Parents often feel overwhelmed – and more than a little anxious – at the prospect of their teen driving. The step-by-step process of becoming a driver is complex. While teens are understandably excited about driving, family members may need guidance and extra reassurance.
Start talking about driving as early as possible with your children, says Kelly Powell, program director of Safe Kids Palm Beach County.
She recommends Countdown2Drive, a national education program designed to equip 13- to 14-year-olds and their parents with safe passenger and driving knowledge well before the teen is ready to drive legally.
“Even though these conversations are scary, they should begin early,” she says. “By the time teens get behind the wheel, their behaviors regarding seatbelts and the use of devices may already be set.”
Together, parents or caregivers can create negotiated contracts on the Countdown2Drive website about safe driving expectations.
Driver’s education courses give students a first-hand chance to study the highway transportation system, traffic signs, rules of the road and techniques to avoid accidents. Students begin to develop the skills to become safe, responsible Florida drivers by viewing traffic simulations.
“Parents must play an integral part of your child learning to drive,” says Toni Burrows, executive vice president of the council. “Discussing expectations, limitations and this process will impact all of the family.”
If your child’s high school doesn’t offer driver’s education, Florida Virtual School has an online, free course that can be started as early as age 14 and a half. After completing the course, students are eligible to take their first attempt for free at the Department of Motor Vehicles’s online written exam for a Florida’ learner’s license.
Teenage drivers have the highest crash risk because they overestimate their driving abilities and underestimate the dangers, according to Highway Loss Data Institute’s website. Graduated driver licensing laws ensure teens gradually build driving experience by limiting nighttime driving, restricting teen passengers and ensuring teens get plenty of supervised practice, thereby reducing teen crashes by 10 percent to 30 percent on average.
The permitting process
When children turn 15, they are eligible to get a learner’s license in Florida. After completing the Traffic Law and Substance Abuse Education course via a local driver’s education class or paying a fee to take a comparable course on an accredited website such as 123driving.com or HighSchoolDriver.com, teens should study the DMV’s Florida Driver’s Handbook.
Free practice tests offered by the Palm Beach County Library System and Driving-tests.org here can improve chances of passing the challenging DMV written test on the first attempt. Forty correct answers out of 50 are required to pass. Teens younger than 18 may take the written test online to avoid waiting at the DMV. Two DMV-approved websites to take the test are 123driving.com and HighSchoolDriver.com.
After your teen passes the DMV written test online, use the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles' online appointment service to locate one of the Palm Beach County offices issuing the learner’s license. Arrive at least 15 minutes before your appointment and wait for your number to be called so you can show:
- Your teen’s original birth certificate (no copies) or U.S. passport. If you don’t have an original birth certificate, bring a certified copy of the birth certificate issued by the state where born.
- Your teen’s original social security card or a W-2 showing the social security number.
- Two proofs of residential address, such as cable or telephone bill.
- Parent/guardian online test proctoring form. This must be signed in the presence of a driver license examiner or notarized if a parent or guardian won’t be present.
- Parental consent form — minor driver applicant form — if younger than 18 and not married. One parent or legal guardian must sign the license application.
Your child must pass vision and hearing tests at the DMV office. After paying a fee (amounts available here), your child’s picture will be taken. Once the learner’s license is issued, behind-the-wheel training can begin.
Lisa Elbin, a Palm Beach County mother of two, keeps a three-ring binder in the car, not just to jot down her children’s driving mistakes, but also to record the things they do right.
“Taking the responsibility as a parent of personally logging their time behind the wheel is a positive learning experience,” she says. “It’s a relationship-building thing whereby the two of you can directly assess together their level of maturity behind the wheel. The driving log gives you a black-and-white record of each driving experience.”
Elbin says she writes careful notes to improve their awareness, whether it’s a signal or a look over the shoulder for a lane change.
If disagreements arise with your child over road rules, Elbin suggests dropping by your local police station together. “Ask for a non-emergency visit and talk with a police officer to get your child’s questions answered on the spot,” she says.
Additional safe driving resources:
• Toni Burrows, executive vice president, Safety Council Palm Beach County
• Kelly Powell, program director, Safe Kids of Palm Beach County