A parent’s guide for teens getting a driver’s license

Teen driver holding her license

Getting a driver’s license is the ultimate rite of passage for teens. Long-awaited driver’s ed courses, instructional afternoons in a parking lot, and trips to the DMV are all steps leading to this important milestone. As a parent, you may meet this moment with nervousness, caution, and even dread as your teen is excited to hit the road. However, both you and your teen should approach getting a license seriously. The CDC states that the risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among teens aged 16 to 19 than any other age group. It identifies driver inexperience along with behaviors such as speeding, distracted driving, and not wearing seatbelts as factors that put teens at risk on the road. In addition, crash risk is high during the first months of licensure for teens. Not only is getting a license a big deal, but it also carries a weight of responsibility with it. Because of this, many states across the U.S. offer graduated licensing programs, or a tiered approach to getting a license to meet the needs of this group. So, where should you and your teen begin on your road to getting a license?

First steps: Getting a learner’s permit

What is a learner’s permit?

A learner’s permit is the first step your teen will take before getting a driver’s license. In some states, it may be the first step in their graduated license programs. The permit, also known as a learner’s license or provisional license, gives teens the opportunity to practice driving before taking a driving test. A licensed adult driver such as a parent must supervise the teen, and restrictions pertaining to the passengers in the car and the required number of hours a teen must drive come with it. The minimum age to obtain a learner’s permit varies by state but ranges from ages 14 to 16, with 15 years of age being the most common.

How do you get one?

In order to get a learner’s permit, dependent on the state, your teen driver must do many of these things: pass a written exam (driver’s knowledge), take a vision test, provide documents to verify his or her identity and residency, show proof of school enrollment, complete a driver’s education course, pay a fee, and get your signed consent. Your teen can apply for this through your local DMV and can sometimes do it online.

Getting a driver’s license at the age your state allows

Nearly all U.S. states provide driver’s licenses to teen drivers in two phases: through a restricted license and then a full license. But what’s the difference between the two?

Restricted licenses vs. full licenses

Once you bring your teen to the DMV to apply for a license and it’s granted, he or she will receive a restricted license. Essentially, that means restrictions will be placed on your teen driver with respect to curfew (i.e., no driving from midnight to 4 a.m.), passengers (such as specifying the maximum number of people allowed in the vehicle), and possibly other matters, such as cell phone use. After a year of driving, some of these restrictions can be relaxed or broadened. The age at which your teen can receive a restricted license varies by state, but 16 is the most common.

A full license carries no restrictions for your young driver. The age at which a teen can receive this is as young as 16 and 6 months in some states and as high as age 18 in other states.

Many of the requirements for applying for a license reflect that of a learner’s permit, such as proof of identity and residency, parental consent, and the completion of a driver’s education course, but a driver’s license applicant will also need to pass the driving test.

What is the driving test?

In many states, your teen driver will need to participate in and complete a driving test on the road with an authorized employee from your local DMV. In order to do this, they will need to provide a fully operable licensed and registered vehicle. During the exam, the DMV employee will expect your teen to be able to satisfactorily control and maneuver the vehicle. Basic driving skills will be tested as well as demonstrating the use of the horn, turn signals, and wipers.

Best practices when teaching a teen to drive

As with most things pertaining to teens and their development, you as a parent are key. In addition to driving instructors, teens will be learning and practicing under your guidance. With this, it’s very important that you exhibit patience and avoid being critical or judgmental, particularly as mistakes are bound to happen. You can also model good driving habits and take advantage of any parent driving education programs offered by insurance companies or local DMVs. When teaching your teen how to drive on the road, it’s best to take a graduated approach with them, starting with safe, open parking lots for basic driving functions and then proceeding to more challenging places such as intersections and highways.

Things to cover

Whether taught by you or a licensed driving instructor, your teen driver should focus on and practice these skills:

• Learning about the vehicle and its controls and features (i.e., the dashboard, steering wheel, and lights)
• Basic skills, such as stopping, starting, backing, yielding to the right-of-way, and passing lanes
• Interacting with other drivers (i.e., maintaining a safe distance, use of signals, being courteous)
• Parking and turns, including parallel parking and types of turns
• Advanced skills, such as scanning for hazards and accidents and using good judgement

Teen drivers & insurance

When do teens need car insurance?

Your teen will need to be insured once they obtain their driver’s license. While they have a learner’s permit only, he or she is typically already covered under your insurance. Once they’ve been granted a license, they will need to be added to your policy, so you should plan ahead for this cost.

How to get teens insurance

The addition of your teen to your insurance policy will undoubtedly cause an increase due to the risky nature of teen drivers. However, if you look ahead, you may be able to save or at least get the best rate. While it’s possible for your teen to have their own insurance policy with a vehicle, it’ll be a lot cheaper if he or she remains on your policy. Before your teen is licensed – roughly two to three months prior – it’s recommended that you explore quotes from at least three different insurance companies to estimate and compare rates. This is a good time to look into discounts, such as good student, defensive driver, or student away from home that may bring the rate down.

Whether or not your teen should have full coverage or liability only on the principal vehicle they will drive is a choice you’ll need to make, though many recommendations urge more coverage as opposed to less. In the event there is an accident and vehicle coverage is liability only, it’ll be your assets that are at risk for such a claim.

Though it may come with some worry, your teen getting their license is a part of growing up. With the right preparation, you can both be in for a smooth ride. See how you can save when adding a teen to your policy. Get a quote today!

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