It seems like just yesterday your “baby” was learning how to walk. But here you are with a teenager getting ready to learn how to drive. You’re probably feeling excited for your teen, but you’re also probably terrified, especially if this is your first child obtaining a drivers license.
As a former driving instructor, I got to see all sorts of reactions from parents. Some of them were obviously happy that their teen was reaching such an important life milestone, while others had a look of intense fear and dread. It’s totally understandable, too. Driving a vehicle is one of the most dangerous activities we take part in on a day-to-day basis.
It’s pretty well known that good driving habits are developed early on, so finding the best driving school for your teen should be a high priority.
In this guide, I’m going to walk you through how to pick the best driving school for teens, what the process of obtaining a drivers license will be like, as well as some driving schools that I recommend you check out.
VIDEO: Finding The Best Driving School For Teens
Why Finding The Best Driving School For Teens Is So Important
Most of us know driving is dangerous, but when we look at the cold hard data, it becomes even more frightening. In 2015, more than 2,300 teens between the ages of 16 – 19 were killed in motor vehicle crashes. An astounding 235,800 were treated for injuries due to motor vehicle crashes. This is all according to the CDC. That’s more than 6 teen deaths every day, and more than 640 injuries every single day due to car accidents. Terrifying stuff.
But, of course, we also realize that driving is a necessity for the vast majority of us. While some are fortunate to live in areas where owning a car isn’t necessary, most of us need a car to drive and to simply get things done in life. Not to mention the joy and freedom driving brings us. Sure, driving is dangerous, but it also adds so much to our lives that the risk is worth it.
The main goal we should focus on is how to make teens safer drivers, right from the start. We can’t control all the other crazy drivers out there, but teens can learn how to drive defensively, protect themselves against aggressive drivers, dealing with heavy traffic, changing weather conditions, as well as avoiding risky driving behavior such as drinking alcohol, being distracted with driving, or driving while fatigued.
There are so many things a high-quality driving school can teach your teen, and while it’s not a foolproof system, proper training really can make the difference between a safe teen driver and just an average one. As parents, we aim to keep our kids as safe as possible, and that’s why choosing a high-quality teen driving school is so important. The driving habits they learn now will last them the rest of their lives (or at least until automated cars are the norm!).
VIDEO: The High-Risk Years For Teen Drivers
Why States Have Implemented Graduated Drivers License Programs
Most of us parents simply went through drivers ed, took our permit test, then got a full-fledged driver’s license with full privileges. These days, states have implemented what is known as a graduated drivers license program.
Teens have always been at higher risk of being involved in a car accident. We used to think this was largely due to “immaturity”, leading some to claim we should raise the legal driving age, but would that really solve the problem? Probably not.
States now realize the biggest reason teens are involved in so many car accidents is due to inexperience. That’s why graduated drivers license programs were implemented. But do you know how this program works?
It’s pretty simple, actually. Instead of giving teens a full drivers license with full privileges, teens are gradually given more and more privileges over a period of time. The exact timeframes vary from state to state, but in general, the graduated privileges are about the same across the country. In the state of California, here’s how it works:
Stage 1: Learners Permit
During this phase, a teen doesn’t have a drivers license yet. Instead, they have a driving permit. Teen drivers may only drive with an adult age 25 or older. They also must complete a state-approved drivers ed course including both classroom (or online) time as well as behind-the-wheel driving time with a certified instructor. They must also complete 50 hours of driving practice with an adult, and 10 of those hours must be at night. Teens must drive with their permit for a minimum of 6 months before they may continue to the next phase.
Stage 2: Provisional License
Once the stage 1 requirements have been met, a teen driver may apply for their provisional license. Teens must be between the ages of 16 and 18 years old and are allowed to drive without an adult present. However, they may not have passengers under the age of 20 for the first 12 months unless a licensed driver of at least 25 years old is present. There are also time restraints. Teen drivers with a provisional license may not drive between the hours of 11 pm and 5 am for the first 12 months, however, exceptions can be made. This provisional license must be held for a minimum of 12 months or until the age of 18, whichever is later. No alcohol is allowed in the vehicle at all during this time.
Stage 3: Full License
Once the provisional license requirements are completed, a full license will be granted. Teens must be at least 18 years old, completed the first two stages, and have no outstanding citations, suspensions, or probations on their driving record. Even with a full license, teens are not allowed to drive between midnight and 5 am or transport young passengers without an adult in the car. These limits last for one full year after obtaining a full license. Also, even with a full license, no alcohol is permitted in the vehicle, even if it is closed.
The graduated driver’s license program is a fantastic compromise instead of simply raising the deriving age to another arbitrary age. It’s important to choose a driving school that understands the fast-changing rules that states have been implementing over the years.VIDEO: How The Graduated Drivers License Program Works
Check With Your Auto Insurance Company About The Best Driving School For Teens
Many auto insurance companies have insurance discount programs available for teen drivers who successfully complete one of their approved teen drivers ed courses. Be sure to check with your auto insurance agent about which schools they recommend, and whether the driving school you’re considering would make your teen eligible for a discount.
Auto insurance companies keep track of a ton of data. They know which driving schools out there create the safest drivers. Since driving schools are so local, it’s hard for me to give you an exact recommendation, but your insurance agent probably can as they are likely familiar with local driving schools.
While we’re on the topic of insurance discounts, make sure your teen gets every insurance discount available. Signing up for a high-quality teen driving school is just one way to get a discount. Many insurance companies also offer things like good student discounts or discounts based on their vehicles safety features. Teens are expensive to insure, so don’t spend more than you have to!VIDEO: How To Save Money On Teen Auto Insurance
How To Determine The Quality Of The Best Teen Driving Schools
As a parent, how can you determine the quality of a teen driving school? Unfortunately, there are a LOT of shady teen driving schools out there and parents usually don’t really know what to look for. Most driving instructors are pretty good, but driving schools are notorious for providing really poor service.
The Biggest Problem Facing Teen Driving Schools Today
For example, I’ll tell you what the biggest problem is with most driving schools today. The biggest problem is being able to schedule drive time with an instructor. For example, a driving school might boast that they have an easy online scheduling system for driving instructors. So, you get all signed up, log in to have your first driving lesson, and realize there are no instructors available for 2 or 3 weeks!
This happens due to a couple of reasons. First, there is a huge shortage of qualified teen driving instructors out there. And second, the driver’s ed industry is very seasonal. The majority of businesses that driving schools have comes during the summer months, so scheduling an instructor during those months can be difficult. On the flip side, during the school year, almost everyone wants to schedule an instructor for right before or right after school. There simply aren’t enough driving instructors to go around!
So the first thing you should ask a teen driving school is how scheduling works and how they mitigate this issue. Each driving school is unique, but they should at least show you that they make every effort they can to make scheduling a driving instructor as simple as possible.
Take A Look At Their Classrooms Or Take The Classroom Portion Online
I always recommend taking the “classroom” portion of drivers ed online if you can, but not all states allow this and some students just prefer to be in a classroom with a physical instructor.
If that’s the case, make sure you check out the school’s classrooms. Is it a quiet and comfortable space for learning? Or is it an old, outdated, and distracting environment? Pay attention to those “red flags” when you see them, because if you’re able to physically see issues, there are 10 more issues you won’t know about until you’re already half way through.
If you’re having trouble deciding whether an online drivers ed course or a classroom course would be better, check out this helpful article that I wrote to help you decide.
Look At The Quality Of Their Vehicles
You would think driving schools would have meticulously maintained vehicles, but often times that isn’t the case. I can’t tell you how many drivers ed cars have bad shocks, bad breaks, interiors that are falling apart, etc. If their drivers ed vehicles are falling apart, that should tell you something about the management of that driving school.
You should also determine if you want your teen to learn how to drive a manual transmission vehicle, which I HIGHLY recommend. Most teen driving schools no longer offer manual transmission lessons, which is really a shame. If you want your teen to learn how to drive a stick shift car, you’ll either need to teach them yourself or find a driving school that offers stick shift lessons.
You should also check to see if their drivers ed vehicles are REALLY drivers ed vehicles. While most drivers ed cars do not have a steering wheel on both sides, the driving instructor should have access to, at the very least, a brake of their own just in case things start getting dangerous. Drivers ed vehicles should be specifically set up for the sole purpose of drivers ed. Otherwise, they aren’t really drivers ed cars at all!
Are Parent Programs Included?
If this is your first child going through drivers ed, the process can be confusing. The driving school can only do so much. After that, it is YOUR responsibility to give your child the required driving practice hours. Are you prepared for that?
Most driving schools completely ignore the needs of parents while their teen learns how to drive. If you don’t feel you are actively prepared, try to find a driving school that offers tools for parents to become effective coaches. Some driving schools have orientations for parents and even have special pre-made contracts that both teens and parents provide so that everyone has a clear understanding of “who’s the boss” and how driving practice should work. AAA provides a great resource for parents here, and I also have a section just for parents of teen drivers that you should check out.
Compare Teen Drivers Ed Course Prices
Pricing for a teen drivers ed course can vary widely depending on the area. Make sure you compare prices at several different places (if available in your area), then figure out why the cheap places are cheap and the expensive places expensive. Sometimes, paying more is a waste of money, but other times the higher price is justified.
Check Online Ratings & Reviews
One of the best ways you can determine the quality of a driving school is simply by looking at their online reviews. Now, you have to be a little careful here as most people don’t spend time to leave a positive review. It’s mostly those who are dissatisfied that review teen driving schools, and often those negative reviews don’t tell the full story.
But still, if someone left a negative review, did the driving school reach out to that person? Did they respond at all to the negative review? Are the reviews negative across all platforms such as Yelp, Google Maps, Trustpilot, Facebook, and other sources? Often times you can find patterns in these reviews. At the very least, you can ask them about the poor reviews and what they’ve done to make sure those things don’t happen again.
How Most Parents Choose A Teen Driving Course (Don’t Do This)
Most parents choose a driving course based on two main criteria. Firstly, they base their decision on price. And second, they base their decision on convenience. Most parents don’t look any further than this when searching for the best teen driving school.
For example, most teen driving schools offer programs where they will come pick your teen up from school, go on a driving lesson, then drop them off at home, making it super convenient. If you sign up with a driving school further away from where you live, they may not be so accomidating. However, it’s importaint to choose the BEST driving school for your teen, not just the most convenient one.
This is only a temporary inconvenience, but the results will last a lifetime. Please make sure you’re actually signing up for the best teen driving school in your area (within reason) instead of just the closest, fastest, or cheapest one.
The Best ONLINE Teen Driving Schools To Sign Up For
I know what you’re thinking… How can you take driving school online? Well, things have changed since we went through drivers ed, and actually, this change is for the better.
Most states now allow teens to complete their “classroom” hours by using an online driving school. Teens still need to take their behind-the-wheel driver training with an actual driving instructor, but there is no longer a requirement to sit in a classroom while learning the rules of the road.
In fact, I very highly recommend that most teens sign up for an online driving school instead of sitting in a boring classroom. These online driving schools are getting really impressive. Graphics, animations, videos, 3D tutorials, games, and other interactive features make online driving schools so much better than lectures in a classroom. The way the content is delivered with an interactive online course leads to way higher student retention rates.
Since taking drivers ed online is likely a new concept for you, I decided to create a short list of some of the best online teen driving courses. I created this list based on my experience in the industry and getting feedback from a ton of teen drivers.
Warning: Please verify that any online driving school you sign up with is approved in your specific state!
Aceable is, without a doubt, the absolute best driving school for teens that can be taken online. Aceable is actually one of the newest online driving schools to pop up, but that’s actually a good thing. They spent $5 million on creating the best online teen driving school from the ground up. But what makes it so much better?
To put it simply, it’s the most modern and advanced course out there. Most online driving schools, for example, have mobile-friendly courses but they are browser based. Aceable took it a step further and created dedicated ios and android apps, so it works beautifully across just about any device.
Aceable also has the best format for delivering the course material. Just as one example, check out the interactive 3D video below on how to parallel park. You won’t find this type of thing at any other online drivers ed program.
The only real issue I have with Aceable is that they aren’t approved in too many states yet. They are working on more state approvals and add new states all the time, but they still have a lot of work to do. You can see if Aceable is approved in your state here. If they are, this is hands down the absolute best teen driving school online and I highly recommend them. You can see my full and detailed Aceable review here.
DriversEd.com is one of the oldest and most established online teen drivers ed courses out there. They have had literally millions of students graduate from their programs. And there’s one thing that makes DriversEd.com a very enticing option.
DriversEd.com is the only online drivers ed course I know of that also offers behind-the-wheel training. DriversEd.com maintains a nationwide fleet of instructors and training vehicles. If they don’t operate in your specific area, they work with local driving schools to get you the best deal possible. If they do offer driving lessons in your local area, they can get you hooked up with a great package deal, plus they have some of the best driving instructors in the country. It’s possible you’ve seen their Mini-Cooper driver’s ed cars around.
What I like about the DriversEd.com online course are some of the unique interactive videos they have. For example, students will be presented with an animation showing a vehicle driving down the road when a driving hazard is presented. Instead of simply showing students how to handle the hazard, students are required to make their own decision. They then learn if they made the right decision or not. This is a really cool feature that I haven’t seen elsewhere.
Another thing DriversEd.com does right is providing many different formats of delivering the course material. There’s a good mix of text, video, animations, graphics, games, and more. They have a whole game where students must match road signs with their proper meanings, and it really helps students retain the information, even though it’s pretty boring to learn.
So, if you’re looking for a great online driving course as well as a place that can help you fulfill the behind-the-wheel driving requirements, DriversEd.com may be a great option, especially since they are approved in many states.
Driver Ed To Go is another very long-standing online driving school that has been around since the 90’s. Even before that, they offered home-based drivers ed programs through VHS tapes (remember those?) and booklets that would be sent by mail. Fortunately, these days it can all be done online instead.
For a while, Driver Ed To Go was getting a bit outdated so I stopped recommending them. However, they recently completely overhauled all of their courses. They are now modern, up to date, and work great across mobile devices.
Another advantage of Driver Ed To Go is their pricing. While I don’t think you should choose a teen driving school entirely on price, it is certainly a factor, especially for those on a budget. Driver Ed To Go is generally one of the cheapest options available, but that doesn’t come at the expense of quality. The course may not be as advanced as some others, but it still provides multiple delivery formats for the course material including interactive features and games.
Driver Ed To Go is also certified in the most states out of any teen driving school on this list, so if the other two recommended schools aren’t available where you live, this could be a great option for you.
I hope this guide on how to find the best driving school for teens was helpful! It sure can be an overwhelming experience when your “baby” is starting to learn how to drive, but you can make the experience easier by signing up for quality training programs, whether that training is done online, in a vehicle, or in a traditional classroom setting.
If you’re reading this guide, you’re obviously taking your choice of driving schools seriously. I encourage you to keep this mentality and provide the best possible training you can for your teen. It sounds a little overboard, but you literally could be saving your teens life. Best of luck to you and your teen, and please remember to always drive safely!