By Rachel Morey
The first time you are a passenger with your teenager behind the wheel can be exhilarating, terrifying, and unbelievably satisfying. Raising a child who is confident and competent enough to drive is quite an accomplishment.
Here are 4 steps to take to safely get through this summer with a teen in drivers ed -- without losing your mind.
1: Use the DMV as a Resource
You aren't alone in your quest to nurture your teen's ability to drive safely. The Department of Motor Vehicles provides resources and encouragement to help new drivers and their parents make the most of their early driving experiences.
The DMV has an entire section of their website, called “Teen Driver Resources,” devoted to helping teens get the information they need to develop good driving habits. They can take practice tests, get information about age requirements and how to apply for a driver’s license, and learn about the seriousness of distracted driving.
For parents, driver’s ed is a memory, but this website offers a wealth of information to help more experienced drivers give teens the information they need to succeed.
Although rules about how much actual supervised driving experience a teen must have to get their license vary according to your home state, it’s easy to understand the DMV’s expectations by visiting their Behind-the-Wheel Practice guidelines, organized by state. During the time your teen has their learner’s permit, they’ll need to complete a certain number of hours of supervised driving practice. During this time, a parent or guardian’s input can help a teen become more confident as a driver.
At some point, your teen will probably need to provide the DMV with proof that they’ve successfully completed a Driver’s Education program. The course may be a combination of in-class time and behind-the-wheel time. Driving lessons are crucial to the development of the required specialized skills.
2: Find a 'Safe Driving' Organization in Your Community
Check with your local community colleges and your teen’s school to learn about additional educational opportunities. For example, “safe driving” organizations may offer short classes about basic vehicle maintenance, instructional sessions about driving in location-specific weather conditions, or education about distracted driving.
In some communities, locally-owned car dealerships offer classes for new drivers about how to change a tire or how to diagnose a problem with their vehicle. These additional education sessions can be a great benefit to both parents and their new drivers.
When searching for driving lessons or driver’s education programs, make sure you choose one that’s accredited by the Driving School Association of the Americas and approved by the Road Safety Educators’ Association.
In some states, teens can get their required driver’s education hours through an online drivers ed program. They simply complete the course requirements at their own pace through an online portal instead of in a physical classroom with an instructor.
Driver’s ed doesn’t have to be a hassle. If you learn about your state’s requirements and research your options, you’ll be able to find driving lessons in your area that meet your young driver’s educational needs while moving them toward their goal of getting their drivers license.
Parents who would like to brush up on their skills can take driver's ed courses, as well. A lot has changed since most parents went through driver's ed. New technology, updated laws, and the need to set a good example for younger drivers in the family are all great reasons to update your driving skills.
3: Help Your Teen in Drivers Ed Practice!
Teens between the ages of 16 and 18 must now go through their state’s graduated driver’s licensing program, usually completed in three stages: permit stage, probationary stage and fully licensed. In the permit stage, they are permitted to drive with adult supervision (over 25 and usually with a parent or guardian) and in many states must log anywhere between 30 to 50 hours of practice.
State laws about how much parent instruction counts toward educational requirements vary widely. For example, in Texas, a teen driver can complete their required behind-the-wheel practice time with a parent and their classroom hours can be handled with an online class. Teens who prefer a classroom setting can choose an instructor-led environment with set meeting times.
Not all parents are eligible to serve as instructors according to Texas laws, however. If you can’t serve as your child’s driver’s ed instructor, you still have options. Instructor-led driver’s education classes with a professional driving school may be the fastest way for your teen to get their provisional drivers license.
Both instructor-led and parent-taught driver’s education programs offer advantages. Most states offer some flexibility when it comes to how your child completes their necessary behind-the-wheel supervised driving time as well as their classroom or online education. One method isn’t necessarily better for everyone, so choose the option that is more accessible and convenient for your family.
4: Establish Clear Rules
It's vital to establish a clear set of guidelines and rules for your teenager the moment they get a permit in-hand -- for their own safety and for your sanity. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, parents should seriously consider establishing the following rules for their teen:
- Do not allow young drivers to have unrestricted driving privileges until they have gained sufficient experience.
- Limit your teen's driving in adverse weather conditions and at night until the teen has sufficient skills and experience.
- Clearly define when and where the teen is allowed to drive the car (e.g. to and from part-time job, etc.).
- Enforce seat belt use at all times.
- Carefully decide whether your teen is allowed to have passengers. Some states have established a law that no passengers are allowed in the car until the teen has logged a defined period of safe independent driving
- Identify what behavior or circumstances will result in the loss of his or her driving privileges.
- Do not let your teen drive when fatigued or tired. Ensure your teen's schedule allows for this.
- Let it be known that headphones should never be worn while driving.
- Teens should not text or talk on the phone while driving.
- Helmets must be worn when riding a motorcycle.
- Teens should be encouraged to take an annual defensive driving course after obtaining their license.
Editor's Note: This is the second post in a four-part series, "Drive Safer Memorial Day to Labor Day," which focuses on keeping teens safe on the road this summer. Read our first post here.