If you’re a parent whose young driver is going out on the road for the first time, you’re probably trying to find the best driving school for your teen.
This guide will show you all about how to pick driving schools and get the best results for a family member who is just learning the rules of the road for the first time.
Driving School: Why It’s Important
There’s a reason that parents and guardians put a lot of work into choosing a driving school for a son or daughter.
Teen driving is risky, in general.
You can see some of this reality in the statistics: the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) points out that teen drivers crash three times more than drivers over the age of 20.
Safety experts attribute a lot of this to immaturity and inexperience with driving.
Young drivers aren’t as able to evaluate complex right-of-way issues, understand how to drive in bad weather, or use the skill and older experience of other drivers while driving at night.
They may not have learned safe driver habits or experienced first-hand the patience that it takes to avoid collisions with defensive driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has also weighed in on why safety is so important for teen drivers.
Their publication Traffic Safety Facts: 2016 Data that was released in August 2018 shows the statistics for drivers including age groups, documenting collisions and fatalities.
The report shows that even though drivers aged 15 to 20 years old only accounted for 5.4% of licensed drivers, about 9% of the drivers involved in fatal crashes were in the group.
NHTSA quotes the National Center for Health Statistics, showing that vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for this age range.
The statistics also show that traffic fatalities for younger drivers have decreased 37% in 10 years from 2007 to 2016 – this is good news, and probably has to do with the graduated license requirements in place in all 50 U.S. states.
State Graduated Driving License Programs
The three-stage GDL system that teens must go through in all U.S. states is meant to make the roads safer for teen drivers and everyone else.
According to IIHS, it “reduces risk by making sure teens gradually build up driving experience under lower-risk conditions as they mature and develop skills.”
One component of this move to make teen driving safer is reduced night-time driving rules that help teens to slowly learn to navigate the road in the darkness.
There’s also the law restricting teen passengers, because peer pressure and multiple teenagers in a car increases the risk of erratic driving and collisions.
A chart on the site shows each state’s minimum age for unsupervised driving, night-time restrictions, and restrictions on teen passengers.
Part of finding the right school involves navigating your state’s rules.
You want schools to be really relevant to what your teen needs to know and what he or she needs to do to get a license.
Another major component of training for teen drivers involves technology and the threat of distracted driving.
As new generations of drivers come to the road with more technology at their fingertips, there’s even more of a tendency to use that technology in unsafe ways.
Distracted driving is a risk for all age groups, but it’s an even bigger threat to teen drivers and anyone who encounters them on the road.
Checking a text, trying to navigate a music playlist or otherwise looking down at your phone while driving is a major cause of accidents, both fender-benders and fatalities.
A national program called Impact Teen Drivers is working with schools and other stakeholders to educate about GDL rules and distracted driving awareness.
Impact Teen Drivers has published a Reckless and Distracted Driving Resource guide showing how distracted driving, peer pressure and having teen passengers in the car are significant risk components.
They also makes a recommendation to schools and advocacy programs to promote and enforce graduated driver licensing laws.
Insurance Discounts for Teen Driver School Programs
Of course, parents want their teenage drivers to be safe, and that’s one reason they invest in good driving schools.
However, there’s also another reason to enroll – many insurance companies value good driving schools and driver ed programs
Many of them actually factor those into insurance rates.
Insurance companies understand risk better than most heads of households.
They know that driver education programs can bring down the chance the there’s going to be a collision.
So they pass on some of the savings on in the car insurance premium.
In a page about parents cutting costs for teen drivers, Geico talks about discounts for driver training programs, as well as good student discounts.
Nationwide Insurance also has resources on teen driver education and good student discounts, as well as how a defensive driving course can lower premiums for various types of drivers.
Liberty Mutual stresses the value of a driver’s ed program on its site, too, and provides tips and other info.
“While safety is the primary concern of a parent preparing their son or daughter to drive responsibly, the price of your auto policy rates may have crossed your mind as well,” reads the Liberty Mutual page outlining teen driver insurance discounts.
“The good news is, we can help with a number of teen car insurance discount you may qualify for.”
The page then goes into detail about alumni and professional discounts, adding a teen’s car to a policy, vehicle safety features, and occasional use policies.
The company then states that they “offer a number of discounts for teen drivers who demonstrate responsibility by taking the initiative to properly educate themselves on safe driving methods.”
A caveat at the bottom shows coverage of programs varies by state.
Allstate’s “New Drivers, New Ways to Save” recommends a teen “smart driver education program,” characterizing its value this way:
“Your teen deserves car insurance that’s both great on the road and easy on your budget – just because they’re new drivers doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy quality coverage at an affordable price.”
Allstate encourages parents to contact the company for more information.
Getting a car insurance discount isn’t just a little detail, either, in the average family’s budget.
For many American households, it’s critical to drive down those prices somehow, to fit the family insurance policy into the budget.
One way is to have a new driver drive an older car, although you don’t want the car to be so old that it lacks basic safety features.
Walking that fine line requires some dedicated research into which older cars can be just as safe as a late model option.
Assessing Driving School Quality
So what do you look for in a driving school?
Obviously, you want the best instruction available, with properly qualified instructors and people with a good background in highway safety.
Beyond that, it’s a good idea to look at the training materials themselves.
Parents can evaluate whether the driving school is really up to date on the rules in the family’s state of residence.
Driving laws and driver safety programs change over time, and you should be able to tell if the school has adapted to offer modern advice, or whether its training materials are stuck in the 1990s.
In addition to that, look at the program’s fleet and what the cars that they have around to educate drivers.
Make sure they have decent late model cars with up-to-date safety features that really simulate what your teen will be driving, and the realities of the modern road.
For instance, you may want coverage of new driving features like:
- Anti-lock brakes
- Traction control or stability control features
- Lane departure warning systems
- Tire pressure monitors
- Hands-free infotainment system
Driving isn’t like it used to be – today’s cars are modern computers with the ability to help drivers – but it’s not much help unless drivers are trained on how to use these features.
The diverse set of tools around braking and vehicle control are an excellent example.
In the “old days,” drivers used steering and manual braking to control a vehicle in an emergency – using physics, drivers figured out how to guide themselves and their passengers to safety.
Today, the situation is much different – vehicle systems take sensor information from each wheel to automatically change the rotation to affect control and movement.
That can be a life-saver – but it’s more likely to save a life if the driver knows what it does and how to use it when it matters.
Even airbags are a fairly modern invention that require dedicated training and awareness.
Make sure young drivers understand where their airbags are and what they do, to make sure the airbags don’t end up causing more harm than good.
Driver Education Experts: The Best Advice
Another great tip for evaluating driver schools is to use information from national groups and agencies to evaluate a particular training option.
First there’s the American Automobile Association, more commonly known as AAA – this national association is a go-to for drivers of any age who want to learn more about nearly anything related to driving.
AAA has referrals on driving schools and tips for parents of teen drivers.
Check out the guide from AAA, Choosing a Driving School, to learn more about driving school qualifications and where AAA can be helpful.
You can find AAA’s accreditation program here, and input your zip code and other information to access AAA-approved driving schools in your area.
Be aware that some AAA resources are regional, but when you click into the site, it will direct you to the AAA tools in your region of residence.
In addition to the traditional AAA, there’s the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association, an office directly involved in the provision of driver training in all 50 states.
This group maintains information on driving schools, and has launched its own online training course.
National groups like this are a real resource to those who are trying to keep teens safer on the road.
The ADTSEA’s program is meant to give support to states in the implementation of team driver training, while encouraging awareness about risks for teen drivers.
With that in mind, the group has put together a strategic plan for promoting teen driver safety and manages various projects and events aimed at making progress on highway safety work
In addition to the national group, there are regional groups such as the New England Traffic and Safety Education Association, and the Southeast American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association.
Another related group is the Driving School Association of the Americas or DSAA.
The DSAA website has resources about the driving school industry as well as additional statistics and other resources for parents.
A membership program helps individuals to get involved in meeting some of these safety goals.
There’s even an e-commerce shopping cart attached to the site and resources for learning about state DMVs, as well as teen driving and advocacy work.
Another interesting part of DSAA’s online resource collection is an international report from the World Health Organization entitled Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013 – efforts like this show that teen driving safety is not just an American problem, or confined to certain cultures, but that it’s inherently risky to try to get new drivers trained on the often complicated rules of the road.
As an additional way to evaluate driving schools, families can take a look at the Better Business Bureau and how they rate a particular school or program – look for any complaints or warning signs that a program may not be up to snuff.
Evaluating a Driving Schools Educational Program
When you’ve looked at how the school operates, and you’ve checked out a lot of the authorities on the issue, you may want to look at the program itself.
In general, programs should be substantial.
A driving school shouldn’t just run drivers through a few road tests and send them on their way.
There should be specific technique and methodology being taught, and a lot of time spent preparing your teen for the road.
The best driving schools have a mix of classroom training and on-street education.
Classroom training should be a major component.
AAA recommends programs offer at least 20 or 30 hours of classroom time or more.
During this time, instructors can present on everything from stop signs and one-way traffic to parking laws and inclement weather, as well as how to use four-way blinkers and everything else your teen will run into in the real world.
In terms of on-street training, experts recommend at least 6 to 10 hours of training time.
Your teen’s actual driving test in most states will be simply 20 minutes or half an hour.
Getting them ready for this test is the important part.
As far as course length, it makes sense that the best driving schools spread training out over several weeks.
It’s a good idea to question or even avoid schools that push training into an extremely short window – schools that offer “quick weekend teen driver training” may not be up to the challenge of educating your son or daughter.
The best schools also integrate classroom and on-street training well.
Ask for information about training materials and see whether the training is really set up to offer comprehensive learning.
State-by-State Driver Training Requirements
Some of your process of choosing the best driving school for your teen has to do with the requirements in your state of residence.
When it comes to teen driver training requirements, the U.S. states are kind of all over the board.
In these states, drivers 18 and under must get drivers education before obtaining a license:
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
In these states, teen drivers don’t need drivers education to get a license when they’re age 18 or under:
- New Jersey
- New York
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
- District of Columbia
It’s important to point out that many of these states that don’t require a specific standard of drivers education do require some other less formal standards.
For example, in Alabama, Arizona, Wyoming and some other states, including more rural states, teen drivers have to have evidence of having driven certain numbers of hours on the road with a licensed passenger.
In Alaska, a parent or legal guardian has to show that their teen driver dealt with bad weather and nighttime driving.
Colorado’s classroom requirements are on a scale and decline with age.
Other states in this column do require some types of short driver training courses or other educational requirements.
It’s all part of keeping teens safe on the road – and when it comes to accident prevention, more training is better than less.
Finding Approved Schools in Your State
For specific state ratings on driving schools, you’ll have to check the DMV in your state of residence.
For example, the state of New Jersey maintains a list of specific registered driving schools that has dozens of vetted providers in different areas of the state that can help ensure safety for teens who are new on the road.
Some of the smaller states in the U.S. take a hyper-local approach to rating or promoting state driving schools.
The Connecticut DMV maintains a page with a clickable list of alphabetically ordered driving schools for each town within the state.
This is obviously not something that a larger state could do; it’s a unique approach to allow families to find the best driving schools in their areas.
When states are unable to rate individual schools, they may provide broad guidelines.
In California, America’s largest state and largest state economy, the California DMV offers guidelines for selecting driving schools.
California requires 25 hours of classroom teaching, six hours of behind the wheel training, and 50 hours of supervised driving practice, including 10 hours at night.
These standards look a lot like the AAA standards for coursework.
California also requires that schools that provide movies or videos: at least 100 minutes of video training time.
The state also provides licensing status for schools on the web, and suggests that parents understand all of the expenses involved, check schools out at the Better Business Bureau, and be choosy about the instructors who are selected to train their children.
ADA-Compliant Driving Schools
Pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, there’s also a standard for driving schools involving providing for students with disabilities.
You see this in school district administration in the public school system, but the same idea extends to driving schools as well.
The most fundamental requirement is that driving schools accommodate students with disabilities when it comes to outfitting vehicles for ADA access.
But ADA compliance really goes much further than that.
It extends to the facilities and the amenities that a school has on site.
It considers mobility issues in entering and exiting the facility.
For those that don’t understand the importance of ADA compliance in this type of environment, some case studies can be helpful.
The Texas Classroom Teacher’s Association provides an example about how five deaf students sued a drivers ed course program holder over the inability to get driver education certificates.
In this case, enforcement is aimed at the Texas Education Agency which oversees driving schools in the state, rather than against individual schools.
Final Thoughts on Choosing a Driving School the Best for Your Teen
Choosing the best driving school is more than just a small detail.
It’s a major way for the head of the household to safeguard investments in vehicles, as well as the most important asset of all – the lives of family members.
Don’t leave a new driver’s instruction to chance – or decide that just since someone passed a DMV driving test, that he or she is really ready for the challenges of the road.
Get engaged in your child’s life and make sure they have the tools and resources they need to venture out on the American roadway.