How to Cope with Your Teen Driving
Forget the terrible twos or threenagers or puberty. The scariest age for a parent is 15. You know what it means.
My kids just got their learner’s permits, so we are only part way through the process, but it’s so convoluted and confusing that I want to help you navigate it for when your kids are ready to give up the Cozy Coupe for your minivan.
It’s very different from when I was a teenager. I took driver’s ed at my high school, the PE coach/civics teacher was the instructor, and I have hazy memories of driving around Baton Rouge with him. I’m sure I had my permit for a while (I know this because I got in big trouble for taking my older sister’s car for a joyride before I had my full license) but I don’t know for how long.
I guess it all worked out okay, I haven’t been in any accidents bar a couple of minor fender benders in the 30+ years I’ve been driving. (I mean, sure, a few speeding tickets, but I’m only human.)
So how do you get your teens from knowing nothing about driving to being fully licensed drivers? Buckle in. (sorry, couldn’t resist)
You should know the laws have changed in recent years, and while the intent is good, the reality is complicated.
First, all new drivers must take driver’s ed. And it has to be from a private facility. There are plenty of schools in the area, but if you can get away with paying less than $500, you’re doing well. Not very inclusive, but that’s a post for another day. (Just be glad you don’t have triplets.)
In order to take driver’s ed, they must be 14 and 9 months (!!!) and have a Temporary Instructional Permit (TIP card.) Before you go to the Office of Motor Vehicles, make an appointment. Some locations require it. When you go to the OMV, bring every scrap of paper in your house because you’ll inevitably not have one piece of documentation that is required but not actually mentioned on the OMV website. Birth certificate, passport, social security card, school ID, utility bills, to-do lists, chore charts, finger paintings from kindergarten, dental records, credit card offers, etc.
The actual list of documentation can be found on the OMV website. We brought their passports, birth certificates, social security cards, school IDs, and copies of water and electricity bills. It will cost around $35, but you can pay with a card (of course they tack on a service fee.) Also bring a hair brush – not for identification (though I wouldn’t be surprised if they wanted some DNA off the brush too) but because they will get their photo taken for their TIP card. And you’re going to have to get the obligatory photo of them in front of the OMV office holding their card and grimacing to send to the grandparents, so make sure that hair is neat!
Driver’s education consists of 30 hours of classroom time (my kids took it spread out over two full weekends in the summer, but there are other options) and 8 hours behind the wheel with the instructor.
At the end of the classroom time (they will learn a lot about railroad crossings, according to my sons), they’ll take the written test. If they score an 80 or above, they have passed and can move on to the driving portion.
Let me stop here and give some hearty kudos to these driving instructors. They are the bravest humans on the planet. They tell you to take your kids driving in parking lots and on deserted streets, but my kids never got over 15 mph before they got behind the wheel with the instructors. I was shocked that on the very first day, my kid was driving down Airline Highway like it was nothing!
For us, the driving portion was four two-hour sessions. I asked the instructors what they’d do if it was raining, or if it was dark. I thought surely they wouldn’t have them driving in such conditions right away! But the reply put me at ease – would I rather they learn how to drive in the rain with the instructors, or with me? Easy answer to that one! It didn’t end up raining during any of their sessions, but they did get some night driving experience.
The end of the last session includes a driving test, which they must get a certain score on. They will come home with a sealed envelope that must remain sealed and a certificate for your insurance company. Put the certificate in a safe place because you won’t need it for at least six months (you don’t have to add them to your insurance until they get their full licenses). Don’t lose track of the sealed envelope, though, you’ll need to bring that to get their permits.
Which is the next phase – the learner’s permit. You’ll go back to the OMV (don’t forget to make an appointment!), but you won’t have to pay for anything this time. And here is something they do not tell you, but I am going to save you a truckload of frustration – bring their social security card. I had to go home and get my kids’ because this was not listed on the website. Never mind that I’d already shown it when they got the TIP cards. Oh no, you must have it.
(If you’re fancy, you can go to one of those title places, but I’m far too cheap for that.)
Your kids will get a new card with a new picture, so this time make sure their hair is brushed.
And now the fun begins!
Driving with you.
You now have six months (minimum) for your kid to get 50 hours behind the wheel with you or their other parent. Fifteen of those hours have to be at night. (Again, be grateful you had your kids one at a time, unless you didn’t, in which case, fist bump.) So next time you need to go to the grocery store, have your kid drive you. Need to make a quick trip to Costco? You now have a chauffeur! We started small – even though they had experience driving over the bridge or on the interstate, it wasn’t with me and I was definitely not ready for that. So we stayed on the quieter surface streets at first.
You’ll have an app that you can use to log the time spent driving. I had to put a sign on my dashboard saying START THE APP but I still forget half the time. The other half, I forget to stop it. Thank goodness you can edit the times afterward.
It’s been about six weeks since my kids got their permits, and I feel comfortable enough to scroll on my phone a bit while they’re driving. (Just a bit!) The passenger side door handle might have an impression of my fingers in it from grabbing it in a panic, but that’s only natural. (This is going to anger your children, but this is part of the circle of life – your parents freaked out when you were learning to drive, and they will also stomp on the nonexistent brakes when it’s time for them to teach their kids to drive. So don’t feel bad about it.) They have crossed the river many times and can navigate the horrifying I-10 exit to Slidell coming from the West Bank without too much stress.
But we still have a long way to go – by the spring I hope to have them driving home from school in rush hour traffic and the aim is for them to get their full licenses sometime in the summer so they can drive themselves to school next year. Until they turn 17, they will only be allowed to have one non-family member in the car, which after watching the terrifying videos that the driving school sent me, is fine by me!
So we will see what the next six months bring. I have three boys. I have no idea what insurance is going to cost, but it’s fine, I have two kidneys, I only need one. But that’s also a post for another time.