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Learning to drive is one of the biggest steps your teen will take to adulthood. It can be a nerve-wracking time for both you and your kid. You want them to become more independent, but there’s always the worry that something will go wrong.

Licensing in the United States

Most states require teens under the age of 18 get a learners permit before getting a driver’s license. In some cases, the permit has to be held for a period of time before a license is issued. Some states permit at 14 or 15, some at 16. More confusingly, some states offer a full license at age 16, others at 17 or 18. Generally, teens under 18 who are still learning to drive will be issued a “restricted” license that allows them to drive solo only at certain times of day. Roughly, the process is:

1. Drivers Permit: Driver must be accompanied by a licensed driver of legal age at all times.
2. Restricted License: Driver can drive solo during certain hours or after hours for work/school only
3. Full license; Driver is permitted to drive free at any hour, alone, with no restrictions.

You can reference the chart at this site for general age requirements. Or, check DMG.org and your state’s DMV website for age restrictions.

Here are a few tips for making the whole process easier.

1. Learning to Drive with High School Drivers Ed Classes

Depending on your local school board, your teen may be offered drivers education in high school. This is a boon to parents, who might not have a car or the Zen to teach their teen to drive. There are many benefits to taking advantage of these classes for learning to drive.

  • They’ll get a professional, objective teacher.
  • It can also save wear and tear on your family car.
  • A structured program and designed course covers every aspect of driving.
  • In some cases, school classes can replace the need to go to the DMV for a permit.
  • Formal classes with a passing grade can reduce insurance rates.
  • Drivers Ed classes can also provide basic car maintenance education.

Some school districts don’t have the resources for Drivers Ed. And not all teens should take the classes in school. There aren’t many downsides to Drivers Ed, but taking it could mean less time for academic classes. Teens who need credits for scholarships might not have time to add another class to their schedule

2. Learning to Drive with Online Drivers Ed

If your teen is can’t take Drivers Ed in school, check out your state’s virtual school system. Although not available in every location, some have accredited online high school programs. And some of these programs offer accredited Drivers Ed classes.

Your teen gets the same benefits of taking the classes on campus, so, it’s worth checking out. The disadvantage is that they won’t get hands-on driving practice before taking their road test.

3. Use Online Tools for the Written Test

If Drivers Ed isn’t offered in your local high school, and your teen wants a permit to start practicing their road skills, they’ll need to pass a written test before getting on the road. You can access free and paid tutorials online to help your teen pass the written exam. Some of these resources may be free, so make sure you check the details. Some only offer free “practice tests,” but they’re still worth checking out before scheduling the exam. Note that requirements vary by state.

Online Classes



There also lots of permit learning apps for iOS and Android. Here’s a list of some of the most popular, but you can also look for ones that are specific to your state laws.

Drivers Ed (iOS) (Android)
DMV Genie (iOS) (Android)
DMV Ultimate Test Prep (iOS) (Android)
Drivers Ed Free (iOS) (Android)

4. Be Prepared Before Going to the DMV

Make sure you have the right documentation before heading to the DMV. Some states will require a certified birth certificate. Others will require proof of residency or citizenship. It varies, so check the requirements at DMV.org  your state’s DMV website.

Your teen will also have to take a vision test, so it’s a good idea to schedule a check-up with an optometrist beforehand. Especially if your teen hasn’t had a vision check since middle school.

5. Take Your Time when Practicing for the Road Test

Some parents can handle teaching their teenager to drive. But others might just not be able to deal with the stress. If you don’t have access to hands-on driving lessons at the local high school, honestly assess your own ability to teach. It might be better to find a trusted aunt or uncle. On the other hand, it could bring you and your teenager closer through the shared adventure.

If you do decide to take it on, keep the following in mind. First, make sure the car you use is in good working order: Signals, lights, wipers, etc., should all function. Then, start small and work up.

Parking lot practice.

Find an empty parking lot so your teenager can practice without pressure to drive faster than they feel comfortable. Give them plenty of time to practice maneuvering the car, parking in different ways, and getting a feel for how the car responds to their control. This will give them time to build neural connections for measuring distances and response times.

Back street practice.

Then, let them take it out on quiet residential streets. Avoid night driving, but make sure the roads are empty of children and commuters. This will help them develop a broader awareness of distance and periphery objects and movement.

Add challenges.

Provide a chance to practice in adverse conditions under supervision. Gradually increase the distance driven, as well as adding in a few busier times for practice. Give them a chance to practice driving in various conditions ― rain, snow, twilight, or night ― while roads are empty of traffic.

Highway practice.

After they’ve become good at back roads and busy traffic, it will be time to hit the highway. This may be the most unnerving part of the whole process. Again, start with empty highways and work up by degrees of complexity. Choose small highways before working up to the interstate roadways.

One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.

A post shared by Driversed (@drivers_ed_to_go) on

There’s a good reason states require time for learning to drive and practicing with a licensed driver before issuing a full license. These rules keep your child ― and other drivers ― safe. It gives them time to develop the automatic judgement and reactions required to be a safe driver. Take advantage of these months and enjoy watching your teen become more independent. It’s nerve-wracking, but so very worth it. Soon, you’ll have another skilled and fully licensed driver in the family. You’ll thank yourself in the long run.


Featured Image: CC0 Creative Commons by State Farm via Flickr

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