Perspective Newsletter
Spring 2015
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It’s not the driver’s ed you remember

Driving lesson

Few of us can forget those anxious moments waiting at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to take our driver's test. But chances are, your kids may never know that same angst.

Driver's ed has changed a lot in the past generation. Many schools no longer offer it, and private companies (not the DMV) often provide the road test. In Washington, for example, teens (with their parents' consent) can now simply walk into the DMV on their 16th birthdays, get their photos taken, and walk out as licensed drivers.

To do that, they must have completed an approved driver's ed course, had their instruction permits for six months, driven at least 50 hours under adult supervision, and passed their written and road tests with a driving course instructor or at an approved testing location. Teens also can get their licenses online, provided they want to keep the photo that appeared on their instruction permit.

See specifics for Washington and Oregon here.

It's not your first license, either

Teens ages 16 and 17 receive an "intermediate" license, which comes with limitations (including no passengers under age 20, except for immediate family, for the first six months; no cell phones; and restricted driving privileges at night). Violators face an extension of restrictions or license suspension until they're 18.

Compared with the days when newly minted drivers had the same privileges as everyone else, intermediate licensing has helped cut fatal and injury crashes by 38% and 40% respectively among 16-year-old drivers, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Of course, all that monitoring and coaching means parents now play a bigger role in preparing their teens for the road. If you've become an overnight driving instructor, these getting-started tips can help:

  • Lead by example. Turn off your cell phone and obey all traffic laws.
  • Plan a lesson each time you go out with your teen. Discuss the day's goals before you leave the driveway.
  • Go drama-free. Potentially touchy discussions about grades, homework, and boyfriends or girlfriends should wait until you're safely at home.
  • Start slow. Big, empty parking lots make a great place for your teen to master the basics.
  • Keep instructions short, tempers long. For example, "Drive to the light and turn right." When your teen makes a mistake, simply note it – sans raised voice – then let it go or repeat the task.
  • Make sure the advice you give is consistent with the driving school's. For example, if the driving school teaches hands at "9 and 3," don't insist on "10 and 2" as you may have learned.

For more tips and lesson ideas, see the Washington State Department of Licensing's online booklet, "The Parent's Supervised Driving Program."