When I was in high school, getting a driver’s license was the holy grail of teenhood, and I didn’t know a soul who would put have put it off any longer than they had to. For me, it meant no more school bus, no more walking to the convenience store for lunch, and no more begging my mother to take me into town to hang out with my friends, or to pick me up late from extra-curricular activities at school.
But these days it's not unusual to hear of teens who have no plans to get a driver’s license before their senior year or the end of high school.
'I'm not ready'
Some teens just feel nervous about driving, or about learning to drive. This anxiety could come from any variety of sources. Maybe they want to avoid being stressed out by a parent who doesn’t really have the patience or know-how to teach driving. Maybe they’ve been in a wreck, or had a close call, either as a passenger or a learning driver. Or maybe the idea of driving just feels intimidating for someone who’s never handled much responsibility and risk. For this type of reluctant teen, driver education can be a big help. The course is structured and organized so that students are never put into situations they aren’t ready for. Building up from basic skills to the advanced stuff allows teens to develop control and confidence as drivers.
‘I don’t need to drive’
For teens living in small towns, getting wherever they need to go usually doesn’t involve much driving. Kids can walk, bike or skate; and it's no big deal for Mom or Dad to make a 5-minute trip to drop off or pick up. Added to that is the common fact that the student has no car and no prospect of getting a car any time soon thanks to the price of insurance. So adding yet another class or activity to their packed schedules might seem unnecessary and less than appealing. What kids fail to recognize, though, is that sooner or later, they will need to drive. Their lives won’t always be limited to a 2-mile radius, and many employers require a driver’s license (and personal transportation). Driving is a life skill that every adult needs, along with knowing how to cook and do laundry. Unlike laundry, though, failing to learn safe driving habits can be deadly.
Learning now, license later
It’s important to help teens see driver education as part of their general education. Just as school and extra-curricular activities help them prepare for life after high school, so does learning to drive. Let your teen know that taking driver’s ed doesn’t mean they have to start driving on their own right away. But including driver training in their high school education means they will be prepared for driving when the time comes. It’s also important to remember that if they don’t take driver’s ed before turning 18, they might not have the chance to take it at all. Trying to take a driver education course after you turn 18 means the course is more expensive (about $200 more), and it means almost 50 hours of instruction to fit into a new life schedule that might include work and college.
My advice is this: Get your teen’s learner permit when they turn 15 and sign them up for a driver education course. Then you have the rest of their high school years to continue their learning and monitor their driving habits, allowing them to earn increasing degrees of responsibility. You also won’t have to try fitting a 40- or 50-hour course into the demanding schedules of their junior and senior years, and you could save about 10% on insurance when they do reach that holy grail of teenhood – the driver’s license.