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Driver’s Ed: For Your Teen or the Birds?

For decades, parents have sent their teenagers to driver’s education classes. Whether their child was taught by the high school gym teacher or a true driving expert, parents took comfort knowing that their teen was learning the safest driving techniques. That is, until 30 years ago when a federal study showed that learning to drive from a professional had no effect on the number of teen car crashes and fatalities.

More recent studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have revealed that driver training, whether taught in high school or at driving school, may not benefit teen drivers. As a result, word on the street is that driver’s education classes simply aren’t effective.

Driver’s ed: Still worth your while?

Despite the studies, anecdotal evidence still shows that it could be worth your time and money to send your teen off to driver’s ed. Why? First of all, teens have to learn how to drive from someone—and if you’re not up to the task, you may need to turn to a pro.

Plus, teenagers may be more likely to listen to and absorb information from a driving instructor than their parents. After all, many teens simply “turn off” their own moms and dads. You know the old saying: In one ear and out the other.

On top of that, if you have any bad driving habits of your own, whether it’s a lead foot or a tendency to get distracted from the road, your teen will pick up these behaviors if you teach them to drive. This is exactly why a driver’s ed class could still prove to be beneficial for your teen.

Find the right program

Of course, driver’s ed classes are not all created equal. That’s why driving experts urge parents to take a closer look at a driver’s education program before enrolling their teen in the course.

But what exactly are you looking for? For starters, the program should focus on much more than simply how to pass the driver’s test. After all, you can pass the driver’s exam and get your license but still be an unsafe driver on the road. Experts say a good driving course should teach teens about risk reduction, including hazard recognition, vehicle handling, space management and speed management.

You get what you pay for

While a public school driver’s ed class may be affordable and convenient, not all of these classes are as effective as private driving school courses. Many public school districts have been forced to cut driver’s ed programs due to budget constraints. If your teen’s public school offers a course, be sure to scrutinize the program closely before enrolling your teen. You might discover it’s worth it to pay a little more for a privately-taught course.

Most private driver’s education courses charge between $250 and $350. If you pay much less than that, your teen probably won’t get the proper driving and safety techniques.

But how can you be sure you’re getting your money’s worth? Experts say you should look for a program that offers the following:

  • At least 36 hours of class lasting 9 weeks or longer
  • A minimum of six hours of on-the-road training, spread out over several days
  • A written curriculum or study plan the instructor is willing to share with you (When you look at the study plan, make sure it isn’t just focused on passing the driver’s test, but also about basic skills, defensive driving, safety, etc.)
  • An open door policy that allows parents to make suggestions and ask questions
  • Plenty of extra advice for parents trying to reinforce good driving skills

You may also want to look for a course that incorporates digital teaching methods, such as computer games. After all, this generation of teens is extremely technical—there’s tons of evidence that shows today’s teenagers learn more from “interactive teaching” than a chalkboard and textbook.

Ask for recommendations

You may also want to ask parents of teenagers who are already driving where they sent their children for driver’s education. Your colleagues, friends and neighbors may be able to recommend a great course—or at least steer you away from a bad one.

Stay involved

Even if you decide to send your teen to a driver’s ed course, it’s important to stay involved with your son or daughter’s driving education. Ride with your teen as often as possible, on weekends, after school, etc. This will allow you to monitor their progress and ensure they are learning safe and effective driving skills.