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Is My Teenager Ready to Drive?

Teenage Driving Statistics

Every year between 5,000 and 6,000 American teenagers die in car accidents, making it the leading cause of death among teens. Fortunately, for parents teaching a teenager to drive and wondering if their teenager is even ready to drive, there are many helpful resources available to guide them through the process.

For some parents the answer may be obvious, but for the majority of parents who fall in the vast gray area, unsure if their teenager is ready to drive or not, it is worth understanding how each of the following topics affects driving readiness:

  • Maturity and responsibility
  • Brain development
  • Graduated and restricted licensing


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Allstate:

Is Your Teen Ready to Drive?

List of questions for parents to help determine if teenager is mature enough and capable to drive safely


Ladies' Home Journal:

Is Your Teen Ready to Drive?

Parents: Take this quiz to based on different scenarios to see if your teenager is ready to get behind the wheel of a car and drive

Mature and responsible teenagers are better drivers

Experienced drivers understand how quickly accidents can occur and how accidents can be avoided. Since teen drivers lack experience it is extra important that they are mature and responsible enough to not only take the advice from experienced drivers, but to truly understand that in a second their actions behind the wheel of a car can have lifelong consequences.

Some parents may not even question their teenager's readiness to drive, since their child displays a certain level of maturity and responsibility in all facets of life.

Likewise, it is often obvious when a teenager should not be allowed the privilege to drive since they use poor judgment in many situations.

Parents who are questioning whether or not their teenager is ready to drive should consider whether their son or daughter displays maturity and responsibility in other areas such as:


  • schoolwork
  • chores
  • choices of friends
  • drinking/drugs


The connection between car insurance for teen drivers and good grades:

Insurance companies recognize the correlation between good grades and better drivers. In fact, many insurance companies offer a good grade discount on car insurance for teen drivers. As proof, a copy of the teenager's report card will need to be submitted to the insurance agent periodically.

Responsible choices matter:

When it comes to driving, choices matter... the choice to always wear a seat belt... the choice to follow the speed limit... the choice to text while driving... the choice to go or stop at a yellow light... the choice to pass another vehicle... the choice to race other cars... the choice to focus on playlists instead of the road... the choice to slow down for pedestrians, the choice to have too many passengers... the choice to allow alcohol or drugs in the car... the choice to not slow down in adverse weather... the choice to disregard parents' driving rules... and on and on.

It is often said that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If you are questioning whether or not your teenager is ready to drive then look at their recent choices. Do they make good choices in friends? Do they respect authority - parents, teachers and the law? Do they smoke, drink, or use drugs? If poor choices and judgment are being displayed prior to getting a license, then the privilege of being able to drive should NOT be given until a sustained pattern of good choices occurs.


Teenage drivers need to be able to drive in all road conditions

Responsible teenage drivers understand that they need to adjust their driving for adverse weather conditions.

Responsible teenage drivers understand that they need to adjust their driving for adverse weather conditions.

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"The teenage brain is not an adult brain with fewer miles on it."

Neurologist: 
Frances E. Jensen


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"Teenagers are four times as likely as older drivers to be involved in a crash and three times as likely to die in one."

Insurance Institute for 
Highway Safety. 

Teen brain development and driving

Understanding how the brain develops and which portions of it impact driving ability the most can explain why the teen crash rate is so high. According to statistics about teenage driving listed on Allstate.com, the highest risk for fatal teen car crashes is age 16, which is 40% higher than 18 year-old drivers.

By adolescence the brain is only eighty percent developed. In fact, some researchers claim that adolescent brain immaturity is perhaps the biggest reason why the teen crash rate is so high, even surpassing driver inexperience.

A Work in Progress: The Teen Brain by Debra Bradley Ruder of Harvard Magazine explains that the signals necessary for emotional maturity and motor skills are the last to extend to the frontal lobe and both of these areas impact driving ability.

Ruder states,

"...young brains have both fast-growing synapses and sections that remain unconnected. This leaves teens easily influenced by their environment and more prone to impulsive behavior..."

The results of a decade long MRI study of brain development between the ages of 5 and 20 are described in the article, Link Between Teen Brain Development and Teen Car Crashes. Similar to other studies, researchers conclude that the adolescent brain is not fully developed, especially the frontal lobe, described as the CEO of the brain.

With the knowledge that emotions and decision-making are still not fully wired, making teenagers vulnerable to risky behavior, what is a parent to do?

Luckily, states have recognized the critical importance of adolescent brain research and behavior and have implemented graduated drivers license laws as a response.


Many states require teen driver's education.

Teen drivers education is often required during the permit learning phase of graduated license programs for teenage drivers.

Teen drivers education is often required during the permit learning phase of graduated license programs for teenage drivers.

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Graduated Drivers License Laws

The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety estimated in 2006 that graduated driving laws had reduced accidents for 16 year-old drivers by 23 percent!

The intent of graduated drivers license laws is to allow the teenage driver to learn to drive and gain valuable driver experience in lower-risk situations. For example, teenagers texting while driving is not allowed until age 19 under the Illinois graduated drivers license law. Dates, ages, and restrictions vary by state (see table below), but most graduated drivers license programs:

  • Require a specific number of driving hours to be attained with adult supervision during the learners permit phase
  • Establish nighttime driving curfews
  • Establish limits on the number of passengers
  • Enforce seat belt requirements


A graduated drivers license typically follows three stages:

  1. Learning permit phase: Preparation during this phase often includes taking a teen drivers education course and practicing driving with an adult. The experience that a new teenage driver gains under the supervision of an experienced adult driver is invaluable, so allow your teen to drive as often as possible during this phase! Other programs may also be offered by insurance companies with the bonus of a reduction in rates upon completion.
  2. Restricted license: Restrictions vary by state but usually pertain to seat belt laws, cell phone use, curfews and number of passengers. Parents may want to establish their own rules and even develop a written contract containing both a list of rules and consequences.
  3. Unrestricted License: Depending on state laws, a license is considered unrestricted after age and time limits have been met and if no violations have occurred to extend those limits.


Ages teenagers can get permit & drivers license by state

StateLearners PermitRestricted LicenseUnrestricted License

Alabama

15

16

16.5

Alaska

14

16

16.5

Arizona

15.5

16

16.5

Arkansas

14

16

16.5

California

15.5

16

1 yr after license or 18

Colorado

15

16

17

Connecticut

16

16 yrs 4 mo

18

Delaware

16

16.5

17

District of Columbia

16

16.5

21

Florida

15

16

18

Georgia

15

16

18

Hawaii

15

16

17

Idaho

14.5

15

16

Illinois

15

16

18

Indiana

15.5

16.5

18

Iowa

14

16

17 w/ perfect record 1st yr; else 18

Kansas

14

15

17

Kentucky

16

16.5

17

Louisiana

15

16

17

Maine

15

16

18

Maryland

15 yrs 9 mo

16.5

18

Massachusetts

16

16.5

18

Michigan

14 yrs 8mo

16

17

Minnesota

15

16

17 w/ perfect record 1st yr; else 18

Mississippi

15

16

16.5

Missouri

15

16

18

Montana

14.5

15

16

Nebraska

15

16

17 or 18 w/ pts assessed

Nevada

15.5

16

18

New Hampshire

15.5

16

18

New Jersey

16

17

18

New Mexico

15

15.5

16.5

New York

16

16.5

17 w/ drivers ed; else 18

North Carolina

15

16

16.5

North Dakota

14

14.5

16

Ohio

15.5

16

18

Oklahoma

15.5

16

16.5 w/ perfect record 1st 6 mo; else 18

Oregon

15

16

18

Pennsylvania

16

16.5

17.5 w/ behind the wheel; else 18

Rhode Island

16

16.5

17.5

South Carolina

15

15.5

16.5

South Dakota

14

14 yr 3 mo w/drivers ed; else 14.5

16

Tennessee

15

16

17

Texas

15

16

17

Utah

15

16

17

Vermont

15

16

16.5

Virginia

15.5

16 yrs 3 mo

18

Washington

15 if enrolled in behind the wheel; else 15.5

16

17 w/ perfect record 1st yr; else 18

West Virginia

15

16

17

Wisconsin

15.5

16 yrs 3 mo

16 yrs 9 mo

Wyoming

14

14

16.5

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on January 31, 2013:

Thanks Lizam1. There's certainly no real need to drive for most 16 year-olds so consider yourself lucky that driving is not yet on your daughter's radar screen!

Lizam1 from Scotland on January 30, 2013:

Good food for thought. Thanks. I have a teenager who will be 16 this year. It is not big on her radar but some of her friends are so anxious to drive. I will pass this on for sure.

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on April 24, 2012:

Jessi10 - Age 16 is going to come so fast (even though he is 2 now); mark my words. The single best piece of advice I can give is to practice driving endless hours when your child gets a permit. Start off in empty parking lots, advance to neighborhood streets, then busier streets. Let your child do the driving to every errand and event. If you live in a snowy area go to an empty snow-covered parking lot and let him slam on the brakes to see how the anti-lock brakes work. Practice, practice, practice.

In the year that my daughter had her permit before her license she literally had hundreds of hours of driving behind the wheel. I think the state required fifty. She's been a great driver and actually even learned to drive a stick shift in that time. Best wishes, but do enjoy the toddler years. You have time to worry later!

Jessica Rangel from Lancaster, CA on April 24, 2012:

You know, I have a two year old son, who just yesterday I was taking home from the hospital.. My son learning how to drive, and being in a car all by himself is like a living NIGHTMARE to me.. at the same time, i am looking forward to having help around the house.. I am definitely going to save this Hub in my file, so that when my son wants to drive, i'll have him read this!

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on April 22, 2012:

Thanks for pointing that Howard. The Allstate and Ladies' Home Journal teen driving links are now working.

Howard S. from Dallas, Texas, and Asia on April 22, 2012:

Were those two references in the top sidebar supposed to be live links?

Kristin Trapp (author) from Illinois on April 21, 2012:

Debbiestrange - Thanks so much.

Debbiestrange from Kentucky, USA on April 21, 2012:

Well done! Voted up.