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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

What You Need to Know About Teen Driving

Car crashes are the #1 killer of teens in the United States today.

A 16-year-old driver is three times more likely than an older teenager to have an accident, and 10 times more likely than an experienced adult. The laws in California were changed in 1998 so that anyone under the age of 18 must get a 'Provisional' driver's license. This type of license places restrictions on driving for the first year. The new provisions are a mixed blessing for many families.

Having a teen driver helps alleviate the daily car pool grind that plagues many families. But the reality is, inexperienced drivers will only gain experience from driving in ways that are safe and free from unnecessary distractions. Classroom and behind-the-wheel training are still an important part of the training to become a safe driver. We have listed all the necessary steps to getting a permit and license. If someone is 17 1/2, he/she is not required to take driver training classes, but also can't get a license until age 18.

For more information, visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles or go to the California DMV website.

1) To get a permit anyone under the age of 18 must:

  • Be at least 15 1/2 years old
  • Provide a social security number
  • Complete an application (form DL44)
  • Give a thumbprint
  • Have a photo taken
  • Bring your original birth certificate or a certified copy
  • If not a US-born citizen, bring proof that you are a legal US resident
  • Pay an application fee
  • Pass a vision exam
  • Pass a written test
  • Provide proof of completion of driver education in a classroom or online and be taking behind-the-wheel driver training (or have completed driver education and driver training, or provide proof of enrollment and participation in an approved integrated driver education/driver training program)

2) Before being eligible to take a driving test you must:

  • Be 16 years old
  • Have had a permit for a minimum of six months
  • Have completed driver education (classroom or online instruction)
  • Have completed six hours of professional behind-the-wheel driver training
  • Have completed 50 hours of practice with an adult 25 years or older with a valid California driver's license, certified in writing by that adult
  • At least 10 of the 50 hours must have been done at night
  • If you fail your driving test you must wait two weeks and pay a retest fee before trying again, and you have only three chances to pass your driving test per application

3) Once a provisional license is issued, during the first year months a teen driver can:

  • Drive alone
  • Drive with a passenger over age 20
  • ONLY drive a sibling IF there is an immediate need and no other reasonable transportation is available

4) During the first 12 months a teen driver:

  • Can't drive alone between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. unless accompanied by a parent or guardian, or a licensed driver 25 years or older
  • Can't drive with passengers under age 20 unless a parent or guardian or licensed driver over age 25 is in the car as well
  • Can move past a provisional license ONLY if they have had no accidents or tickets

Every 15 Minutes

Many of life's lessons are learned best when experienced. Unfortunately, when the target audience is teens and the topic is drinking and driving, experience is not the teacher of choice. Every 15 minutes someone in the United States dies from an alcohol-related traffic collision.

"Every 15 Minutes" is a program conducted on site at high schools to teach the impact of drinking and driving. With the participation of police and fire departments, high school staff, community officials, the district attorney's office, parents and the community at large, real dangers are highlighted. Students are randomly chosen by the 'Grim Reaper' to be victims of drunk driving. Others wear goggles that simulate the experience of alcohol and drug impairment. Many participate in a mock traffic accident complete with body bags, visits to the coroner and funerals. The result is important lessons are learned without suffering the very real dangers of drinking and driving.

Look for the "Every 15 Minutes" program in your district or visit their website.

Driven to Distraction

Common occurrences that distract from safe driving are:

  • Talking or texting on cell phones
  • Talking to someone in the car
  • Changing the volume on the radio, CD or tape player
  • Adjusting the air conditioner or heater
  • Eating and/or drinking
  • Checking out an accident while driving by, or a car that has been pulled over
  • Putting on makeup, shaving, brushing hair
  • Reacting to friends in other vehicles
  • Wearing headphones
  • Showing off, driving too fast or recklessly

A Caution About Online Driver's Ed Courses

It is possible for a teen to complete the classroom portion of driver's education training through an online class. "The DMV is forced by a court order to allow online classes," says Leslie Allyn. "The problem with online classes is that the DMV is not allowed to review them." This means that what your teen is learning about driving laws and safety may not meet California standards.

A typical driver's education class through a professional driving school takes about 30 hours. In high school, your teen is looking at an hour a day, five days a week for at least eight weeks. An online course may take as little as three hours. That could mean that a lot of important information is not covered.

Knowledge is power, don't let your teen miss out on important driving information. Be very careful about choosing an online course for your teen.