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Here's how to steer your teen toward their learner's permit

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Collage of traffic signs

In this article, you’ll find answers to questions like:

1. Who offers driving classes?
2. How to get a learner's license?
3. How can I coach my teen's driving?

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, former 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 seat belts 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.

1. WHO OFFERS DRIVING CLASSES?

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 Safety Council of Palm Beach County. “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. The Traffic Law and Substance Abuse Education course is required via a local driver’s education class or paying a fee for a comparable course on an accredited website such as 123driving.com or HighSchoolDriver.com.

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.

2. HOW TO GET A LEARNER'S LICENSE?

When children turn 15, they are eligible to get a learner’s license in Florida. Teens should study the DMV’s Florida Driver License Handbook.  

Free practice tests at Driving-tests.org can improve chances of passing the challenging DMV written test on the first attempt. Forty correct answers out of 50 are required to pass.

Students can take an online written exam for a learner's license via third-party websites approved by the Florida Department of Highway Safety.

After your teen passes the exam, use the DMV's 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.

3. HOW CAN I COACH MY TEEN'S DRIVING?

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.

For more advice, check out Drive with Care — Florida Drivers Guide for Parents and Teens
and Keys2Drive: The AA Guide to Teen Driver Safety.

SOURCES:
Toni Burrows, executive vice president, Safety Council of Palm Beach County
• Kelly Powell, former program director, Safe Kids of Palm Beach County

 

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