A New Teen Driver: Everything You Need To Know
This is for all parents who have a teen 15+ and are in the process of, about to start the process or have completed the process of helping their teen get their driver’s license.
When we started this process (in Virginia) it was daunting. So much information out there on government websites yet I couldn’t find any clear, written in plain English, instructions on how to navigate the process. I got my license in Maryland and it was very different.
So in this post, I’m going to break it down for you! The Virginia process for obtaining a license for your teen. I’m also going to give you some products that we’re currently using with our teen driver that have made us feel much more comfortable with him driving. And, I’ll also give you the “contract” that we created for our son so that we’e all on the same page (he and us, his parents) which we feel is critical - no grey areas!
There’s a lot of info here that will be applicable no matter which State your teen will be licensed in. However, the process outlined here for obtaining their license is specifically for Virginia. Scroll down if you live elsewhere.
Getting Licensed In Virginia
Here it is in a nutshell, and in order:
Pass permit test, get Learner’s permit
Hold permit for 9 months and, during that time, complete 45 driving hours, 30 classroom instruction hours, 7 behind-the-wheel driving hours, 7 behind-the-wheel observing hours, 90-min parent/teen meeting.
Pass driving skills test, get temporary license
Hold temporary license for 3 months. During that time you will receive (via snail mail) information re: when and where you and your teen should appear in court
Appear in court, receive provisional license. Your teen will hold provisional license until they’re 18.
Obtaining a Learner’s Permit in Virginia:
You must be at least 15 years, 6 months in order to be eligible to obtain your Learner’s Permit
You will need to have the following in order to test for your Permit: This form (click for PDF), Birth Certificate & Social Security card, proof of address (please note: this must have the name of the PARENT WHO’S PRESENT on it. I made the mistake of bringing our mortgage bill and my husband’s name is on there, not mine. I didn’t even think about it. Which meant we had to come back).
You must pass a two-part knowledge test - it’s a computerized, multiple choice test. My son used this to prepare for it (click).
$3 + annual license fees
If all goes well, your child will leave with a ‘temporary permit” ( a sheet of paper saying they’ve been issued a permit) and in a week or so you’ll get their permit in the mail.
Requirements for Obtaining a Temporary Driver’s License
You have to hold your Learner’s Permit for a minimum of nine months before you’re eligible for your license (which means your child will need to be at least 16 years, 3 months)
Your child must have documented a minimum of 45 hours of driving - 30 daytime hours, 15 nighttime hours. My son used this app to help him keep track of his driving hours (click).
90-minute parent/teen meeting.
They do their Road Skills Test on the last day of their behind-the-wheel training.
They must complete both in-class and behind-the-wheel driving instruction. The DMV specifies that they are required to complete “36-sessions” of in-class/classroom instruction and 6 hours of behind-the-wheel driving and 6 hours of behind-the-wheel observing (as a passenger to another student driving). All schools - both public and private - offer the ‘in-classroom’ instruction and they are DMV approved. Some schools also offer the behind-the-wheel. They have to complete their classroom instruction before doing their behind-the-wheel instruction. Check out my thoughts on this.
You will need to certify that your child completed their 45 hours and that you completed the required 90-min parent/teen meeting.
****My personal thoughts on classroom and behind the wheel instructions:
I’m very close with my son and a number of his friends. I asked them about their classroom instruction and if they felt that received a thorough education via their school’s classroom course. They all said no. What was described to me was that they sat in a classroom watching videos, while their instructor spent their time doing unrelated work at their desk. This was the same for both private school and public school children (my son attends a private school).
Therefore, we decided we would have him take both classroom and behind the wheel instruction with I Drive Smart (taught by cops). It was somewhat pricey (~$650 for both) - however, I would spend double that for the quality of instruction our son received. WE ARE SO HAPPY WE DID THIS. I was thoroughly impressed by this company every step of the way. They truly did an excellent job preparing our son for driving and helping him develop the proper respect needed to understand the depth of their responsibility as a driver. I also fully appreciated how much of this process they held our hands through… they’re a ‘one-stop-shop”. We opted for everything with them (classroom instruction, behind-the-wheel and the 90-min parent/teen meeting). Their online portal is excellent and is very user-intuitive. Via their portal we were also able to digitally sign all the paperwork that is required by the DMV, it’s truly idiot-proof.
Before each behind-the-wheel driving instruction the police officer would ask us if there was anything we wanted them to work on with our child and if we had any concerns. They would tell us where they were going to drive and what skills they planned to focus on. After each lesson the officer would share with us how our child did and what areas, if any, were recommended to focus on with our child.
I really can’t say enough about them - it was money well spent - I’l leave it at that.
Once your teen completes their road-skills test (which, for us, was performed not heir final behind-the-wheel instruction), the driving school will mail you your child’s Temporary Driver’s License. This is simply a sheet of paper that acknowledges that they completed the requirements for their temp license. The driving school will submit all the paperwork, on your behalf, to the DMV.
The DMV will snail-mail you information for when you and your child should appear in court to receive their provisional driver’s license during a Licensing Ceremony. They will hold this license until they’re 18.
Your teen will be required to to carry their Learner’s Permit AND their temporary license on them at all times until they receive their provisional license.
The following also applies to their Provisional License which they hold until they’re 18:
They are only allowed to have one non-family-member as a passenger in their car at any time. They may have as many immediate-family-members in their car as passengers as the parent allows.
They are not allowed to drive between the hours of 12am - 4am (unless they have a licensed driver 21y/o+ in the front passenger seat or are driving home from work or a school activity).
They are never allowed to use a cellular device for any reason, this includes hand-held or hands-free devices.
We have USAA and this is what we were told:
Inform your auto insurance company that you have a driver with a Learner’s Permit who will be using your vehicle(s) to learn to drive. This will not increase your rates
As soon your child received their temporary license, they will need to be insured as an additional driver.
**Personal experience. Prior to our son learning to drive we owned two vehicles (a minivan and an SUV) and had two drivers (my husband and myself)… our auto insurance was $170/mo. In preparation to our son getting his license, we purchased another car (a Prius) … with a third vehicle, our insurance increased to $240/mo. Later, we added our son as a licensed driver and our insurance went up to $515/mo. You read that right. Just to give you a heads up of what to expect! Our insurance more than doubled.
Something else to be aware of: if your teen injures someone in an auto accident, your insurance needs to be enough to cover that accident. We already had high coverage but I would strongly recommend a really solid insurance policy. After all, if they injure someone and your insurance is not enough to cover the expenses - those injured (or their family if they are deceased) can come after you and your assets. Own a home? If your teen accidentally kills someone, their family could come after your home and all other assets that aren’t covered by insurance.
Keeping your teen safe - and accountable
Obviously, handing over car keys to your teen is not to be taken lightly… we have had several serious talks with our son about the responsibility he’s taking on and what comes with that - including informing him that his driving/car would be tracked at all times so that we know where he is, where he’s been, how he’s driving and if he’s engaging in activity that we disapprove of and/or is illegal (like using a phon while driving, for example). We use two products for keeping our teen safe - and us comfortable.
The first is a physical device that plugs into the car. It’s called MotoSafety. Click photo to purchase on Amazon. It’s cheap - $25 for the device (and that includes the first month of service which is about $8/mo). This thing has been excellent. Think of this as a device that tracks the car.
Reasons we love MotoSafety:
It allows you to create “geofences” around locations you know your teen will be traveling to (school, home, work, soccer practice, etc). You receive a text message when your teen enters and exits a geofence. (That they arrived to where they were headed safely…. and didn’t ahemm leave somewhere - like school - when they weren’t supposed to.)A
It provides a driving GRADE (a, b, c, d, f) which rates their driving - “A” being very safe.
It alerts you if they are speeding, accelerating rapidly, breaking short, if they’ve been in an accident or driving unsafely.
You can always see exactly where their car is located & how fast they’re driving - in real-time.
This this has worked perfectly - no issues with lag or anything.
It has a cool app that connects to the device, the device/app were easy to install. Everything is very user friendly and intuitive.
The second product we use is an app called Life360. Think of this as tracking your child. This app has a free version which is great for simply tracking your child’s location (by way of their cell phone) and a paid version which unlocks additional features like crash-detection & cell phone usage (while driving) the the MotoSafety doesn’t offer (simply because it’s not connected at all to their device). It also gives info like their phone battery level. The subscription is $8/mo. A steal, I think, to have information related to phone usage while driving. Keep in mind, though, that this app will track all drives … even the ones where your child is a passenger. This has been really… insightful.. when it comes to other adults driving my kids around. (In this screenshot, you can see his phone usage is high… but that’s due to a 6 day road trip he went on with his school and soccer team, so he was using his phone as a passenger.)
Our Family “Driving Contract”
Our goal with putting together a “contract” between us and our son is to go into this new stage with a clear understanding of expectations, rules and responsibilities. Before we officially handed our son the keys to his car (our family car that he’ll be using and is now responsible for"), we went through this in detail… we all signed it and there’s a copy in his car for reference.
This is how we are handling it. This is exactly what we handed him - I didn’t revise it or take names out, calculations, etc for the purpose of this post. Feel free to modify it for your own use - take the parts you like and add things that apply to your individual arrangement/family.
Best of luck navigating this difficult yet very exciting new chapter. :)
**After numerous comments about this, I’m adding this note: there’s intentionally no mention of performance in school in this contract (like, for example, keep a 3.8 GPA ‘or else’). After so much trial and error re: school/grades/performance, we’ve found that encouragement and support work so much better than threats. We want our son to want to do well in school, of course. And he does. But, good grades are a symptom of caring about school and what you’re learning. Pounding “get good grades” in his head never worked - it’s not about the grade, after all… it’s the effort, right? So we left that out. He’s in a place now where he understands he will get out of life what he puts into it - and he understands that as long as he’s doing “what he’s supposed to and making good choices” we are here to support him, cheer him on and allow him to have many of the the freedoms he desires.
“Conner, Mom & Dad’s understanding of Car Rules and Responsibilities
- Mom and Dad will cover the cost of gas for trips to school, soccer, soccer games and other drives that we would otherwise have to make if we were not driving yourself. Conner is responsible to cover all other gas expenditures that are optional or recreational in nature. We estimate Conner’s gas expenses to be $75 weekly (21 mi each way to school (x10), 8mi each way to EC Lawrence Park (x6) + an extra 10 miles to account for traffic/errands requested by Mom and Dad).
- Any overtures with gas expenses Conner will cover unless otherwise requested/approved by Mom and Dad.
2. Oil changes & Car Maintenance
- Conner is responsible for getting oil changes done on time.Oil changes need to be done every 4800-5000 miles. There is a sticker in the window that indicates the mileage when the last oil change was performed and when the next one is due. Mom and Dad will cover the cost of the oil changes and other maintenance that are not a result of neglect.It is Conner’s responsibility to keep track of when they are due and to make an appointment to have it done. We use VA Tire & Auto in Centreville.
- Expectations: we expect that you understand how critical car maintenance is to the vehicle and that you keep up with it. If your oil change is late, the first time we will revisit this conversation. The second time is your last warning. The third time Conner will be responsible for paying a $20/per day bus fee to ride the school bus to school for up toone month (actual time is mom and dad’s discretion at that time).
- During oil changes, please request that they check the following:
1. Air filters
2. Brakes/Brake pads
3. Tire pressure and tread depth
4. Coolant fluid
5. Headlights, brake lights, turn signals and parking lights (you may not drive your car if, at any point, these are not working – please let us know immediately).
6. Check windshield wipers
7. Check battery
3. Car Cleanliness
- Keeping your car clean is not optional.If at any point you are not taking care of the car we will take it away. That means trash, school papers, food, removal of smelly items (ie stinky sports gear) – anything that doesn’t belong in the car needs to be removed from the car daily. Regular cleaning is required and destruction of the interior of the car will not be tolerated.
4. Tracking and GPS
- There is a tracking device in your car. This device reports various information back to us including, but not limited to: your location; if you drive outside of your normal destinations; accidents; actual speed; if you were speeding; breaking alerts; rapid acceleration; phone usage; passenger counts; curfew violations, etc. It also provides a “driver rating” so that we can help you improve if needed.
5. EZ Pass
You have an EZ Pass Flex in your vehicle. That means that it has an “HOV mode” for when you have 3+ passengers in the vehicle. You should never need to use this, for obvious reasons. Therefore, you should keep your EZ Pass in normal mode. Your EZ Pass will be replenished automatically as it is connected to our credit cards. You don’t need to do anything with this but you may not remove it from the vehicle and if at anytime it goes missing you need to let us know so we can report it missing/stolen so that nobody else is using it connected to our accounts.
6. Locking the Car
For the reason mentioned above (#5) among many other reasons, locking the car is not optional. You car shouldalwaysbe locked.
You are neverallowed to have anyone else in your car. Never. The only exception to this is driving Kiran – when, and only when, we have asked you to do so (for example, driving him to school or driving him home on days that your schedules align). If at any pointyou fail to follow this nonnegotiable rule, we will immediatelytake your car and your license away.
Similarly, you are neverallowed to ride in another teenager’s car. If you are catching a ride with any other individual, you must have prior approval.
Your curfew is 10pm unless approved and discussed in advance.
Your license must alwaysbe on you – even if you’re not driving or planning to drive – so that you can drive if needed. You may not ever drive if you are not in possession of your license.
10. In the event of an accident:
If you are in an accident, how you handle it is very important. First and foremost: NEVER EVER LEAVE THE SCENE OF AN ACCIDENT. Regardless of whose fault the accident is, you must NEVER admit fault, even if you believe you are at fault. If you admit fault, even if you are not at fault, you will be responsible for the accident, all expenses, charges and issues that arise from the accident. NEVER ADMIT FAULT even if you’re SURE it was your fault.
a) Immediately following the accident, move the car to a SAFE LOCATION.
b) Do not get out of your vehicleunless you are concerned for the wellbeing of the other car/passengers or need to help someone to safety. Still, consider your own safety first.Otherwise roll down your window to talk to the other driver and wait until a police officer arrives on scene. If you are in danger (your car is in the middle of a highway and you are unable to move it to safe location safely), get out of your car and wait on the inside of guardrails or as far away from traffic as you can get.
c) ALWAYS call 911 to report the accident even if it’s minor. You will need a police report and help to be sure you exchange all of the necessary information (insurance, etc). Make note of where you are located and indicate if emergency vehicles are needed (ambulance, fire truck, etc). Inform the dispatcher how many vehicles were involved in the accident and your account of what happened. Please, again, do not admit fault – 911 calls are recorded.
d) AFTER calling 911 call Mom and/or Dad immediately. We will help guide you on next steps at that point.
11. Driving impaired
You are obviously not allowed to drink. You are absolutely never allowed to drink and drive. You are also not allowed to drive tired.
IF AT ANY POINT, you find yourself unable to drive – for any reason, including because you have been drinking and you weren’t supposed to be – CALL US AND WE WILL COME DRIVE YOU AND YOUR CAR HOME SAFELY. Never, ever should you drive impaired. Drunk. High. Tired or in any other unnatural form. We will come pick you up, you WILL NOT BE PUNISHED. We will NEVER EVER bring it up again. No “talks”. No punishments. Not a single conversation will come from it unless you bring it up yourself. We ONLY want to be sure you get home safely and that those you will be sharing the road with get home safely to their families, too.”