Road safety

How to become a safe teen driver

Teen drivers have a higher rate of fatal crashes than adult drivers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2042 people were killed in crashes involving a teen driver in 2019, making motor vehicle crashes the second leading cause of death for U.S. teens. To help teens learn how to drive in a structured and safe way, every state has a graduated driver licensing system (GDL), which dictates at what age you can begin learning to drive, how many hours of learning you need, during what hours you are allowed to drive once you are licensed, and other related licensing provisions.

How old do you have to be to drive?

Depending on where you live, you can learn how to drive and get your driver’s license at varying ages, but most states allow you to get a license at 16, albeit with certain provisions. Check out the GDL in your state to see when you can drive in your particular state. 

Most of the GDL programs are three stages – learner stage, intermediate stage, and full privilege stage. In the learner stage, you are required to practice driving for a certain number of hours while supervised. Some of these required hours may be at night. You must usually stay in this stage for a certain length of time and until you reach a certain age. To proceed to the intermediate stage, you must pass a driving test.

In the intermediate stage, you have a provisional driver’s license. You are able to drive unsupervised but have limitations as to the number of passengers you are allowed to carry as well as during what hours you can drive (except in the state of Virginia). You must stay in this stage until you reach a certain age.

In the full privilege stage, you have a full driver’s license with no provisions. You can drive at all hours and carry a car full of passengers. At what age you reach this stage varies from state to state, and some states allow you to reach this stage more quickly if you take driver’s education.

Driver’s ed

In order to be able to drive a car, you have to know how to drive a car. That’s where driver’s ed comes in. Driver’s ed is important because the majority of teen vehicle crashes occur due to driver inexperience. Some states require an official driver’s education course by law, but you have many options when it comes to learning how to drive. You can take an online course (in 13 states), you can take a classroom course, or you can learn from your parents or legal guardian. Regardless of which route you take, you must log a certain number of driving hours and learn the necessary road rules. An official driver’s ed course prepares you specifically for the road test and can sometimes get you a discount on your car insurance. For information on driving schools near you, visit the Driving School Association of the Americas website.

The driving test

You’ve logged your hours and reviewed your handbook. Now, you’re ready to take the driving test.

What’s on the driving test?

Depending on what state you live in, you may be tested on different driving skills. For example, in some states, you are required to show proficiency in parallel parking. In the majority of states, you will be tested on the following:

  • Turning left while appropriately using your turn signal
  • Turning right while appropriately using your turn signal
  • Driving according to posted speed limits
  • Correctly following all traffic signals and signs

*Running a red light is an automatic fail! If the light is yellow as you are approaching the intersection, you should stop.

  • Using your mirrors
  • Reversing

*Even though most vehicles are now equipped with a backup camera, don’t forget to look over your shoulder before reversing!

  • Driving through an intersection
  • Changing lanes
  • Smooth and gentle braking and accelerating
  • Basic driving in a residential area
  • Making a three-point turn

You may also be tested on other skills such as highway driving, so be sure to practice driving in many different scenarios. To find out what’s on the test in your specific state, do an online search for your state’s driver’s license department, sometimes referred to as the DMV.

Is it hard to pass a driving test?

Generally speaking, a driving test is not hard if you are prepared. Practice makes perfect. The more time you spend behind the wheel before you take your driving test, the better prepared you will be to take your test. Here are some common mistakes people make during their driving test so you can be sure to avoid them when you take yours.

  • Driving too fast or too slow. Always stay within 5 mph of the posted speed limit.
  • Changing lanes in the middle of an intersection. This is never allowed.
  • Changing lanes without first checking behind their shoulder.
  • Not completely stopping at a stop sign
  • Braking too hard
  • Following too closely to the car in front of them
  • Failure to yield at a yield sign

Several infractions are automatic fails, including not stopping for an emergency vehicle, speeding in a school zone, causing another driver to take an evasive action, failing to yield to pedestrians, and running a red light.

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What happens if I fail the driving test?

So you failed your driving test. It’s ok. It happens. The first thing you need to do is find out whether you failed the written or driving portion of the test. If you failed the written portion, find out which questions you got wrong so you can study those specific questions for next time. Review your handbook and take some practice tests. 

If you failed the driving portion of the test, find out what errors you made from your test administrator. Get back behind the wheel and practice those scenarios over and over again. The more you practice, the less nervous you will be, and the less likely you are to make those mistakes again.

Tips for teen drivers

You’ve done the work, passed the test, and gotten your driver’s license. But there are a few more things you need to be aware of to stay safe on the road. Here are some tips to help make sure you arrive at your destination safe and sound.

1. Don’t drive distracted

According to the NHTSA, 3,142 people died in 2019 as a result of distracted driving, and teenagers are more easily distracted behind the wheel simply due to their lack of experience. One of the main ways teens get distracted while driving is by using their cell phones. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute found that 39% of high school students admitted to texting or emailing while driving during the past month even though the majority of them recognized this behavior as unsafe. How unsafe is it exactly? The NHTSA determined that texting while driving increases your risk of crashing by 23 times

Texting while driving is a bad habit, but it’s one you can easily break. You can try:

  • Putting your phone out of reach
  • Using an app that tracks your phone usage while driving or even prevents you from texting
  • Making a pledge with family members to not use your phone while driving. Here’s a great example of a parent-teen driving contract from the CDC.

Parents, the no texting while driving rule goes for you too. You have to lead by example. You also have to make sure there are consequences if your teen continues to text and drive. 

And don’t forget that texting while driving isn’t the only distracted driving behavior. You can also be distracted by eating, changing the radio, or using your GPS. If you need to do anything that will take your attention off the road, it’s best if you pull over for a minute and resume driving once you’re done.

2. Follow the speed limit

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) found that between 2015 and 2019, 4,930 teen drivers and passengers died as a result of car crashes due to speeding. When it comes to speeding, most teenagers do not consider anything up to 10 mph over the speed limit to be speeding, but every mile per hour faster that you drive increases both your braking distance and reaction time.

The GHSA also determined that teenagers who speed are more likely to be male, not have a seatbelt on, and have multiple passengers in the car. Alternatively, teens who are monitored closely and drive a shared vehicle are less likely to speed. Parents can do a few things to help curtail teen speeding, including:

  • Install an app on teen’s phones that monitors speed
  • Forgo buying a new car for a teenager in favor of sharing the family car
  • Limit the number of passengers allowed in your teen’s car per the GDL or your own guidelines

And the pledge teens make to not text and drive can be expanded to include other behaviors like speeding.

3. Don’t drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs

As far as teenagers go, any drinking is illegal, but drivers under the age of 21 account for 17% of fatal alcohol-related crashes, according to the NHTSA. These statistics don’t include the increasing numbers of people driving impaired under the use of illegal, prescription, and even over-the-counter drugs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration states that 13% of weekend drivers have marijuana in their system, and marijuana users were 25% more likely to get in a crash than non-marijuana users.

But accidents aren’t the only repercussion of impaired driving. You also face jail time, fines, losing your license, and potential academic penalties like loss of scholarships or removal from sports teams.

Just like taking steps to prevent distracted driving and speeding, there are steps you can take to prevent impaired driving. One of the most important things parents and teens can do is communicate. Discuss the dangers of impaired driving and stress the importance of staying sober behind the wheel. Offer alternative ways home such as calling a relative or getting an Uber. Encourage them to prevent others from driving under the influence. Make sure there’s a section on your teen-parent driving pledge about impaired driving.

Teen driving: Be safe, have fun

Turning 16 and getting your driver’s license is a rite of passage. But getting behind the wheel of a car is not something that should be taken lightly. With the proper instruction, lots of practice, and careful obedience of the law and any additional rules agreed upon by you and your parents, you’re sure to be the safest teen driver on the road.

With Driving Safety features like Individual Driver Reports that let you see things like top speed and texting while driving, Life360 helps you make sure your teen driver is staying safe on the road.

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