), Progressive, and State Farm are among the insurers offering specific teen discounts and other discounts helpful to parents.
The following policies are not required but can be immensely helpful for new drivers:
It could make sense to get teens their own policy if they already have a history of tickets and accidents, since their history could impact your family policy rates. If that is the case, your teen might need their own coverage and an older car, perhaps with just liability insurance. However, you’re still on the hook for liabilities if the teen is younger than 18.
Licensing Requirements for Teens, Graduated Driver License Laws and Driving Curfews. (n.d.). Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Retrieved Feb. 24, 2022, from https://www.flhsmv.gov/driver-licenses-id-cards/licensing-requirements-teens-graduated-driver-license-laws-driving-curfews/
Klurman, Melissa. (2020, April 10). Teens Don’t Have Interest in Driving Anymore and That’s OK. Parents.com. Retrieved Feb. 24, 2022, from https://www.parents.com/kids/responsibility/driving/teens-dont-have-interest-in-driving-anymore-and-thats-ok/
The Parent’s Supervised Driving Program. (2018, October). PDF. Washington State Department of Licensing. Retrieved Feb. 24, 2022, from https://s3.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/eregulations-assets/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/19WAPSDP.pdf
Parker, Wayne. (Updated 2021, July 01). Teaching Your Teen to Drive. Verywell Family. Retrieved Feb. 24, 2022, from https://www.verywellfamily.com/teaching-your-teen-to-drive-1270091
Parent-Teen Driving Agreement. (Last reviewed 2021, May 24). CDC. Retrieved Feb. 24, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/parentsarethekey/agreement/index.html
Graduated Driver Licensing Systems. (Last reviewed 2021, May 24). CDC. Retrieved Feb. 24, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/parentsarethekey/licensing/index.html
Mueller, Alexandra S., and Cicchino, Jessica B. (2021, September). Teen Driver Crashes Potentially Preventable by Crash Avoidance Features and Teen-Driver-Specific Safety Technologies. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Retrieved Feb. 24, 2022, from https://www.iihs.org/topics/bibliography/ref/2237
Teen Driving 101:A Step-by-Step Test of Essential Driving Skills. (n.d.). State Farm. Retrieved Feb. 24, 2022, from https://www.statefarm.com/simple-insights/auto-and-vehicles/teen-driving-101-a-stepbystep-test-of-essential-skills