When you start the process of getting a driver's license you’ll quickly discover that it isn’t as simple as going down to the DMV and submitting an application. Before you can even get to that point you may need to enroll in drivers education. Another possible requirement is behind-the-wheel training.
Behind-the-wheel training is an extra step that helps prepare novice drivers for real-world situations on the road by taking the instruction beyond the books. If you’re preparing to get your first driver's license, here’s what you need to know about behind-the-wheel training along with a few examples from three states.
What is Behind-the-Wheel Training?
Behind-the-wheel training is the hands-on portion of pre-licensing education that’s designed to allow inexperienced drivers to practice driving. An experienced driver sits in the vehicle with the new driver to train them on how to operate the vehicle correctly. It’s part explanation, part demonstration and part participation.
Behind-the-Wheel Training and Your Drivers License
Why is behind-the-wheel training necessary? We hear this question a lot. Most people figure if you can pass the driving exam that should be enough to prove you can drive.
Here’s the thing. Someone could simply get lucky and pass their driving exam. Or you might not get tested on a skill that you haven’t really mastered. Behind-the-wheel training provides more assurance that young and new drivers have the hands-on education that’s needed to safely drive a vehicle.
Many states now require that teen drivers take behind-the-wheel training before they can take the driving exam. The training provides reassurance that new drivers understand how a vehicle operates and the best practices for driving safely. Safety is the top priority and the primary reason why behind-the-wheel training exists.
No matter how good technology gets, simulations and online training can’t replace getting behind the wheel on a real road. That’s why behind-the-wheel training is still such an important part of the licensing process.
What to Expect With Behind-the-Wheel Training
We can provide the classroom portion of drivers ed online, but behind-the-wheel training is always in-person. It’s offered at some high schools and commercial driving schools that have been approved by the state.
Getting behind the wheel can be an intimidating experience even when you’re at a training facility. That’s why most driving schools ease students into the process. You can also ease your anxiety by knowing what to expect before you start behind-the-wheel training.
Here’s a quick rundown of a typical behind-the-wheel training program.
What You Will Learn
Each behind-the-wheel training program will have its own unique curriculum. However, there are a few things you can expect to learn:
The basics of operating a vehicle.
Motor vehicle safety.
Best practices for driving on roads and highways.
The state road rules.
How to be visually aware while driving.
Proper vehicle positioning on the road.
Parking procedures for different types of spots.
You’ll Be Driving With an Instructor
It’s not behind-the-wheel training unless you have an instructor in the vehicle with you. The driving instructors at driving schools are licensed professionals who are taught how to teach others to drive.
Their personality types are across the spectrum, but every instructor should make safety the top priority. They should also put emphasis on the driving skills that you’re most likely to be tested on during the driving exam.
You Probably Won’t Be Driving a Regular Car
Driving schools don’t put new drivers in a regular vehicle. They have specialized vehicles that have an extra set of pedals and a steering wheel in front of the passenger seat where the instructor sits. This allows the instructor to quickly intervene and take over if needed. The vehicle setup also allows the instructor to show the student how to make maneuvers.
Training Time Per Session is Limited
Behind-the-wheel training isn’t like other driving courses. You can’t just sign up for an all-day course and get it knocked out immediately. A lot of states have regulations on how long each behind-the-wheel training session can last. And every state that requires behind-the-wheel training sets a minimum number of hours that need to be completed.
Be aware that you may still need to get more training time on your own in addition to the hours completed at a driving school.
Parent-Taught Behind-the-Wheel Training
Some states have programs called parent-taught behind-the-wheel training. If you’re able to do parent-taught drivers ed, the process won’t be quite the same. For starters, you’ll already know your instructor who isn’t a paid, licensed professional. They’re your parent - or guardian or another approved, licensed adult.
Your parent-taught instructor will need to sign off on a form logging your hours behind the wheel. Some states may require more or less hours of training time in this program compared to training at a driving school.
Behind-the-Wheel Requirements: Texas, Georgia and Ohio
Each state establishes their own requirements for getting a drivers license, including whether or not behind-the-wheel training is necessary. Let’s take a look at the requirements in three states to compare the similarities and differences.
Texas Behind-the-Wheel Training
Behind-the-wheel training is a requirement for all Texas drivers under 18 years old. In addition to the Texas online drivers ed course, you must complete behind-the-wheel training once you have your learner’s permit.
Behind-the-Wheel Training Requirements in Texas
7 hours of behind-the-wheel driving
7 hours of observation in the car
30 additional hours of behind-the-wheel practice
10 hours must be done at night
Must be monitored by an adult 21 years or older who:
Holds a valid drivers license
Has at least one year of driving experience
Sits in the passenger seat up front
In Texas, you don’t have to get behind-the-wheel training from a formal school. A parent, guardian or another licensed driver can step in and show you the ropes. The required hours are exactly the same as a driving school program.
Georgia Behind-the-Wheel Training
If you’re under 18 in Georgia you can’t get a drivers license without behind-the-wheel training. When you apply at age 16 or 17 you must show proof that you completed a certain amount of training to move up from a learners permit.
Behind-the-Wheel Training Requirements in Georgia
The Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) requires that underage drivers must complete:
40 hours of behind-the-wheel training
6 hours must be done at night
Must be supervised by an adult 21 years or older who:
Holds a valid Class C drivers license
Is seated next to the driver up front
If you choose to train at a driving school you’ll need to complete at least six hours of behind-the-wheel training. You aren’t required to log the training hours if you choose the parent-taught option instead. However, the parent, guardian or DDS-certified driver education instructor that supervised your training will need state under penalty of law that you completed the 40 hours of behind-the-wheel training.
Ohio Behind-the-Wheel Training
If you’re a 16-year-old in Ohio with a temporary instruction permit you’ll need to complete eight hours of behind-the-wheel training to step it up to a regular license. And unlike other states, all eight hours of training have to be done at a driving school.
Behind-the-Wheel Training Requirements in Ohio
8 hours of behind-the-wheel driving at an approved school
50 additional hours of behind-the-wheel practice with a parent or guardian
10 hours must be done at night
PLEASE NOTE: Every state sets its own requirements for obtaining a drivers license. Check with your state’s DMV or DPS office for information on behind-the-wheel training requirements in your area.