9 Important To Do’s Before Your Teen’s First Time Driving
It is definitely an interesting time. Your teen is chomping at the bit and probably counting down the days until they are able to learn how to drive. And while you’re probably responding with slightly forced smiles and mild encouragement, on the inside, you’re nervous, possibly dreading it, and maybe even completely terrified thinking about your child behind the wheel.
Before we go on, and in case there are readers whose kids aren’t quite to the age of first-time drivers yet and are about to save this for later, let me pass along the most important advice that it is never too early to hear.
SET A GOOD EXAMPLE. Always. Don’t be the angry driver honking and yelling at other cars. Don’t speed like a maniac to get to a doctor’s appointment on time. Don’t look at your phone while you’re driving, even at a stoplight. Because like everything else, our kids are always learning from us and will emulate our behavior. The phone and the doctor can wait. And there will always be poor drivers on the road, it is not our job to fix them. Deep breaths.
This isn’t easy, and I haven’t been perfect that’s for sure, but now that I’ve been through 2 first time drivers at home, I wish I could go back and adjust some of those moments and set only good driving examples.
STEPS TO TAKE BEFORE YOU TEACH YOUR TEEN TO DRIVE
While your teen counts down those days, there are things that you can do together to get ready for this next chapter.
1) KNOW YOUR STATE’S LEARNER’S PERMIT AND DRIVER’S LICENSE REQUIREMENTS
Every state has its own laws and requirements for when your teen can legally drive. Most states have adopted a 3-stage graduated process for new drivers.
Typically these stages are:
- Learner’s permit – allows only supervised driving by a parent or responsible individual. Driver’s education may be required during this stage as well.
- Provisional driver’s license / Restricted driver’s license – can drive alone but with some restrictions which may include limiting the number of passengers, limited time of day driving, etc.
- Full driver’s license – no restrictions after a certain age or a certain amount of time with a provisional license (or both)
And each state has its own learner’s permit requirements for:
- the documentation required to apply for a learner’s permit
- any testing required to apply for a learner’s permit
- how the learner’s permit may be used
- how long the learner’s permit must be held
- driver’s ed course requirements before your teen can get their driver’s license
- other conditions before your teen can get their driver’s license
Positively Squared Away will be compiling a link for each state in the near future, but in the meantime, simply use Google to find the information on your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles website. Be sure you land on the official government website and not one trying to sell you driving lessons or collect personal information or fees. This is a great step to do together so that you’re both learning the requirements and the process together.
2) DECIDE WHO WILL TEACH YOUR TEEN TO DRIVE
This may seem like an easy question, but its worth some thought, and checking into your state’s rules.
Will you teach your child, and you only? Will you and spouse split the responsibility? Will you both go with your teen and tag team on the driving lessons? What will your teen be the most comfortable with as they learn to drive. My guess is that they will have an opinion.
And make sure you check your state’s requirements which do change periodically. Along with most requiring classroom/online driver’s ed training, some may also require a number of hours of professional driving lessons. All will require a specific number of supervised hours of driving, including nighttime driving. Knowing this upfront, go ahead and get out a notebook or a smart phone app now to keep track of supervised driving hours and conditions.
How To Utilize Professional Driving Lessons
If your state requires professional driving lessons, or if you opt to do them, consider where in the learning process is best to use those lessons/hours for your situation. You could:
- Use all the hours up front putting more of the first time driving basics on the instructor. This leaves you to continue to help them practice driving while you reiterate the basics. Letting someone else handle the first time driving may save you some gray hair, but the fine-tuning and preparing for the driver’s test will be up to you.
- You do all of the up front teaching and use the paid hours toward the end of their permit time to help them get ready for taking their driving test. We did it this way and let the professional teach them how to parallel park and get more interstate practice.
- Consider mixing in formal driving lessons during the time your student is learning to drive. Perhaps a session early on to reiterate rules and techniques, one in the middle to make sure they are on track and a final session just before the driver’s test to be sure they have mastered all of the skills that will be tested.
3) HELP YOUR TEEN GET THEIR LEARNER’S PERMIT
Your teen must have his/her learner’s permit before they have their first driving lesson. Please do not go out on the roads, however deserted they may be, without it.
Getting the permit will involve paperwork, proof of identification and likely a written test. Your teen will need help preparing all that is involved.
Where will your teen keep his or her learner’s permit? If your teen is not already a wallet carrier, it may be time to consider a wallet for their permit, cash and an emergency credit card.
One of my sons did not want to deal with a wallet, so he chose a combination phone case/wallet.
These make the phone bulkier than a typical case, but he prefers only keeping up with one thing.
This is the one that we got for him on Amazon – far less expensive than an actual wallet!
4) CHECK IN WITH YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY
Make a quick call to your insurance company to be sure you are covered in the event of any incidents with your teen driving with their learner’s permit.
While you have them on the phone, ask them what you/your child can do to reduce their insurance premium once they become a licensed driver. Driver’s ed and good grades should be at least 2 suggestions they give you.
5) GET A STUDENT DRIVER MAGNET
It may seem a little goofy, but get a New Driver Magnet or New Driver Sticker for the car. Trust me. If you can buy a little patience from your fellow drivers, you and your teen will be the better for it.
I prefer the magnet over the sticker for ease of removal or moving to different cars. Here is a highly rated pack of 3 for less than a fast-food lunch.
6) DISCUSS AND AGREE UPON RULES OF THE ROAD
Sit down and agree upon the ‘rules’ for your family. For example, when your teen does something that makes you nervous or needs correction, discuss how they want you to respond BEFORE you get in the car. Here is a starter list of topics for pre-agreement (based on my white-knuckled experience) before your first time driving lessons :
- How you will correct your teen (immediate/urgent feedback)
- How you will provide constructive (not urgent) feedback
- Your teen driver will never exceed the posted speed limit
- Your teen driver will always make a FULL STOP at stop signs
- Your teen driver will not try to push through a yellow light
- There will be no raised voices or eye-rolling (from anyone in the car!)
- The music will be off
- Phones will be off and in the backseat (not buzzing in their pocket or in the center console)
If your teen can’t agree to any of these points or others that you set, then you probably need to consider whether or not your teen is ready to drive. One of the key lessons of driving is that you follow the rules, or you lose the privilege.
7) MAKE A PLAN
Is your teenager scared to drive? Overly confident? Somewhere between anxious and excited? In almost anything in life, a written plan will help set expectations, visualize a path and hopefully bring a joint sense of purpose and calm.
Positively Squared Away has done the research looking at various states’ driver’s license requirements and what skills will be tested in the road tests and put together a comprehensive, step-by-step plan for you to teach your teen to drive. This guide includes a detailed article as well as a printable checklist for each step in the process.
If you are already using a shared digital calendar, schedule your sessions on the family calendar so that you are consistently making time for driving lessons throughout the process. If you haven’t set up a digital calendar for your family yet, please see PSA’s step by step guide to setup a Google or Apple shared calendar. It is really quick and free and will get everyone on the same page.
8) SCOUT OUT PLACES TO PRACTICE DRIVING
You probably know this, but an empty parking lot is one of the best places to learn how to drive. How do you find an empty parking lot? Here are some ideas:
- A church parking lot during the week
- Any school parking lot during the summer
- An elementary or middle school parking lot on weekends during the school year (avoid high schools due to sports and events)
- A business or industrial park on the weekends
- A nearby arena or concert venue parking lot on a day when no events are scheduled
- If you’re in a more urban area, try the top level of a parking deck
9) CHECK THE WEATHER
You should definitely do your first several driving lessons in the daylight on a nice day. Many states do have a requirement about a minimum number of hours of nighttime driving practice, but save that for later. Definitely plan to go out during daylight and clear skies to get started with your first time driving.
NEXT STEP => LEARNING HOW TO DRIVE
After you have completed the steps above including your teen obtaining their learner’s permit, it is time to get your teen behind the wheel.