Try this mental rewind. You sit, sweaty palmed, in the driver's seat of a Ford Taurus, your gym teacher beside you, your buddies in the backseat. You stick the car in Drive and warn yourself, "Whatever you do, don't make him hit that safety brake!" And then you, along with virtually every other sophomore or junior across the U.S., roll out for a rite of passage: high school driver's ed class.
Fast-forward to now. High school driver's ed? Nope, gone with budget cuts, shifting educational priorities, and changing teen attitudes. (Why drive to see friends when you can just text them?)
Today, driver's ed is a family responsibility with a price tag of $600 or more for private driving school, a commitment of at least 50 practice hours behind the wheel and, once your teen is licensed, a parent-student pledge to obey graduated licensing laws that help new drivers build skills over time. The changes have led to impressive drops in crashes among the youngest drivers. But they've also created a divide between kids who benefit from professional training at an early age and those who just wait it out until they turn 18.
Choose the right driving school
If your teen is about to enter driver's ed, do some homework before you pick a program. Ask around with other parents and look for one that:
- Emphasizes safety. If its website touts "fast," "easy," and "passing the driver's test," move on. You want schools that strive to build solid, basic skills. Do that, and the driver's test will take care of itself.
- Offers enough time behind the wheel. Classes should include at least six hours of on-the-road training, done over several days.
- Gives lessons a chance to sink in. Look for at least 36 hours (including on-the-road time), stretching nine weeks or more.
- Goes light on emergency maneuvers. Some research suggests that teens who take "advanced" courses that teach skid control and high-speed maneuvering have higher crash rates, perhaps owing to overconfidence.
- Willingly shares its written curriculum with you.
- Welcomes and gives suggestions. Just as not all kids learn to read the same way, not all learn to drive the same way, either.
- Offers extra instruction for kids who are struggling to master a particular skill (expect to pay more for any additional hours).
- Keeps its instruction cars in good condition and its classroom tools (like simulators and computer software) up to date.
- Shows full pricing upfront. Otherwise, once your teen is enrolled, you may find you need to "buy up" to get everything you thought was included.
Insuring that new driver
When your teen gets his or her instruction permit, call and tell us. We'll update your file, but your premium won't change. However, once your child is licensed, there's no getting around it – you'll pay more (Washington and Oregon rank among the top 15 states with the highest premium increases for adding teen drivers to the family policy). You'll want to check out our tips on how to cut insurance costs for teens.
Driving is one of the biggest and most rewarding milestones you'll help your teen conquer. To see stories of real families making it work, visit Drive the Conversation on pemco.com.