AutoInsurance.com
March 16, 2022

Guide to Preparing Your Teen for Driving

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.

Table of Contents

Assessing teens' readiness to drive

Assessing your childrens’ readiness to drive

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.

Logistics and laws

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:

  • Do you have a safe vehicle available for practice? To sharpen skills and meet state practice requirements, your teen will need to have access to a safe vehicle.
  • Is there an adult driver older than 21 available to supervise practice and fill out logbooks? Typically, parents or guardians do the supervising. If you are not a licensed driver, consider asking another family member or friend to support your teen as they log hours behind the wheel and prepare for their licensing test.
  • Does your teen have the time and willingness to commit to a class and driving practice? Driver’s education coursework may be required in your state along with a certain number of driving hours. For example, Florida mandates a four-hour class (this is low as far as class requirements go) and 50 hours of driving practice. Ten of these hours must be at night.1 The more driving hours your teens get in, the better prepared they will be to take the wheel by themselves.

Emotional and mental maturity

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:

  • Do your teens actually want to drive? Some teens may want to delay getting their licenses or not get them at all. If your child expresses anxiety or hesitation, ask questions to narrow down and address their concerns. If necessary, put the conversation on hold for few months or a year, and revisit the issue.2
  • Do your teens give in easily to peer pressure? Many teen drivers deal with peer pressure, whether it involves drugs, alcohol, or rowdy passengers. Ideally, your teen driver will be good at enforcing boundaries with friends and family and understand the consequences of drugs, alcohol, or criminal activity.
  • Are your teens tuned into their surroundings, and do they react appropriately? Peripheral awareness and the ability to accurately predict others’ behavior are two important components of safe driving.
  • Do your teens have problems with anger control or impulse control? Good drivers are able to keep their anger in check and weigh the consequences of various decisions rather than impulsively doing what they want.
  • Do your teens respect your authority and follow reasonable rules? Doing so indicates emotional maturity.

Medical issues

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.

7 major dangers teen drivers face

  1. Influence from other teens
  2. Seat belt usage
  3. Drugs and alcohol
  4. Fatigue
  5. Distracted driving (and phone use)
  6. Inexperience
  7. Night driving3

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?

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

Big-picture issues

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
Driver's test prep

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

Tips for insuring your teens

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.

Why teens are a higher risk for insurers

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.

Discounts and tips for getting lower rates

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:

  • Compare, compare, compare: Look at rates from at least three insurance companies. Car insurance for teens can vary dramatically from one company to another, so shopping around is your best friend. Also, ensure you compare apples with apples. For instance, compare rates with the qualifying discounts included.
  • Ask about discounts: Many teen driver discounts could be available for your family, although companies typically don’t let them exceed 25 percent of the premium. Potential discounts include:
    • Good student discounts for young drivers who maintain an A or B average
    • Discounts for those who take a driver safety course
    • Distant student discounts for teens who attend college 100 miles or more from home, where their vehicle is parked
    • Low mileage discounts for teen drivers who drive infrequently
    • Telematics discounts. You can qualify by installing an electronic device from your insurer in your car that gathers info on driving behaviors and rewards safer behaviors
  • Consider your vehicle’s features: An older, clunkier vehicle is not necessarily cheaper for teen car insurance. Rather, cars made in 2014 or after can be insurance-efficient due to their newer safety features. Sedans and crossover vehicles are more inexpensive to insure versus “sport” vehicles and those with powerful engines that could tempt teens to speed.
  • Strategically update your policy: Add your teen as the primary driver for your least-expensive car. However, some insurers automatically match teens to the most expensive car, and you might not be able to change that. If your teen will never drive certain vehicles, see if your insurer lets you exclude the teen from these vehicles.

Best insurers with discounts for teen drivers

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.

Erie Insurance discounts

  • Accident-free
  • Multi-car/family
  • Multi-policy
  • Paid in full/good payer
  • Student away from home
  • Vehicle equipment
  • Vehicle storage
  • Young driver
  • Reduced usage

Farmers Insurance discounts

  • Accident-free
  • Defensive driving course
  • Good student
  • Homeownership
  • Hybrid/electric vehicle
  • Membership/employee
  • Military
  • Multi-car/family
  • Multi-policy
  • New car
  • Paid in full/good payer
  • Paperless/automatic billing
  • Safe driving
  • Student away from home
  • Vehicle equipment
  • Young driver
  • Shared family car

Mercury Insurance discounts

  • Accident-free
  • Annual payment
  • Continuous insurance
  • Defensive driving course
  • Driving/history/habits
  • Early quote
  • Good student
  • Membership/employee
  • Multi-car/family
  • Multi-policy
  • Paid in full/good payer
  • Paperless/automatic billing
  • Safe driving
  • Student away from home
  • Vehicle equipment
  • Young driver
  • Education

Plymouth Rock Insurance discounts (New Hampshire and New Jersey only)

  • Defensive driving course
  • Driver training
  • Driving history/habits
  • Good student
  • Homeownership
  • Hybrid/electric vehicle
  • Membership/employee
  • Multi-car/family
  • Multi-policy
  • Paid in full/good payer
  • Paperless/automatic billing
  • Safe driving
  • Student away from home
  • Vehicle equipment
  • Young driver
  • Alumni

Progressive discounts

  • Continuous insurance
  • Good student
  • Homeownership
  • Multi-car/family
  • Multi-policy
  • Paid in full/good payer
  • Safe driving
  • Student away from home
  • Young driver
  • Online quote and online signing

State Farm discounts

  • Accident-free
  • Defensive driving course
  • Driver training
  • Driving history/habits
  • Good student
  • Multi-car/family
  • Multi-policy
  • Safe driving
  • Student away from home
  • Vehicle equipment
  • Young driver

Optional insurance policies for teen drivers

The following policies are not required but can be immensely helpful for new drivers:

  • Gap insurance: The value of a car can depreciate quickly. Suppose you (or you teen) got a loan to finance the vehicle. Your teen totals the car or it’s stolen. It’s possible that what you owe on the loan is more than the car’s current value. Gap insurance takes care of that gap.
  • Roadside assistance: Ensure your teens have help if they go for a random drive far out in the country and get stranded.
  • Towing and labor: This is similar to roadside assistance but with towing. Like with roadside, you get protection for common costs associated with lockouts, jump starts, tire changes, oil delivery, and gas delivery.
  • Rental reimbursement: Teens are more likely to crash cars. Rental reimbursement can come in really handy while your family waits on repairs.
  • Medical payments/MedPay: This coverage applies regardless of fault and helps pay for medical and funeral costs after an accident. Typically, it covers the policyholder, family members driving the car, and passengers. Depending on the insurer and state, either MedPay or health insurance is the primary coverage if an accident occurs.
  • Comprehensive and collision: Both types of coverage may be required by lenders if the car is financed. Otherwise, consider them if the vehicle is worth a lot of money. Comprehensive can cover damage from fire, hail, falling trees, and vandalism. Collision helps with car repairs or replacements in case of a collision with another car or object such as a tree or fence, or if the car rolls over.

When to get teens their own insurance policy and not add them to the family policy

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.

References and Endnotes

Citations

  1. 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/

  2. 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/

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. Parent-Teen Driving Agreement. (Last reviewed 2021, May 24). CDC. Retrieved Feb. 24, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/parentsarethekey/agreement/index.html

  6. Graduated Driver Licensing Systems. (Last reviewed 2021, May 24). CDC. Retrieved Feb. 24, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/parentsarethekey/licensing/index.html

  7. 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

  8. 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