Teen driving safety experts from CHOP answer common questions from parents as they prepare for their teens to start driving.
Driver’s education: Finding a trusted, certified teen driving school
The best approach to teaching a teen to drive is to partner with a certified driving instructor (from a driving school). The best driver’s education programs not only teach driving skills to teens, but also provide specific guidance to parents on how to practice those skills with their teens.
Such schools see driver training as a partnership – the instructor provides the high-quality, on-road training and the parents provide the practice time to reinforce these skills. Much more than learning how to parallel park, the driving instruction will teach new driver skills around speed management, handling challenging driving environments and hazard awareness and response.
The two resources below offer things to consider when selecting a driving school. In addition, for teens with developmental, medical or physical challenges, families might consider getting training from a Driver Rehabilitation Specialist.
Delaying licensure: What if my child doesn’t want to drive?
If your teen isn’t interested in driving yet, they’re not alone. At least one in three novice drivers waits until after turning age 18 to pursue getting licensed to drive. Why? The AAA Foundation found three primary reasons why teens delay licensure: opportunity, costs and motivation.
Unfortunately, in most states Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) ends by age 18, and families make the grave mistake that just because someone turns 18, they forego the lifesaving benefits of practice and early driving restrictions required by GDL. All novice drivers under 21 years of age have a higher risk of crashing no matter their age when first learning to drive. To keep these older novice drivers safe, families should create a Personal GDL Plan. Learn how at TeenDriverSource.org:
Driving resources for teens with special needs
Teens with neurodevelopmental differences, such as autism spectrum disorder or ADHD, may view receiving a license as an exciting milestone in their transition to adulthood, while their families may understandably approach this time with a degree of fear. Many services they received as children are no longer available, and the thought of driving may be overwhelming. Some teens may also have characteristics that place them at risk for unsafe driving behaviors, like inattention or getting lost in the details of the road. On the other hand, they may also have characteristics that promote safer driving behavior, such as a vigilance to follow driving laws.
Parents should start the conversation about driving with their child early and assess, with the help of a healthcare provider, whether their teen should be on the road. During these conversations, it’s important to address any concerns, such as attention issues or cognitive processing. Parents may also want to seek the advice of a certified rehabilitation specialist or an occupational therapist who specializes in driving.
If the decision is not to drive, it’s important to help your child stay mobile. Driving is an important part of leading an independent, fulfilled life, but there are other ways to ensure safe mobility for teens with neurodevelopmental differences. Visit the Center for Autism Research Roadmap to learn more.
Additional resources you may find helpful:
- Driving With Neurodevelopmental Differences
- Driving with ADHD
- Autism and Driving
- Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists
- Driver Rehabilitation Institute
City driving tips: How can I prepare my teen to drive in an urban environment?
Driving in the urban or city environment is challenging, with roads crowded with multiple, unpredictable users — from pedestrians to bikers to people on electric vehicles. Therefore, families should try to avoid practicing in the urban environment until the teen masters quiet streets. It might require the parent to drive the vehicle to a safer spot to practice.
To develop the skills and experience necessary to drive safely in a busy urban environment, follow the driving lessons in the TeenDrivingPlan Practice Guide, including specific videos to help your teen develop particular skills, created by CHOP experts: Practice Driving Lessons – Commercial Roads.
Preventing impaired driving: Tips for talking with your teen
You are right to be concerned about the dangers of impaired driving in teens. In 2019, 1 in 4 young drivers (ages 15-20) involved in fatal crashes had blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of .01 g/dL or higher with most having very high levels of alcohol in their systems (.08 g/dL or higher).
Impaired driving affects judgment, reaction time and awareness, which makes it especially dangerous for teen drivers whose inexperience already makes them four times more likely to crash than adults. It is for this reason that most graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws have a zero-tolerance policy — much lower limits on BAC than for adults.
Pennsylvania is one of the few states that requires medical certification to get a learner’s permit. This makes our primary care clinics an ideal location for discussing issues like impaired driving, because if the physician or nurse practitioner has concerns about drugs or alcohol, they can delay the learner permit application.
Impaired driving includes driving under the influence of alcohol or drug use, including marijuana. Parents need to discuss the dangers of driving while impaired — or getting into a car with someone who is impaired — with their teens. Teens need to know that they can always call their parents for a ride home without punishment. Parents themselves can be the reason for teens saying “no” to avoid unsafe situations.
Building confidence behind the wheel
Building a teen’s confidence behind the wheel hinges on two things: parents and practice. Research shows that parent involvement is a key factor in reducing crash risk, from providing plenty of high-quality supervised driving practice to continuing to monitor their driving when behind the wheel alone. Teens who say their parents set rules and monitor where they are going and with whom in a helpful, supportive way are half as likely to be in a crash than teens who described their parents as being less involved.
When helping your child learn to drive, start with parking lots and easy, low-traffic roads so the teen can get comfortable with the car. Only proceed to more complicated situations when the teen is ready.
Created based on years of research, our TeenDrivingPlan Practice Guide has many parent-supervised driving lesson plans, including more than 50 videos to help families learn how to help a teen master a driving skill and how to know when they’ve mastered it. A driving instructor can really help when a teen is struggling.
It also helps to set house rules around driving, with Graduated Driving Licensing (GDL) laws as a guide. GDL is proven to be the most effective strategy to reduce teen driver-related crashes. GDL provides a stepped approach to gradually increasing driving privileges as the new driver gains experience in less risky conditions.
Parents also need to continue to ride along when their teens get licensed to help them develop skills in more challenging situations, like driving in heavy traffic or on snowy roads. Read more tips for that intermediate phase as your teen transitions to a more independent, skilled driver.
Virtual driving assessments: What is it, and where is it available?
Virtual driving assessments (VDA) use a special software to measure a person’s ability to drive safely and avoid crashes. CHOP, in partnership with NJM Insurance Group (NJM), currently offers free virtual driving assessments for current CHOP Primary Care teen patients at select CHOP Primary Care locations. Read more about the program.
At the current time, completion of a VDA cannot be used as proof of driving safety for insurance discounts.
For non-CHOP patients who are interested in completing an assessment, there are multiple VDA Testing Centers in the region. Find a Ready-AssessTM Virtual Driving Testing Center Near You.