Drivers education is a requirement in most states for teens under the age of 18. However, it is important to understand what the role and responsibility of the professional Drivers Educaiton program is before you select a driving school for your teenager.
First, the most important thing to know about your teens' driving training is that it is a joint partnership. Both the parents and the driving school play a key role in developing the necessary skills in the teen driver. Many parents make the mistake of thinking that the driving school has the primary responsibility to teach the key driving skills and that can be a fatal mistake. While the driving school will teach your teen basic skills and laws that they need to know to successfully pass a driving test, it is the hours of practice driving and reinforcement done with a parent that develops this knowledge into strong, useable driving skills that will last a lifetime.
Before selecting a driving school, parents should review the curriculum and make sure that it focuses on building critical driving skills and not just providing the knowledge necessary to pass the driving test. Parents should look for a program that teaches ways to reduce risk, including hazard recognition, vehicle handling, space management and speed control.
Parents should select a program that:
Offers at least 36 hours of instruction spread over at least nine weeks
Devotes at least six hours of that total to on-the-road training, spread out over several days
Has a written curriculum or study plan that the instructor can share with you. Look for signs that the course is designed to develop lifetime habits and skills, not just prepare your teen to pass the test
Welcomes suggestions, and has a few of their own for parents who want to reinforce the messages about safety and driver competence
It's also a good idea to ask other parents whose teen drivers have taken public or private courses for their recommendations.
When you narrow your choices, check out the condition and age of the school's equipment — its training cars, classroom simulators and computer software. And don't put too much stock in the rate at which a school's students are said to pass the learner's permit exam. A better test may be how willing a school is to spend extra time with a student whose study habits or motor skills put him at risk, not just for failing a test, but for operating a vehicle safely.
In addition to traditional driving schools, some auto companies and safety associations, like Ford and GHSA have launched programs that go beyond the traditional drivers ed training.
Ford launched a free program called Driving Skills for Life, which combines online learning with "ride and drives" that teach skills including hazard recognition. This program allows teens to practice driving on a closed course with trained instructors and learn the key skills in a fun, high-intensity environment.
As much as teens enjoy learning to drive through on-the-road training, the IIHS recommends avoiding most "advanced" driving courses for beginning drivers. These courses teach skid control, high-speed maneuvering and operating on a wet surface. The IIHS says there's no research showing these courses, which they say includes even defensive driving instruction, improve safety, and some studies actually found higher rates of crashes for those who took such courses.
Parents can and should stay involved even if they're not technically teaching basic driving skills. They should check their teen driver's progress by riding with them on weekends, between driver's ed classes and by monitoring driving later on. And whether parents abide by their state's graduated driver's licensing law or a more stringent one they've put into place at home, the 30-50 hours of supervision will go a long way toward reinforcing the classroom, computer and on-the-road lessons their teen has learned. Whether you're teaching your teen to drive or handing it over to a professional, driver's education should be a family affair.